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Rating: NNNNNWith typical reserve, Sony is calling this week's North American debut of PlayStation 2 "the biggest consumer launch in.

Rating: NNNNN

With typical reserve, Sony is calling this week’s North American debut of PlayStation 2 “the biggest consumer launch in history.

“Hopeful buyers ordered advance copies of the video game player months ago. Those who didn’t act are having panic attacks, and on the night before the first official day of sales, hundreds of game addicts are expected to camp outside stores for the privilege of splashing out more than $600 for the sleek black box.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the second coming of Cheez Whiz, not a video game. There’s no questioning the excitement, though.

Since it launched in Japan earlier this year to mass hysteria, PlayStation 2 has become the most hotly anticipated time-waster in memory. Forget the tremendous cost, or the fact that most people won’t be able to buy the machine for another month or so due to supply shortages, or that many of the best games that can take full advantage of PS2’s graphic power haven’t yet been released.

Hot dispute

The hype is real, at least if you consider the pre-release press the game is getting. Whether the box is worth all the ink, however, is up for grabs.

The true value of PlayStation 2, at least in the eyes of game addicts, is hotly disputed. Its main competitor is Sega’s Dreamcast system, released last year. Both have tremendous graphic capability, and while Sony is packaging its machine as a total entertainment console, capable of playing DVDs as well as old and new PlayStation games, many are pointing to one specific area where Sega has Sony beat cleanly.

At the heart of so-called “next-generation video games” is the ability to play remotely with other users through broadband. PlayStation 2 has the capacity to do this, but not the hardware. There’s an expansion port on the machine where a modem can plug in, but no modem is yet available.

Dreamcast, on the other hand, comes with a 56K modem already inside, and Sega has been running its SegaNet online gaming world for the past few months.

Great fodder

All of this is great fodder for the dozens of Dreamcast-versus-PlayStation 2 Web sites. Driven largely by conspiracy theories and anti-Sony rants as well as expectations of Nintendo’s forthcoming Dolphin system and Microsoft’s ominous-sounding Xbox game console, which no one has seen yet, amateur game commentators are working themselves into a lather pitting Sega against Sony.

There are hundreds of running online battles discussing everything from the design of the machines to whether PlayStation 2 is better than masturbation. Someone needs to get out more.

Sega itself is also weighing in on the fray. A few weeks ago, as technology writers were plotting their PS2 coverage, Sega’s publicists sent out an e-mail primer coldly comparing the two systems and what you get for your dollar as well as making reference to PlayStation 2’s “troubled” launch.

Harsh tactics to be sure, but when something like 145 million people in North America regularly scorch their eyeballs playing video games, there is no middle ground.


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