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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 12:11 GMT
Playstation 2 gears up to go online
Screen shot from Playstation 2 version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Activision
Annoy virtual pedestrians in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Soon Playstation 2 owners in the UK could be venturing into cyberspace to take on opponents in some of the console's most popular games.

Both Telewest and BT Openworld have announced plans to work with Playstation maker Sony on net-based multi-player gaming systems for the console.

Trials of the technology to turn consoles into net-gaming stations are already under way.

The move pitches Sony into direct confrontation with Microsoft which has announced that online gamers are one of the key audiences it wants to reach with the Xbox.

Online tournaments

Online multi-player games that allow people to take on opponents through the net are hugely popular with many PC owners.

Although many consoles let lots of players participate in one game, none, bar the ill-fated Dreamcast, have come ready to hook up to the net as is standard on almost every PC.

We have to do very thorough trials to ensure that by the time the technology gets to consumers it runs very smoothly

Telewest spokeswoman
All that is set to change this year in the UK as Sony works with BT Openworld and cable company Telewest on ways to connect the Playstation 2 to the net and let owners take part in online tournaments.

Telewest unveiled its alliance with Sony last year and towards the end of 2001 revealed that it was starting "closed trials" of the technology that would turn a lonely Playstation 2 into a web-ready device.

A spokeswoman for Telewest said it was using its own employees to conduct the "closed trials".

"We have to do very thorough trials to ensure that by the time the technology gets to consumers it runs very smoothly," she said.

Telewest will be canvassing for consumers to help do final testing sometime in the first three months of 2002, said the spokeswoman.

Telewest's online PS2 gaming service open to all should be available by the end of 2002.

In the past, Sony has announced intentions to make an adapter for the Playstation 2 that allows it to use a broadband net connection. The cable modems that Telewest uses are studded with a variety of ports that allow it to talk to lots of different devices.

Low-speed gaming

BT Openworld has released even fewer details than Telewest about its plans for the Playstation 2.

Screen shot from Playstation 2 game Grand Theft Auto 3, Sony
GTA3: Guns, gangsters and cops
So far, all the net arm of the telecommunications giant has said is that it has signed a deal with Sony to develop online gaming.

In contrast to Telewest, BT Openworld is planning both broadband and a narrowband connections for PS2 owners.

This option to connect at slow speed could prove popular because many console owners may be reluctant to pay relatively high monthly fees for a high-speed net connection when the number of online games for the PS2 remains small.

A spokesman for BT Openworld said it planned to reveal more details of its alliance with Sony later this month.

Currently, the only online game for the Playstation 2 is Tony Hawk's Pro Skating game that lets up to four players compete against each other to perform the best tricks on a skateboarding route round an imaginary city.

Microsoft is also keen to develop online gaming systems for its Xbox console. Both Microsoft and Sony have produced multiplayer games for the PC and are likely to extend these titles to their respective consoles as soon as possible.

Video games
Console wars, broadband and interactivity
See also:

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PlayStation branches out
29 Mar 01 | Business
Microsoft's X-Box goes online
07 Dec 01 | Reviews
Syphoning life into Playstation
03 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers kill off heroes
29 Oct 01 | dot life
Gamers gather global audience
13 Sep 01 | New Media
Console wars hot up
16 May 01 | New Media
Playstation 2 steps up its game
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