The evolution of the PlayStation games console

It all began back in 1986 when the brand was first created as a joint venture between Nintendo and Sony. Nintendo had been looking into CD-based gaming and at both Sony and Philips who had been developing a technology known as CD-ROM/XA - an extension of CD-ROMs which allowed for simultaneous access to the compressed audio and video data on the discs.

However, at CES 1991, on the eve of the announcement of the "SNES-CD", as it was to be known, the president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, re-read the contract, decided that it gave far too much away to Sony and flew over to Philips in Europe to make a deal there and then. The SNES-CD project was ended but rather than let all the development go to waste, Sony's Ken Kutaragi - later dubbed "the father of PlayStation" - continued the work under the name "Sony Play Station" and eventually produced a very small number of the original machines which contained both CD drives and SNES ports too.

Naturally, Nintendo was none too impressed, forced a legal issue and eventually brokered a deal with Sony allowing them to continue to produce the console but with the lion's share of the profits heading to Yamauchi and his company. So, in 1993, Kutaragi reworked the designs, dropped the SNES port, closed the gap between the words and thus the PlayStation proper was born without needing to worry about Nintendo.

Since then, the series has been little short of a rip-roaring success, however you'd like to look at it, with only a few question marks over the PS3 which is still relatively early in its life cycle. So, how did they get from a hybrid cartridge/optical device to a Blu-ray-toting behemoth in 17 years? Come with Pocket-lint on our tour of the PlayStation console we'll take another look at the way it all went down:

PlayStation

Launched: Dec 1994 (Japan), Sept 1995 (UK & US)
Spec: 32-bit, 5th generation games console
Main competitors: Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64
Units sold: 102 million
Biggest Title: Gran Turismo (11 million copies sold)
Lifespan: 11 years
Cost: $299 on US release

The PlayStation quite simply dominated the 5th generation console war. Not only did it have well over a year's head start on the N64 but the flexible CD format was very attractive to developers who moved over from Nintendo's cartridge based system. The CDs were cheaper to produce and more capacious for bigger games. The flipside of this was they were eventually much easier to copy with the rise of the PlayStation coinciding with the advent of CD burners. Many machines were also "chipped" to allow multi-region disc play and so users could import games as yet unreleased where they lived, but this only made Sony's console more popular in the market.

Sony's other huge success on the PlayStation was in the marketing itself. Unlike Nintendo, the games were much less child friendly and aimed squarely at young men in their teens and 20s as a lifestlye machine that played audio too. Titles like Silent Hill and Resident Evil made mainstream an action/horror genre which would never have got a chance on other consoles. Metal Gear Solid and Tekken were also dynasties that started life here; arguably Tomb Raider made its biggest mark on this console and some even site PaRappa the Rapper as a precursor to games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

When the time the PlayStation was retired in March 2006 it had seen one of the longest active lives of any console in video games history and made famous the square, circle, triangle and X face buttons ingrained in the genre today.


PlayStation 1 (PS1)
Launched: July 2000

The original slimline version of a PlayStation console was the PS1 and it was so successful that it's a practice Sony has continued with all of its models to date. It reworked the PS design from 45 mm × 260 mm × 185 mm to 38 mm × 193 mm × 144 mm and outsold every other console that year, including the newly released PlayStation 2. Sony made it incompatible with all the modchips but added on an LCD screen accessory and car-adaptor power supply so that gamers could use it on the go - or at least on car journeys, anyway.

PlayStation 2

Launched: March 2000 (Japan), Oct 2000 (US), Nov 2000 (UK)
Spec: 64-bit, 6th generation games console
Main competitors: Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Game Cube, Microsoft Xbox
Units sold: 136 million
Biggest Title: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (over 17 million copies sold)
Lifespan: Will continue until 2012
Cost on release: $299 in US
Current price: $99.99

The PlayStation 2 offered significantly more improvements to the gamer than just the CPU. DVDs were supported as well as CDs to bring video to the lifestyle machine as well as the games and audio, hammered home with the launch of a PS2 IR remote control. A USB port allowed mass storage as well as the memory cards and there was a 3.5-inch expansion bay for an optional hard disk. DualShock 2 controllers came as standard with analogue buttons as well as the additional two joysticks, it supported accessories like the Eye Toy camera and, for the first time, the games console hit the internet with a network adaptor released in 2002 to compete with the Xbox.

