Sony PlayStation 2

    The Sony PlayStation 2 was launched late last year amid much hoopla. Predominantly a games machine and a replacement for the Sony PlayStation, probably the most talked-about feature of the PlayStation 2 was its ability to play back DVDs. It was touted as the way in which many mainstream users would be introduced to the wonderful world of DVD. At a price of $749, it is comparable price-wise with a moderately-featured standalone DVD player, so it could be considered as either a stand-alone DVD player which can play games extremely well, or as a games console which can play DVDs reasonably well.

    Having had the opportunity to play with a PlayStation 2 for some time, specifically to test its DVD playback capabilities, it falls definitely into the games console that can play DVDs classification. It is, however, a lot better than I expected at playing DVDs and is more than adequate at this task for the casual user.

What's In The Box

    The following items are included with each player;     The PlayStation 2 only comes in black.

Front Panel

    The first thing that will strike you about the PlayStation 2 is that it is considerably smaller than a stand-alone DVD player, with a width of only 30cm and a height of only 8cm.

    The second thing that will strike you about the PlayStation 2 is that is has a very distinctly-styled and spartan front panel in comparison to a standalone DVD player.

    The left side of the front panel has two slots for Memory Cards and two connectors for game controllers. Beneath these are 2 USB ports and an IEEE-1394 (i.LINK, FireWire) port.

    The right side of the front panel hides the well-disguised DVD-ROM tray, a reset button and a disc eject button. Both buttons have elegant and small indicator LEDs. The reset button has a green/red indicator - green for power on, red for standby. The disc eject button has a purplish indicator which is permanently lit whenever the player is powered up. The disc tray has a lip on its left hand side, used to keep DVDs and CDs in place when using the unit in a vertical orientation. I found myself frequently catching this lip when removing DVDs from the unit, so significant care with disc removal is needed with this unit. Additionally, the unit was quite slow to recognize the type of disc inserted.

Rear Panel

    The rear panel of the PlayStation 2 is as spartan as the front panel. It features;

    That's it! There are no other connectors whatsoever on the rear panel.

Controller

    The PlayStation 2 ships with a dual shock game controller. Whilst presumably excellent for games, it is not optimal as a DVD remote control, although it does make DVD navigation seem like a bit of a game! Veteran DVD standalone users will need to get used to the paradigm shift of using a two-handed controller which is tethered to the PlayStation 2 with a limited-length cable, whereas veteran game-players will have no problems in making this adjustment.

    The left side of the game controller has an arrow keypad, which works as expected as the controller's arrow keys. The 'X' button, on the other side of the game controller is the ENTER key.

    The L1, L2, R1 and R2 buttons at the front of the controller act as the fast forward/rewind and chapter skip forwards/backwards controls - quite counter-intuitively at first, but as best as could be expected.

    When pushed, the two joysticks allow audio and subtitle selection.

    The most useful button on the game controller is the SELECT button, which brings up an on-screen menu which can be used to access all of the commonly-used DVD functions. I personally found it easiest to navigate the DVD functionality of this unit with this menu rather than with the game controller, but I did find myself using the game controller buttons more and more as I got used to their functionality.

Manual

    The manual for the PlayStation 2 is concise without being too brief. All of the relevant info for operating this unit as a DVD player is presented plainly and clearly, although several non-DVD specific sections contain important operating instructions which impact upon DVD playback, so the entire manual should be read carefully for best results.

Set-Up Menu

    Setting up the PlayStation 2 for DVD playback is a tad confusing as the PlayStation 2 has two set-up menus, only one of which is truly relevant to DVD playback.

    The first set-up menu is available from the start-up screen of the player. Within this menu structure are found such options as the 16x9 output set-up of the complete unit and whether the unit outputs component video (Y/Pb/Pr) or RGB video. Unfortunately, for DVD-Video playback, the player will ONLY output component video, not RGB video, regardless of the setting of this option, so this menu is a tad misleading.

    The second, and more useful set-up menu for DVD use is available from the on-screen display. Within this menu are many of the conventional DVD parameters such as TV Type and control over the Digital Audio Output. There is a trap for the unwary here - by default, ALL DVD digital audio output is downconverted to two channel Linear PCM. In order to set the player to output digital bitstreams, each bitstream option must be enabled separately in the setup menu. Note also that to adjust the 16:9 setting in this second set-up menu, you need to either have no DVD in the machine or the player needs to be in STOP mode.

Video Playback

    All video playback tests were performed with the player set to 16x9 output mode, utilizing its S-Video output.

    Firstly, I'd like to correct a commonly-held misconception about the PlayStation 2. If you are to believe the box the unit comes in and the unit's manual, it is only compatible with PAL DVDs. This is not true. The PlayStation 2 happily outputted PAL from PAL DVDs and NTSC from NTSC DVDs, although it was not capable of passing a blacker-than-black NTSC signal, which made display calibration a little tricky.

    Whenever I played a DVD, the PlayStation 2 gave the impression of going into a completely separate operating mode, with a different look and feel about the unit as compared to game-playing mode. It was like there was a distinct separation within the unit between the DVD-Video playback module and the games playing module rather than a tight integration between the two.

