Sony revealed the PS3 at a packed press conference today in Los Angeles and confirmed that the next-gen console would be available from spring 2006.
Among the highlights of a press conference that had more bells and whistles than a morris dancing referee were the revelations that PS3 will be backwards compatible with both PS2 and PSone, will connect wirelessly to PSP, will feature a 2.5 inch removable hard disk, will use Blu-Ray discs, will allow up to seven joypads to connect wirelessly at the same time, will be an 'always online' machine with full online support, and will deliver stunning HD graphics up to a resolution of 1080p thanks to over 2 teraflops of processing muscle from a PowerPC-base Core running at 3.2GHz.
But the event wasn't just about tech specs. Sony revealed a startling line-up of games heading to the new console including Metal gear Solid 4 (now confirmed for PS3), Devil May Cry 4, Vision Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy XII, Fight Night Round 3, Getaway 3 and a next-gen Killzone. Every game announced was accompanied by a truly stunning demo trailer.
As well as existing franchises Sony also announced several new titles planned for PS3, including games from Rockstar (possibly a Red Dead Revolver sequel), Ubisoft (a wickedly violent FPS with sweet acrobatic gunplay), and WRC developers Evolution - a manic offroad racing game with more crashes than a knackered old PC.
And while reports have claimed that the machine wouldn't show its face at the conference Sony did reveal a prototype version in three colours: white, silver and black. It strikes a similar silhouette to the PS2 but has a more rounded shape and a smooth, shiny finish similar to the PSP. The logo's new, too. It's PlayStation 3 written out longhand with a font that's suspiciously similar to that used for the Spider-Man movies.
A new DualShock pad also made its debut. Smoother and sleeker than its older brother (and strangely resembling a polished banana) it's still uinclear whether this new pad will be the final design.
Sony execs Kaz Hirai, Ken Kutaragi and Phil Harrison showed off the console's hardware and abilities. Kutaragi-san introduced plans for an extensive wireless networking system that would allow you to communicate, play online, upload media and info, and download multiple feeds of HD content, simultaneously with other activities. Gamers will also be able to share game content over secure P2P networking. "The PS3 will be the centre of the living room," promised Hirai-san.
A number of tech demos were shown, including an homage to the legendary 'duck in the bathtub' early PS2 tech demo. Only this time, there were around 200 ducks in one tiny bathtub, all jostling each other and splashing realistically in the perfectly rendered water.
Jen Hsung Huang of nVidia - who are supplying the custom RSX graphics processor for the console - showed off some jaw-dropping graphic demos and revealed that the RSX chip is twice as powerful as nVidia's current most powerful PC graphics processor.
Epic Games weighed in to lend support to Huang with a tech demo using the Unreal Engine 3. Manipulated in real-time, the demo showed off the PS3's ability to create amazingly realistic environments and lighting effects.
The game demos followed. Final Fantasy XII was a particular highlight, with Square Enix president Youichi Wada on hand to present an extra special treat - a re-imagining of the Final Fantasy VII intro movie rendered with the PS3's graphical capabilities. "This does not necessarily mean we are working on a remake of Final Fantasy VII," said Wada, teasingly.
The Getaway 3 demo displayed a staggering attention to detail as it perfectly recreated London's Regent Street, and the Killzone demo was a particularly shell-shocking moment. Bullets flashed, bombs burst, bodies crumpled as the visual impact of the PS3's processing power tore through the huge screen.
While the demos were all undoubtedly stunning it should be pointed out that none were actually playable or played by participants on stage. It remains unconfirmed whether a playable version of the console will be present at E3 itself, which begins Wednesday.
Kutaragi-san, widely acknowledged as the 'Father of PlayStation', wasted no time placing his new baby at the top of the next-gen pile. "Empowered by the Cell processor with supercomputer-like performance, a new age of PlayStation is about to begin. Together with content creators from around the world, SCEI will accelerate the arrival of a new era in computer entertainment."
With so little previously known about PS3 the conference must be seen as a huge success for Sony. Microsoft's Xbox 360 conference is starting right about now, so we'll be back later with the details on whether Bill's new Box can keep its position at the front of the next-gen pack.
And tomorrow morning Nintendo may unveil Revolution at its press conference. We'll have all the latest.