A quietly filed patent appears to reveal Sony is planning or at least considering the possibility of reintroducing full PS2 emulation to the PS3, which initially shipped with a special chip for this purpose, though this was later removed in a fit of marketing genius by Sony in order to cut costs…
The inferred plan is suggested by Sony’s American operation recently filing a patent which describes a method by which the PS3’s “Cell” processor could emulate the PS2’s “Emotion Engine”, apparently without the need for special hardware.
The PS3 initially shipped with such functionality provided in hardware, and this was a key selling point, but with later revisions of the console the chip was dropped and full PS2 backward compatibility subsequently lost.
Whether this was a wise move is probably debatable, particularly considering how tenaciously the PS2 appears to be resisting its demise, but it seems the whole problem may be avoided if a firmware update could simply add the required emulation features in software and so allow the PS3 to play PS2 games once more.
Of course, there is also the possibility that the patent is but one of the many thousands filed all the time by a large technology company speculatively with no immediate hopes of release.
It seems possible that Sony either planned from the start to re-add emulation via software when they dropped PS2 hardware emulation, or that they have been so stung by the refusal of the PS2 to be quickly and cleanly superseded that they felt they had to develop a cleaner solution.
In any case, PS3 owning gamers will appreciate being able to finally dump their PS2s completely if ever that day comes…