By the summer of 2000 the once pioneering PlayStation was a thoroughly decrepit six years old and now the ageing budget alternative to the glorious next-gen delights of Sega’s online Dreamcast and Sony’s own PlayStation 2. Like every other console before it the PlayStation was supposed to politely fade into obscurity, its remaining stock swiftly cleared at a discounted price, its upcoming games cancelled or moved to more exciting modern platforms. But a console like that couldn’t quietly drop off the face of the earth even if it wanted to: it wasn’t just a good console or a successful brand, it was the omnipresent “Nintendo box” of its generation, the first and perhaps only format a significant number of people had ever played on. It was going to stick around whether anyone wanted it to or not.
There was only one thing for it: if the old console was staying, then it had to have a brand new look.
The redesigned PS one was much smaller and lighter than not only the grey rectangular PlayStation before it but also any other competitor on the market, the rounded edges and off-white colouring subtly echoing the futuristic “Y2K” look of the time. It was (and still is) appealingly unintrusive, looking as sleek and modern in an adult’s entertainment setup as it does simple and inoffensive in a child’s bedroom. If you were buying one for the first time it was easy to fit in – physically and aesthetically – wherever you imagined using it, and if you were buying it as a replacement for an old and permanently upside-down PlayStation (hi there, fellow People Of A Certain Age) the new look gave the impression you were spending money on something fresh; something that could play all of your pre-existing collection and a sizeable array of brand new hits as well. As if to prove the system still had plenty of life left in it Final Fantasy IX released in Japan on the same day as the PS one; the perfect example of a gargantuan system-selling exclusive any other company would’ve been prepared to do anything to have all to themselves and PlayStation just carrying on being its unstoppable self all rolled into one.
To say this overhaul was a success would be something of an understatement: The PS one – and just the PS one, as a console in its own right counted separately from any other form of PlayStation – sold over 28 million units in its lifetime. To help you put that ridiculous number in perspective: that’s more than the Dreamcast, GameCube, or Xbox ever managed to individually sell worldwide.
And for me that’s all lovely enough but as far as I’m concerned it was really only the prelude to something even better – the PS one screen. This additional hardware arrived around two years after the new model’s debut, making what was at the time the most popular and successful console on the planet something you could take and play wherever you went… to a certain extent.
By 2002 portable console gaming had already been attempted several times before to varying levels of expense, success, and market penetration: The PC Engine GT (AKA: the TurboExpress) and Sega’s US-only Nomad have always been the most commonly encountered, the Game Gear’s Master Gear Converter fills a questionably official niche, and the PC Engine LT as well as Hitachi’s HiSaturn Navi are so rare and expensive they may as well not exist at all. Power supply constraints prevent Sony’s combo from directly competing with the genuinely portable examples above (however many batteries they require) and it may also lack the collector-cool of the latter two, but the PS one screen still has a whole deck of unbeatable trump cards up its sleeve. Availability was a big one: The screen was sold worldwide and compared to earlier efforts in the field in relatively generous supply, so no matter the region if you wanted one then you stood a realistic chance of coming home with this new accessory tucked under your arm, either on its own or conveniently pre-bundled with a brand new PS one. They weren’t especially cheap when you did find them – at their US launch the screen alone sold for about $130 while the console itself cost $99 – but they were “payday” expensive, or “birthday” expensive, not “completely written off the moment I saw how much they cost” expensive. Quality was another: In play the RGB output using screen is sharp, vivid, and responsive, avoiding the ghosting and poor viewing angles of many early/cheaper LCD screens. At five inches across (a touch smaller than a Switch Lite’s screen, and an inch larger than the Saturn’s Navi) it was the largest and highest quality portable gaming monitor around, making it just as possible for a group of friends to enjoyably while away hours on Everybody’s Golf without needing to lean in as it was for a solo player to grind through their favourite RPGs in comfort.
And then there’s ease of use. Fit the screen on the back, plug it in, and turn it on. That’s all it needs. No other cables are required unless you want to output to a normal TV again – and if you do it’ll need nothing more than a standard PlayStation TV cable connected to the familiar AV slot on the back of the unit, as immediately accessible as its always been without needing to remove or alter the existing PS one/screen setup or press any arcane button combinations to get it to switch from one display to the other. As it’s just a standard console with an attachment on the back there are also virtually no weird limitations on accessories or software compatibility to worry about (bar the screen not being compatible with light gun games, the same as any other LCD TV). Done for the day? Fold the screen down over the lid and not only are all of the most delicate parts protected (the screen is recessed, so there’s no chance of this scratching the screen unless you have a habit of leaving rusty nails end-up on top of your PS one) but your take-anywhere console is also now roughly half the height and width of an original PlayStation 2 (and a fraction of the weight too).
Remarkably the PS one screen’s still an attractive purchase today, even after taking every kind of PSP, Vita, FPGA, and those cute Raspberry Pi boxes into account. The way it fits so beautifully onto the already stylish PS one makes it a nice object to have around whether it’s being used or not, and the size makes it easy to bring out for some gaming without having to clear any space or make a day of it – it’s small and light enough to balance on your lap if need’s be. With newer displays removing high-quality legacy AV connectors (RGB SCART, once a common feature on UK sets for decades and still the very best retro output there ever was, is now a fading memory) it’s now an easy and straightforward way of playing a format’s worth of older games on real hardware with the minimal amount of fuss. It may lack the obvious specialist wow factor of a dedicated CRT TV or a fancy upscaler but it’s a great middle ground between the more ephemeral ease of PC-based emulation and the sometimes fiddly (and expensive) physicality of doing it “properly”. If you’re a big fan of “it just works” – and I know I am – the PS one screen is one of those things that definitely “just works”. The console will be rightly remembered forever, but with a screen attached the PS one becomes a reliable, future-proof, and playable time capsule of gaming excellence.