Sony Announces Handheld Gran Turismo 4, a new-and-improved PlayStation 2 console, a PS2-compatible USB camera, and the unlikely pairing of Tiger Woods and comedian Cedric the Entertainer all took a backseat at Tuesday morning's Sony press conference to the surprise announcement of the company's first-ever handheld entertainment platform.
"This year promises to be even more exciting than 2002," SCEA President and CEO Kazuo Hirai said to a capacity crowd at the L.A. Center Studio in downtown Los Angeles, before announcing that the next installments in the Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto series would debut exclusively on PS2.
Hirai gave the public its first glimpse of the highly anticipated racing game Gran Turismo 4. Developed by Polyphony Digital and scheduled for release in winter 2004, GT4, according to Polyphony President Kazunori Yamauchi, will help gamers to "re-experience the history of cars." New in Gran Turismo 4 are major upgrades in the car physics and A.I. engines, as well as an emphasis on more real racing circuits and online play.
Hirai then shifted the focus to hardware, announcing the PlayStation 2 Online Pack and the EyeToy USB Camera. The PS2 Online Pack, scheduled for release in June at a price of $199, includes a new PS2 unit with a built-in Sony Network Adaptor and a DVD-R-compatible progressive-scan DVD player with a built-in infrared remote sensor. The unit will also feature a quieter system fan. The EyeToy USB camera PS2 add-on allows gamers to project themselves onscreen, record video messages onto memory cards, and engage in a variety of minigames.
Following a short explanation of Sony's online plans, which included the announcement of a Q1 2004 ship date for Final Fantasy XI that will coincide with the release of the PS2 hard drive and winter ship dates for SOCOM II and Syphon Filter: Omega Strain, Hirai proudly stated that all nine of EA Sports' 2003-2004 titles would feature online play exclusively on PS2.
To demonstrate the potential of online sports, celebrities Tiger Woods (via satellite) and comedian Cedric the Entertainer faced off over the Internet in a raucous one-hole contest on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.
Finally, Sony Director and Executive Deputy Director Ken Kutaragi shocked the crowd by announcing the Sony PSP, a new handheld platform.