As noted, the PS2 can play DVDs out of the box. The GameCube's disc drive won't accommodate five-inch discs, and the Xbox requires the purchase of a DVD kit to unlock its DVD-playing potential. But while Sony makes some fine DVD players, the PS2 is not a very good DVD movie machine. The video image quality is passable, but it has almost no picture adjustments and only rudimentary playback controls. A $20 DVD remote-control kit adds many of the missing playback features.
Beyond home-theater integration, you'll find two USB plugs and one IEEE 1394 (a.k.a. FireWire and iLink) port on the front, as well as a port on the back for plugging in the Online Adaptor. Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec lets you connect up to six PS2s to an IEEE 1394 hub for head-to-head racing. There are also plans to support digital cameras, keyboards, and mice. We plugged in a USB keyboard, and it worked fine to input our registration info for online play. However, we can't say that all USB keybaords are compatible.
On a critical note, the PS2 has only two controller ports, while the Xbox and the GameCube have four. You'll need to spend additional money on a four-player Multitap to get all your friends in the game. We also would've liked to see a Memory Stick slot on the front, considering this is a Sony product. Memory Sticks can hold much more data and cost less per megabyte than the PS2 memory cards that you need to buy separately.
While the online service has finally launched, we're still waiting for the impending arrival of the optional hard drive. The company still won't say when it will be available, but its addition would allow for significantly more storage space for updates to existing games. For example, you could download whole new levels for adventure and action games.
The PS2 has a great and ever widening stable of games available, including such PS2-exclusive titles as Grand Theft Auto Vice City. That, along with a competitive $199 price tag (the same as the Xbox and only $50 more than the GameCube) and a robust-looking online option, makes this a compelling purchase. Just bear in mind that the Xbox offers more horsepower and features, most notably a built-in 8GB hard drive. But if your biggest priority right now is the widest selection of games rather than hardware bells and whistles, the PlayStation 2 is still a solid choice.