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Old Mar 24, 2002, 11:44 AM
deja-bloo deja-bloo is offline
Join Date: May 2000
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Default Sony Talks About Their R&D Efforts

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Sony Talks About Their R&D Efforts
The industry giant focuses on the next five to six years of gaming.
By - Dave "Fargo" Kosak

Shin'ichi Okamoto, Senior Vice President and CTO of Sony Computer Entertainment, kicked off his presentation at the 2002 Game Developers Conference with a quote from writer Arthur C. Clarke. "The future is not to be forecast, but created." As head of Sony's Research and Development (R&D) efforts and one of the leading figures in the creation of the PlayStation 2 (PS2), Okamoto has certainly had his share in creating the future. His job isn't an easy one -- rival Sega's rise and fall in the hardware market shows how tricky this field can be. But Okamoto takes it in stride, throughout his talk frequently referring to his crew as "Our crazy R&D."

Speaking in a thick Japanese accent and occasionally chortling mischievously, Okamoto painted a picture of Sony's future outlook in broad strokes, very broad strokes. While it was impossible to glean any specifics, his talk was a good overview of what's in the pipeline and the kinds of ideas that his engineers are playing with in R&D offices around the globe. The high points follow.

The March of Technology

Okamoto began by showing a slide from Ray Kurzweil's Age of Spiritual Machines book. The history of computing technology from 1900 to the present shows a pretty dramatic curve, one that takes us to some amazing places if it's followed through over the next hundred years. Okamoto surmises that we'll hit the upper limits of semiconductor technology sometime around 2010 or 2015, but other technologies will take its place. ("Maybe Playstation 6 or 7 will be based on biotechnology...with protein," he quipped.) The problem is that demand for more powerful entertainment computing is already here.

To prove his point, he talked about conversations with an in-house Sony game developer soon after the launch of the original PlayStation (PSOne). "What kind of power do you need to make your ideal vision?" The developer responded that the realistic real-time rendering they wanted to do would require 18,000 times more processing power than what was available with the PSOne. Try as he might, Okamoto couldn't squeeze out that kind of performance in the next generation of hardware; he had to "settle" for 300 times the power of the PSone. He then returned to his developer and asked if his estimation was still accurate. But now the developer had set his sights even higher. Real-time rendering was great, but genuine world simulation would require something even more powerful -- 1,000 times more powerful than even what the PS2 had to offer. That's the key issue Okamoto has to face: "Moore's Law is too slow for us!" he said.

Parallel Computing: Bigger Bang for Your Tech

So how can his R&D team create a system hundreds of times more powerful than what's out there if computing technology only doubles every six months? One way is with parallel computing, where many processors tackle different parts of a problem simultaneously. To this end, he showed us a diagram of a project Sony calls "GScube." It features 16 PS2s with a video merger all wrapped up in a single box. The device is extremely powerful. But, as Okamoto deadpanned, "programming of this is...very difficult." (He paused for audience laughter.) Okamoto admitted that the current PS2's strange architecture was "one of the most crazy designs in computer science," and while I doubt the next-generation PlayStation will be as brute-force as the 16-machine GScube, it seemed clear that Sony R&D will apply whatever clever tricks they can to squeeze the maximum possible performance out of whatever's on hand.

A PlayStation Built for the Internet

Along with parallel computing, there's also distributed computing, a concept embodied by the Internet. Right now the 'net is basically a group of PCs connected to servers all connected together (an oversimplification, but it works). In the coming years, the shape of the Internet, Okamoto asserts, is going to change. From 2001 to 2005, we'll be developing what he calls "Internet with appliances." Not just PCs, but mobiles, digital televisions, and game consoles will all connect to their own nooks and crannies of the 'net. And beyond 2005, he hinted that the Internet will be organized into what he called "cells," a project that Sony is working on with IBM and Toshiba. Sadly, he got very vague. "Today I cannot mention more detail of cell processor," he said, noting that it'll be unveiled around 2003 or 2004. He did state, however, that the third generation PlayStation would be based on this technology. That means a PlayStation 3 born and bred to be jacked into the 'net.

The PS2 Meets Linux

Another project Sony's R&D is working on is admittedly only of interest to a small market, but it's a niche worth exploring. They booted up a PS2 running Linux. Yep, a full Linux Red Hat distribution. Sony plans to sell a complete kit to turn your PS2 into a full-fledged Linux box, complete with 40GB hard drive, USB mouse, keyboard, and documentation. "Of course, the TV set is not so great for Linux," Okamoto explained, smiling. So the kit will also include a converter cable to allow you to hook your PS2 to a high-resolution monitor. The kit will run about $200. And yes, it was running Linux, completely compatible with all Linux software and able to compile anything. The kit is mostly for non-commercial hobbyists. What does Sony gain? An audience of avid PS2 users experimenting with a robust TCP/IP (Internet communication) protocol. Fans will also receive complete documentation with the kit, which includes all the technical details of the PS2 hardware. Normally this info is only available to game developers. An interesting project indeed.

The Next-Generation Man / Machine Interface

Finally, Okamoto wrapped up with a look at alternative ways to interact with the PS2. We saw some slides of navigating through broadband entertainment -- these were just concept art pieces, but they demonstrated what R&D was tinkering with. Expect to use your PS2 to surf movie and music content as well as games, and to use it as an e-mail and instant-message client as well.

The highlight of this part of the presentation was a demonstration of what Okamoto called "Gestural Interfaces." By connecting a standard USB camera to your PS2, you could send it visual data. A technician demonstrated this in action. In his hand he held a wand with a green ball at the tip. The PS2 was able to track the movements of the green ball. On the screen, he was able to move through a virtual 3D environment. As he waved the wand in certain patterns, he was able to cast certain spells. He was able to push things around the game world by "bumping" them with his wand. And the world reacted back. When he waved his wand to make a thundercloud appear, lighting arced from the rain clouds to wherever he was holding the wand onscreen. It was a far cry from the PS2 dual-shock controller, and a hint of the kind of technology we might see in Sony's future.

It was a fascinating talk, short on practical details, but clearly looking far ahead. Like any good R&D director, Okamoto was full of ideas and kept an open mind about how best to implement them. Creating a future? He wouldn't settle for anything less.
Old Mar 24, 2002, 04:03 PM
Jimmy078 Jimmy078 is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: USA
Posts: 346


But, instead of talking about this they should be talking about something more important. Like the lasers cuz dam they need to be fixed!!!

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