The PS2 was backwards compatible with the original PlayStation and contained the actual PS processor, as well as that for the PS2, to make sure these games were played as exactly as they would have been originally and not run as emulations. It was also designed to stand on its end, if desired - possibly inspired by the solution many people chose for the original PS to get it to play discs when the hardware on early models warped.

Typically, production was slow to begin with. Some were sold on eBay for over $1,000 when supplies were scarce and the situation in the UK was exacerbated when a cargo ship from China with PS2s bound for Britain was held up by a Russian oil tanker stuck in the Suez canal. But the PS2 became the best selling console to date shipping over 136 million units, 100 million of those sold within 6 years of launch - nearly half the time it took the PlayStation to do the same. It currently has a library of 1,900 titles with games still slated for 2010.

PlayStation 2 Slimline
Launched: Sept 2004

The release of the Slimline was timed with the launch of the PS2's most successful game, GTA: San Andreas. It was smaller, thinner and quieter than the PS2 and it had the network adaptor built-in but the size came at the cost of: an external power supply, no expansion bay and no internal HDD. More recently, in 2007, the PS2 itself was upgraded and now weighs 300g less at 600g - perhaps a sign that consumers were not so happy to give up that functionality missing on the Slimline.

PSX
Launched: Dec 2003 (Japan only)

Designed as a digital video recorder, the PSX is the one that didn't really catch on. It came with an internal HDD of 160GB, 250GB, or, later 450GB sizes as well as memory stick and USB support, and the ability to record DVDs and CDs as well as play them. Naturally, it also supported PlayStation and PlayStation2 gaming. As a more of an AV solution, the PS remote control was included in the bundle, but the specially released ceramic white DualShock 2 had to be bought separately.

To its credit, the machine was the first to see Sony's XrossMediaBar (XMB) GUI now used on the PSPs, PS3 and Bravia TVs since 2008. It also linked with the PSP and included editing software for photos, video and audio. Regardless, the PSX was poorly received and never made it abroad.

PlayStation 3

Launched: Nov 2006 (Japan & US), March 2007 (UK)
Spec: 7th generation games console
Main competitors: Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360
Units sold: 24 million
Lifespan: Nearly three years and counting
Cost on release: $499 (€499) and $599 (€599) for the 20GB and 60GB models
Current price: $299/£255 for 120GB version

It's big, bulky and bendy looking and many will remember the PS3 for delivering the killer blow in the Blu-ray/HD DVD format war. The fact is that the jury's still out for a lot of people on this machine. It was late on the scene, was a PR disaster, described as difficult for developers to work with and expensive for both them and consumers. The fact is that the PS3 was expensive for Sony too when it first came out. Blu-ray parts and high spec hardware meant the company sold each unit at a $250 loss. Falling prices and developments in chip design saw it go profitable in Q3 of 2008 - actually earlier than Sony had hoped - and the aim is to eventually outsell the PS2 and ship 140 million of them by its ninth year. We'll see.

All PS3 models come with an internal HDD. There are 20GB, 40GB, 60GB, 80GB and 160GB versions (some no longer available) but all the current models have gigabit Ethernet ports, USB slots, Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi and HDMI 1.3. You can also access a PS3 from a PSP via Remote Play. Initially, it only meant video playback when on a local network but is now full access over an internet connection anywhere in the world.

The XMB interface allows for internet browsing and it comes with the DualShock 3 wireless controllers which have both vibrate and motion sensitivity functions on top of what the DS2s offer. If you bought one orginal PS3s though, you might have the Sixaxis controller which has the wirelessness but will not rumble.

It's a powerful contender in the hardware department but, so far, is yet to win the hearts of the mass gaming public. It'll be interesting to see what differences the price drops make.

PS3 Slim
Release date: First week of September

With the Blu-ray player, 120GB HDD, DualShock 3 controller, HDMI output for full HD and, most importantly, much more competitive price, the Slim could well be the opportunity for the PS3 to really stake a claim against the Xbox and Wii both of which have outstripped it so far.

It's 32% smaller than the current monsters, it's 36% lighter and uses 34% less power. The US continues to get it better than Europe - $299 vs €299 - and that gives it a UK price of around £255. It's still more expensive than its rivals but the BD factor and combined with the much smoother looks could start to make a difference. Watch this space.