    Nevertheless, the PlayStation 2 produced an image that far exceeded my expectations. I was expecting dire results from this unit, and instead got perfectly satisfactory results which were at least the equal of many stand-alone DVD players that I have evaluated. There are only a few slight criticisms I will level at the video output of the PlayStation 2. Firstly, the image output from this player is slightly soft. The finest details were simply not there in the image, but it is certainly far more than adequate as a DVD player image-wise. Secondly, there was an occasional and slight herringbone effect in some colours, most evident during the Video Essentials Image Montage. There were no obvious MPEG decoding anomalies and the level of inserted video noise (both luminance and chrominance noise) was perfectly satisfactory and on a par with other mid-range standalone players that I have evaluated.

    The review player was marked as a Zone 4 player. It only played appropriately zoned DVDs.

    The fast forward and fast reverse functions of the PlayStation 2 are available at one speed only. Fast Forward appears to be x4 and Fast Reverse appears to be x2. They are of average smoothness. Both functions are implemented so that FF or FR mode is only active whilst the appropriate key or menu selection is held down. They do not lock in at all.

    Surprisingly, considering the computer-based nature of the PlayStation 2, RSDL layer changes resulted in a noticeable pause of around 1/2 of a second. I was expecting that the PlayStation 2 would utilize its on-board RAM as a video buffer to hide layer changes, but this was not the case.

[Addendum: 23rd March 2001. I have received a number of reports of Sony PlayStation 2 owners having problems reading dual layered DVDs - with the machine skipping or locking up as soon as the layer change occurs. I personally had no such problems with the PlayStation 2 I evaluated, but this may well turn out to be a common characteristic fault of the player.]

On Screen Display

    The on-screen display can be divided into two specific displays.

    Firstly, when the SELECT button is pressed on the game controller, a highly functional navigation menu appears in one of two places on-screen. I found that most of my operation of this DVD player utilized this menu, although with greater familiarity, I utilized the game controller keys more and more to operate the basic functions of the DVD player.

    The only DVD information that can be displayed by this DVD player is the current Title and Chapter. No timing information whatsoever is accessible.

    The DVD player knows a large number of language names, displayed in full. The usual DVD that I use to test this functionality, St. Elmo's Fire, has 20 different subtitle languages encoded. The PlayStation 2 is the only DVD player that I have tested to date that has displayed all of them fully.

    Functional key-presses on the game controller are accompanied by various on-screen icons and words.

Standards Conversions

    The PlayStation 2 is not capable of any standards conversions.

CDR & Video CD

    The PlayStation 2 happily plays back CD-Rs. It cannot, however, play back Video CDs, pressed or otherwise.

Audio Playback

    I only used this DVD player with its optical digital output and had no specific problems, once I had figured out how to output digital bitstreams from the unit.

   Subjectively, I noted no audio sync problems with this DVD player, an observation borne out by the objective analogue vs digital delay measurement of 11 milliseconds.

    DTS digital output is supported by this DVD player. MPEG audio bitstreams are output digitally as either raw MPEG audio or Linear PCM audio depending on the setup of the player.

Disc Compatibility Tests

    No DVDs that I tried on the PlayStation 2 had any specific playback problems. The only Region 4 DVD that has been reported as problematic to date on the PlayStation 2 is The Ultimate Toy Box Disc 3, which also has problems on many other DVD players.

User Convenience Features

Screen Saver/Auto Power Off
Zoom

Overall

The Good Points
    Surprisingly good image.

    Can be oriented vertically.

    Bonus in-built games machine (!)

The Bad Points
    No remote control as standard, although third party products are apparently available.

    Lip on DVD tray catches on DVDs when removing them.

    Very noisy fan.

    Noisy disc transport.

    No coaxial digital output.

    Cannot play Video CDs.

Features At A Glance

Video Component Output RGB Output
Audio DTS Output MP3 Playback
Plays CDRs
Conversion
Inbuilt Decoder

In Closing

    As a games machine, the PlayStation 2 makes a passable DVD player. Despite the numerous faults and compromises necessary to make this unit both a DVD player and a games machine, it still manages to produce a relatively good DVD image. On the down side, the fan is very noisy and significantly interferes with movie watching during quiet moments, and the lack of a remote control may well become annoying. These two factors alone preclude consideration of this unit as a viable alternative to a stand-alone DVD player in a dedicated home theatre environment, but whilst it does not compare functionally with a stand-alone player, it was never designed to do so. The goal of the PlayStation 2 was to be a great games machine and to introduce a whole new market segment to DVD-Video via a relatively painless and inexpensive route. It is successful in meeting its design goals.
 

Ratings (out of 5)

Performance
Build Quality
In Operation
Compatibility
Value For Money

Technical Specifications (Manufacturer Supplied)

Product Type: Games Console, DVD-Video and Audio CD player
Region: Zone 4
Signal System: PAL / NTSC
Serial Number Of Unit Tested: A0377506
MPEG Decoder: Sony/Toshiba Emotion Engine
Audio Frequency Response: Not stated.
Signal to Noise Ratio: Not stated.
Dynamic Range: Not stated.
Total Harmonic Distortion: Not stated
Dimensions: 301 (w) x 182 (d) x 78 (h)
Weight: 2.4kg
Price: $399
Distributor: Sony Computer Entertainment Australia
Level 1, 63-73 Ann St
Surry Hills  NSW  2010
Telephone: (02) 9324 9500
Facsimile:  
Email:  

© Michael Demtschyna
6th March 2001
Amended 23rd March 2001