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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Sony shows off new PlayStation 3
Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website, in Los Angeles

Sony's Ken Kutaragi shows off the new PlayStation 3

Sony has unveiled its new PlayStation 3 console, calling it "a supercomputer for computer entertainment".

The console is powered by a powerful new processor dubbed Cell, which Sony says is 35 times faster than the chip inside the current PlayStation.

The machine is due to go on sale in spring 2006 at an as yet unknown price.

Rival Microsoft last week showed off its new Xbox 360, while Nintendo is to reveal details of its own new console, codenamed Revolution, later on Tuesday.

Seizing the living room

The consoles are opening a new chapter in the history of video games, offering high-definition cinematic images in real time and the computing power to deliver sophisticated and complex gameplay.

It was designed with broadband and home networks in mind
Masa Chatani, Sony
The battle for supremacy in the games console arena is more than just about shooting aliens.

These machines are a key part of a campaign to dominate how people watch films or listen to music at home.

"This is a system to be placed in the centre of the living room around the world," said Ken Kutaragi, head of Sony's game unit, at a news conference in Los Angeles announcing the PlayStation 3.

This strategy parallels that of Microsoft, which is keen to challenge PlayStation by also making its new Xbox 360 a hub for all kinds of media.

Sony's current console, the PlayStation 2, dominates the current generation of consoles. More than 80 million units have been sold worldwide, with Microsoft and Nintendo trailing far behind.

Its new console is similar in size to the PS2 but has a more rounded look. It will be available in black, silver and white.

Computer power

Sony used much of its presentation to show off the technical prowess of the Cell processor, created with Toshiba and IBM, which forms the brain of the console.

In a dig at Microsoft, Sony said the processor was twice as fast as the one in the Xbox 360.

New version of first-person shooter Killzone planned for PS3
CPU Cell Processor running at 3.2Ghz with 7 special purpose 3.2Ghz processors, capable of 218 gigaflops of performance
Backward compatible
GPU RSX at 550MHz 1.8 teraflop floating point performance
256Mb XDR main RAM at 3.2 GHz
256Mb of GDDR VRAM at 700Mhz
Memory Stick Duo, SD, compact flash memory slots
Detachable 2.5 inch hard drive
Support for seven Bluetooth controllers
Six USB slots for peripherals
Supports Blu-ray DVD format
System Floating Point Performance of 2 teraflops
Communication Ethernet, Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11, Bluetooth
Output in HDTV resolution up to 1080p as standard

The console also boasts a new graphics chip from Nvidia, which Sony claims can create movie-quality images in real time in games.

The PS3 will use the Blu-ray disc format, which can hold 50 gigabytes of information - the equivalent of six DVDs. It will also have a small removable hard drive, though Sony did not say whether it would come as standard.

The PlayStation will come ready to be hooked to the internet, either via a built-in Ethernet port or via wi-fi.

"The network is a core element of the system," said Masa Chatani, chief technology officer at Sony's game unit. "It was designed with broadband and home networks in mind."

The console allows gamers to access their media from anywhere over the internet, make video calls using a high-definition camera or download new levels or weapons for games.

The controllers are wireless, using Bluetooth technology. People will be able to plug in other gadgets into the console via six USB ports.

The machine will be backwards compatible, meaning gamers will be able to play PlayStation 2 titles on it.

It also doubles up as a DVD and CD player, with support for a wide variety of formats.

Games line-up

Sony can count on the backing of some of the biggest names in the games business, such as Electronic Arts, the world's biggest games publisher.

Among the games in the pipeline are new versions of popular franchises such as racing title Gran Turismo, the role-playing game Final Fantasy and the gangster title The Getaway.

E3 show floor in 2004
E3 is a big, brash and loud affair
Several new titles are also planned, including the samurai epic Heavenly Sword by small UK developer Ninja Theory.

Like other console makers, Sony realises that the new wave of machines must offer more than prettier graphics.

Key to their success will be the ability of game makers to tap into the power of these new digital workhorses to produce original and compelling gameplay.

Developers are aiming to combine processing power and realistic graphics to better convey emotions and create what one game maker described as a truly immersive, living, breathing world.

Sony's announcement comes two days ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3, the largest video games event in the world, which runs from 18 to 20 May.

Alfred Hermida reports on the future of games consoles

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