While HDTVs are finally becoming more affordable, high-def video game consoles are not. While the Xbox 360 and the upcoming PlayStation 3 are excellent HDTV companions, they're also pretty expensive, running from $300 for the low-end 360 to $600 for the high-end PS3--not to mention the games that sell for $60 or more. Finding high-def love on older consoles is a bit more difficult. Unlike the somewhat HD-friendly Xbox1, the PlayStation 2 has had only a small fraction of its library available in wide-screen 16:9 aspect ratio, and the games' resolutions tend to top out at a DVD-equivalent 480p. But a new accessory is promising to change that limitation. U.K. gaming-accessory company Blaze Games has developed an upconverting solution with the Xploder HDTV Player for the PS2, targeted at folks who want to play in high-def on the PlayStation 2. The HDTV Player sells for $40 and includes the HDTV Player software and a PS2-compatible component-video cable.
The Xploder PS2 HDTV Players runs on your PS2 by using a startup disc. When you insert the disc, you can toggle between various NTSC, PAL, and VGA resolutions. You can also change the placement of the image. Once you've chosen the resolution you want to use, simply insert the game's disc, then press start. The HDTV Player comes with a component cable, but if you already have one connected to your PS2, it'll work just as well.
The NTSC resolutions available on the HDTV Player are 480p, 720p, and 1080i. In each of our tests, changing to the 720p and 1080i modes did indeed change the system's output to those respective HD resolutions, however the image was stretched and squashed in both cases, creating a windowbox effect--we had to shrink the image even further and change the aspect ratio to 4:3 for the things to look playable. We did most of our tests with a the 47-inch Westinghouse LVM-47w1 and found the higher-resolution images to be too small to be appealing to any HDTV owner, even with the ability to move the shrunken image anywhere on the screen. The image is sharper but much smaller and no more detailed.
With the high-def resolutions a wash, we decided to move onto the HDTV player's progressive-scan mode. We first tested the HDTV Player with one of the PS2's more HD-friendly games, Shadow of the Colossus. The game offers progressive-scan and wide-screen modes by default (without the need for the Xploder), so we looked at its "native" 480p and wide-screen images before deactivating them and firing up the Xploder. Alas, it was impossible to use the HDTV Player's 480p resolution with game's wide-screen mode engaged, as it is automatically restricted to a 4:3 aspect ratio. We then tested a game designed for standard resolution, Dirge of Cerebrus: Final Fantasy VII. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be much of a difference in picture quality, as the edges of door frames in the city streets still exhibited a large amount of aliasing.