Time for a Playstation 2? Maybe Not

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Tekken Tag Tournament for Playstation 2

As the auction prices for a Playstation 2 unit are now about even with the actual retail price ($350 on ebay vs. $300 at a retail store), you can begin to realistically think about whether to get one or not. Behind the hype, here are some practical considerations for Playstation 1 owners and non-owners alike.

PS2 is small — about two back-to-back egg cartons in depth and height. The design, a shiny black obelisk, evokes the "2001: A Space Odyssey" icon, especially when standing on end; two tiny lights, one green and one purple, spark up the front when the unit is in use. Unlike its ugly, gray, functional-looking predecessor, the PS2 will be an unembarrassing addition to most homes' décor, except maybe in Sturbridge Village.

Using the PS2 couldn't be much simpler, since it has only two buttons: On/Off/Reset and Open/Close. Unfortunately, these cannot be controlled except by getting up and walking over to the box. This can get frustrating with games where screwing up means having to start the whole session over, and also makes it easier to forget to turn the unit off. There is no auto-turnoff function — a real oversight.

Be aware that a basic PS2 does not come with any game or even a memory card or a second controller (both of which retail for $35; games are around $50). All these will be necessary for the simplest kind of fun. A memory card is the most important item, since even basic system configuration information is stored on it. They could at least have had one storage chip in the machine, rather than forcing you to go buy one.

The good news for PS1 owners is that all your accessories will work with the PS2. The controllers are identical, as are connectors such as the S-Video adapter. Only the memory cards are a bit tricky: Both PS1 and PS2 cards fit into the PS2 unit, but PS1 games only read/write to PS1 memory cards and PS2 games only read/write to PS2 memory cards. (You can transfer PS1 memory files to PS2 memory cards, though practical applications for this do not yet exist.)

How are the games? In terms of performance the PS2 games obviously outshine their predecessors. The graphics are the first noticeable improvement. The PS2's faster processor means more detail, smoother movement and rounder edges. Load times appear to be faster than with the PS1, although now much more information is loading, so the wait can still be a while. However, in terms of fun or radical new gaming directions, the PS2 has yet to offer anything new. (See related Tekken Tag Tournament review)

Interestingly, PS1 games do not undergo a dramatic improvement when played on the PS2. The graphics and playability are the same. There is an improvement in loading and saving times, however.

For me the "killer app" of the PS2 should have been the ability to play DVDs. The cheapskate in me held off on getting a DVD player for months, waiting to for a two-for-one deal with the PS2. Now that I have a PS2, I am considering getting a DVD player anyway. For one thing, accessing the DVD functions requires the use of an onscreen menu rather than a handily labeled remote control. (Some functions are keyed to certain buttons on the game controller, but you will have to memorize which button does what.)

Furthermore, some of the handiest aspects of DVD players are absent, most particularly the ability to search. With no time counter and only one speed for fast-forwarding, getting to your favorite line can mean sitting through several minutes of watching the characters hop around like speed-freak mutes.

Aside from becoming the coolest kid on the block, there's no compelling reason to get a Playstation 2 at any cost. Get a real DVD player, if that's what you want, and wait for the price to come down on the PS2, or until the first real game that blows away the competition.