PlayStation2 modification irritates Sony

Shortages and pent-up demand could encourage chipping. Sony doesn't approve.
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

UK customers who miss the opportunity to pre-order a Sony PlayStation2 (PS2), might be able to modify machines from the US or Japan instead.

Retailers began taking orders for PS2s on Wednesday night, with machines expected by November 24. However, only 200,000 units have been made available for the UK, a figure experts have condemned as inadequate.

Latest research suggest 75 percent of British children aged between seven and 14 own a console. Most of those are PlayStations.

ZDNet has learned that at least one UK organisation is looking to satisfy demand by modifying US and Japanese PS2s that customers have imported.

Sony is not amused.

The company has introduced regional coding for the PS2 which means, for example, that Japanese PS2 games are not compatible with American or European machines and so on. Hollywood pioneered regional encoding of intellectual property in an effort to distribute marketing funds fairly for individual movie releases, or so it says.

Observers argue that it has more to do with maximising profits.

Sony claims regional coding is necessary in the fight against piracy and because of the different TV standards worldwide.

Phil Evans, principal policy advisor at the Consumer Association, which last month accused Sony of ripping off consumers over the price of the PS2, says Sony's primary concern is the same as Hollywood's. "This type of price discrimination has been part and parcel of the computer games industry for many years", he said. "It's got more to do with maximising profits and controlling markets, than technical reasons".

Techtronics, based in Lincolnshire, specialises in converting DVD players to play disks from all regions, a technique known as 'chipping'. Techtronics is now looking at chipping the PlayStation2.

"Modifying PlayStation2 models from Japan and the US is definitely something we're looking into", a Techtronics spokesman revealed. "We're confident that we'd be able to chip the DVD side of the PlayStation2, and we're looking into the legal aspects of modifying it to play games released in other regions", he added. Chipped machines will also need a converter to handle different TV standards.

A spokesman for Sony, insisted that users would be unwise to carry out such a modification. "As well as being dangerous, such a modification would certainly invalidate the warranty of the PlayStation2."

The PS2 has been designed to resist modifications, following widespread chipping of its predecessor. "You'll need specialist tools to get inside the PS2 without causing severe damage. A Philips screwdriver won't do the job", the spokesman warned.

Sony does not believe it would make economic sense for anyone to import PS2s for chipping, "On top of the $299, you'd have to add sales tax of between eight and twelve percent in America, and also pay VAT when entering this country," argues the spokesman.

Removing the regional coding technology of a DVD player typically cost between £70 and £150.

Consumers won't find it easy to get hold of a PS2 from Japan either, since the Japanese government brought in strict export regulations after claims that high-tech consoles could be used to guide missiles.

While Sony does not approve, its spokesman conceded that the popularity of the console coupled with short supplies, could encourage people to chip imported models.

The PlayStation2, which will play both video games and DVDs, was launched in Japan back in March. It is due to be released in the US this autumn for $299.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has not yet received any complaints about Sony's pricing of the PlayStation2. As such it has no plans to investigate its pricing strategy. "Higher pricing in the UK compared to other parts of the world is not enough evidence of anti-competitive practice," said an OFT spokesman Thursday. "We would need evidence that a company was abusing a dominant market position [before an investigation could be launched]".

The spokesman advised ZDNet readers to contact the OFT on 0207 211 8000 if they have a complaint about Sony's pricing.

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