The PlayStation is a home video game console developed and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment. Almost every major title releases on the PlayStation, which makes it one of the leading consoles today. Sony released the PlayStation in the mid-1990s, and it was a dramatic success. The PlayStation backed Sony’s rise to power in the video game industry. The second iteration of the series, the PlayStation 2, sold over 150 million units. It is the most selling console in gaming history.
Let’s take a walk back in time and see how things began for Sony and how it took its current shape.
In the late 1980s, Sony partnered with Nintendo to produce a CD ROM add-on for their Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). However, Nintendo canceled all plans of partnering with Sony. In CES 1991, when Sony was preparing to showcase their new product in collaboration with Nintendo, Nintendo of America chairman Howard Lincoln announced their alliance with Philips, Sony’s rival.
This infuriated Sony, and they thereby decided to make their console. Despite opposition from several officers in Sony, who deemed Nintendo and SEGA as toymakers, Ken Kutaragi, the leading designer of the first PlayStation, continued the project.
After Sony president Norio Ohga saw the potential in Kutaragi’s work, things became easier for the PlayStation. Ohga shifted Kutaragi and nine of his team to Sony Music. Since the PlayStation would be a CD-ROM-based console, and music production also involved CDs back in the day, Kutaragi’s work got an extra boost.
The Sony PlayStation (1994-2006)
The PlayStation was Sony’s iteration of a fifth-generation home video game console. It sported a small form factor and was primarily a CD ROM-driven console. It had three buttons at the top – the Power, Reset, and Open buttons; and could connect up to two controllers.
Sony announced the PlayStation on 27th October 1993 and launched it on 3rd December 1994 in Japan. It became an instant success. The launch price of the console was ¥39,800 in Japan and $299 in the USA. It sold 100,000 units in the first day and over two million units in the first six months.
SEGA Saturn was launched at the same time as the PlayStation. SEGA lowered its price to bring it at par with the PlayStation’s $299 price tag. But the PlayStations sold like crazy. Retailers remember its sale as “Playstations flew out the door as fast as we could get them in stock.”
A revised version of the PlayStation was released in 2000. It was a smaller, redesigned version of the original PlayStation and was called the PS one.
The original PlayStation sold over 102 million units before it was discontinued in March 2006.
The Sony PocketStation (1999-2006)
The Sony PocketStation was a miniature game console released as a peripheral for the original PlayStation. It was released exclusively in Japan in December 1999. It had a monochrome LCD and a real-time clock.
The PocketStation sold well in Japan. Sony had plans to release it in the United States, but it was finally scrapped as the PlayStation 2 was nearing launch.
The Sony PlayStation 2 (2000-2013)
Sony released the second iteration of the PlayStation in March 2000. It was called the PlayStation 2 and was Sony’s version of a sixth-generation home video game console. The PlayStation 2 was significantly larger and much more capable than the PlayStation. Most of the titles were based on DVD-ROM, and some software was distributed as CD-ROM.
The PlayStation 2 came in a black body and weighed almost 5 pounds. It sported 32MB of system RAM and 4MB of video RAM. It also was among the first consoles to support online connectivity. The system was also backward compatible with all titles on the original PlayStation.
All of these features made the PlayStation 2 a very powerful device at the time of launch. It bagged several positive reviews.
Microsoft and Nintendo had launched the Xbox and the Gamecube by 2002, respectively. The PlayStation was largely criticized because of its higher price at $299 as compared to the cheaper $199 Gamecube. Also, it had significantly worse graphics performance as compared to the Xbox.
Despite all of the criticism, the PlayStation 2 went on to become Sony’s best-selling console. The PlayStation 2 sold over 155 million units by March 2012, when Sony stopped supplying updated sales numbers for the console. This made the PlayStation 2 the most selling video game console ever.
In October 2004, Sony launched a slimline version of the console which was significantly smaller, lighter, and quieter than the “fat” version.
Support for the PlayStation 2 was withdrawn in 2013 when the PlayStation 4 was launched by Sony. This marked 13 years of lifespan of the console.
The Sony PlayStation Portable (2004-2014)
The PlayStation Portable was Sony’s second handheld console. It was launched in December 2004 to compete with the Nintendo DS console. It was the most powerful seventh-generation handheld gaming device when it was launched.
The console could connect with Sony’s PlayStation 2 and 3 systems, any computer with USB connectivity, and to the internet. The PlayStation Portable also had a video playback feature, which made it a portable media player.
The console sparked in popularity and was every kid’s dream. I remember lining up for the PlayStation Portable quite a few times, only to come back empty-handed as they sold out in a wink of the eye.
