Several studios in the UK are already working with development hardware for the next-generation PlayStation console, GamesIndustry.biz has learned, as Sony continues quietly rolling out dev kits to select partners ahead of the system's E3 unveiling.
A number of Japanese companies have had development hardware for the console for several months, and some are believed to be working on software demos for E3, but today brought the first confirmation that kits have shipped in the UK as well.
So far, however, the roll-out of systems appears to be to a small group of Sony's close partners, and we're only aware of two studios in the country which have hardware - although some others may simply be remaining more tight-lipped about the kits.
Details of what exactly is present in the next-generation PlayStation dev kits are sparse, but according to one development source, "they're more advanced than the PowerMac kits [Microsoft] has given us [for Xenon] - they're still prototypes, but they're closer to what'll be in the final console... The graphics chip isn't there, say, but we can get a pretty good idea by taking an NVIDIA 6800 and saying, okay, it'll be like this but faster."
However, he did note that developers are expecting Microsoft to update the prototype PowerMac-based Xenon kits with more advanced hardware "pretty much any day now" - an important step for the company, since it's still planning to launch the next-generation Xbox before the end of the year, and industry rumours suggest that it may even have recently pulled the launch schedule forward by several weeks.
Sony plans to show the next-generation PlayStation off in public for the first time at its pre-E3 conference in Los Angeles in May, where it will almost certainly debut within a few hours of the public unveilings of Nintendo's Revolution and Microsoft's next-gen Xbox.
However, the system - which is based on a new chip called Cell, which was co-developed by IBM and Sony, and an NVIDIA graphics board - is not expected to start shipping to consumers until the second quarter of 2006 at the earliest.