The PlayStation Portable sold a staggering 80 million units worldwide.
The handheld console received several redesigns featuring weight reduction, improved batteries, and more powerful hardware. By 2011, there were 5 models of the PSP. These included the original PSP-1000, launched in 2004. A slightly improved and lighter PSP Slim or PSP-2000 was launched in 2007. The PSP Slim & Lite or the PSP-3000 followed it in 2008.
The biggest redesign of the PSP came along in October 2009 when Sony introduced the PSP Go or the PSP-N1000. It featured a smaller design with a retractable gamepad. It also had a smaller screen, an all-in-one headphone, and microphone jack, and supported Bluetooth technology.
The final revision of the PSP was launched in November 2011. It was called the PSP Street or the PSP-E1000. It was targeted towards the budget-oriented segment of the market. The E1000 lacked WiFi connectivity and came in black charcoal and ice-white finishes.
The PSP was discontinued in 2014, after 10 long years of support.
The Sony PlayStation 3 (2006-2016)
The PlayStation 3 was Sony’s iteration of a seventh-generation home video game console and was a direct successor to the PlayStation 2. It was released in November 2006. It competed against Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii.
The console was powered by the Cell microprocessor. Development of this system began way back in 2001. Sony, in collaboration with Toshiba and IBM, designed the Cell microprocessor as the PS3’s CPU. The PS3 came with 512MB of memory. Of the total memory, 256MB was XDR DRAM, which was used by the system. The remaining 256MB was GDDR3 video memory used by the graphics accelerating chip.
With the PlayStation 3, Sony introduced the PlayStation Network. The PlayStation Network (abbreviated as PSN) standardized online connectivity profiles. PSN is relevant till-date. Users can synchronize game progress and achievements across consoles through it.
The PlayStation 3 was a time of turbulence in the console line-up’s history. Microsoft had already launched the Xbox way back in September 2005. Weaker hardware and being late in the race costed Sony. Microsoft took a solid lead over its competitors. The Xbox 360 became the leading seventh-generation console, with Sony and Nintendo catching up to it.
The first model of the PlayStation 3, also called the PS3 “Phat”, was criticized for being expensive as compared to the competitors. It cost $599 for the 60GB hard drive variant and $499 for the 20GB hard drive variant. The PlayStation 3 was thoroughly criticized for being limited in terms of storage space as well. However, it received praise for its Blu-Ray capabilities and “untapped potential”.
The PlayStation 3 sold almost 87 million units, making it the worst-selling PlayStation home console by far.
The first revised version of the PlayStation 3 was launched in 2009. Called the PlayStation 3 Slim, it featured significant weight reduction, upgraded hardware, and a larger hard drive. The PS3 Slim also featured a logo redesign. It was updated from the “Spider-Man” font design on the Phat model to a “PS3” wordmark. This new logo resembled the PS2 logo in every way other than a lowercase ‘s’ in the PS3.
In 2012, Sony came up with the PlayStation 3 Super Slim. It featured further weight reduction. Three variants of the Super Slim version were introduced. They included consoles with 500GB of hard-drive storage, 250GB of hard-drive storage, and 12GB of flash storage respectively. The 12GB model was upgradable with an official 250GB hard drive or other third-party hard drives.
The console was discontinued by 2016 in almost all regions It got discontinued in May 2017 in Japan, featuring a lifespan of over 10 years.
The Sony PlayStation Vita (2011-2019)
The PlayStation Vita is Sony’s iteration of an eighth-generation handheld gaming console. It directly succeeded the already popular PlayStation Portable. The console was launched in 2011 in Japan, and in 2012 in other regions.
A revised version, called the PS Vita 2000 series was launched in 2013-14. This newer version had a smaller size and extended battery life. It ditched the OLED screen for a worse LCD screen.
The PS Vita received limited exposure. Although there were loyal fans for the third generation of PlayStation handhelds, the console was deemed as a commercial failure. Sony ceased giving sales figure updates by the end of 2012 when the console had sold 4 million units. Analysts estimated the console to have sold 6 million units by 2013.
A 2021 breakdown suggests the poor sales were due to the rise in popularity of smartphone gaming. Sony ignored the potential of smartphone gaming and thought portable gaming would be dominated by tablet computers.
Production of the PlayStation Vita ended in 2019 with Sony having no plans of a successor.
The Sony PlayStation 4 (2013-present day)
The PlayStation 4 is Sony’s iteration of an eighth-generation home video game console. It was a direct successor to the PlayStation 3. Launched in November 2013, the PlayStation 4 competed with the Microsoft Xbox and the Nintendo Wii U.
The PlayStation 4 emphasized social interaction and integration with other devices and services through Remote Play and Share Play. The controller was dramatically improved. It featured an enlarged body, better analog sticks, and a new touchpad. Improved versions of the PS4 supported HDR10 video output, and up to 4K gaming.
Hardware for the PlayStation 4 was designed by AMD. The PS4 was powered by an APU, which had the CPU and the GPU on the same chip. AMD described the custom APU as “the most powerful APU we have built to date”. Hardware design was much like a personal computer. This made game development far simpler and unified.
This was a huge step forward from the complex Cell microarchitecture its predecessor, the PS3 incorporated.
The PS4 packed 8GB of GDDR5 memory. This was 16 times the memory found on the PS3. The huge memory capacity gave developers lots of freedom in designing vast open worlds with considerable attention to detail.
The PS4 hardware was significantly better than its competitors. It gave the console longevity. That is clear from the fact that the PS4 can still game pretty well, even after 8 years from its initial release.
The only downside to the PS4’s hardware was the considerably weaker 8-core “Jaguar” CPU. This costed the entire gaming industry as the PlayStation is in the limelight of video gaming, and developers had to optimize their games for the PlayStation to drive sales. Sony fixed its flaw with upcoming hardware revisions and did not repeat this mistake in the latest PlayStation 5.
The PlayStation 4 was the most successful eighth-generation home video game console. It was critically acclaimed for packing better hardware, being aggressively priced, and being open to third-party game developers. The console has sold over 116 million units, and the number is still rising. It ranks #4 in the most sold video games console list and is only behind the PlayStation 2, the Nintendo DS family, and the Game Boy and Game Boy Color.
Two revisions of the PlayStation 4 were launched in 2016. These included a slimline version of the PS4, which was called the PS4 Slim. It had a matte black finish and packed slightly better hardware as compared to the original PS4.
The other version packed significantly better hardware and was a 4K gaming console. It was called the PS4 Pro. Although, 4K gaming wasn’t mature yet. The PS4 Pro resorted to Dynamic Resolution to achieve 4K. Dynamic resolution dropped the resolution significantly, at times up to 900p, to provide a playable experience.
All versions of the PlayStation 4 were discontinued in January 2021, except the PS4 Slim. The PS4 Slim is still sold by Sony. Support for the PS4 will continue up to 2023. After that, it will be permanently discontinued.
The Sony PlayStation 5 (2020-present day)
The PlayStation 5 is Sony’s iteration of a ninth-generation home video game console. Launched in November 2020, the console directly competes with the Xbox Series X|S. It is a successor to the PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 5 packs significantly powerful hardware. The system is so capable that it worried PC gamers, as they feared losing the performance crown to consoles. The system packs an octa-core 7nm processor designed in tandem by AMD and Sony. The processor is based on AMD’s award-winning Zen2 architecture. The integrated GPU is based on AMD’s rDNA architecture and supports hardware-accelerated real-time ray-tracing. The console had 16GB of GDDR6 SDRAM, double that of the PlayStation 4. The console comes with 825GB of ultra-fast NVMe storage.
The PlayStation 5 comes in a black and white duotone finish. White is the primary color. It boasts a futuristic sci-fi design, which many critics have referred to as a “spaceship” design. The console looks modern, and thermal performance has been significantly improved as compared to a PlayStation 4.
The DualShock controller was significantly improved and modernized. It is called the DualSense controller and supports haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and an improved speaker and build quality. The DualSense was critically acclaimed for being significantly better than the competition.
Two versions of the console were available at launch. These included the base model, which had a Blu-Ray Drive. Discs for the PlayStation 5 can store up to 100GB of data.
The second model was a Digital-Only version. It lacked a Blu-Ray Drive and was cheaper as compared to the base model. It was targeted towards gamers who preferred digital downloads as the only mode of purchasing games.
Initial sales of the consoles were significantly worse due to limited supply. The ongoing silicon shortage hampered the production of both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles. Scalpers took advantage of this and sold these consoles for thousands of dollars.
According to Sony, the console has shipped 10.1 million units to date. Sony expects the hardware situation to improve over the upcoming months and sales to return to normal.
A hardware revision of the PS5 was released in August 2021. It featured significant weight loss without hurting the cooling performance. The weight loss was attributed to a decreased heatsink mass, as YouTubers Austin Evans and Gamers Nexus found out.
The PlayStation 5 is the current-gen home video game console from Sony. Sony officially supports it from November 2020. Support will continue until 2030, based on the support duration of earlier Sony consoles.
The Sony PlayStation has been one of the major consoles in the market since its release. Over 27 years, the console has emerged to become a consumer favorite. We can only see its position skyrocket from here.