Since the inception of the PS2, Sony has seen it more than a game console; rather an integrated entertainment centre. The incorporation of DVD playback capability and the recent release of the EyeToy have all been about making the device appeal to a wider audience. The recent release of the SingStar package is another step in this strategy.

You can either chose to buy the SingStar unit as a separate package or as part of a PS2 console kit. We opted for the separate package in which you get a CD that includes some 30 tunes with accompanying video, a USB connector and 2 high quality microphones, each with a decent amount of cable (essential when you are the type who likes to dance and sing).

Essentially the SingStar package turns you PS2 into a Karaoke machine that utilises proprietary disks put out by Sony (more on these later). On start-up you are given various game modes including traditional Karoke, competition mode where you compete to get the highest score and various party modes where everyone gets into the act. If you are very brave you can play back your last performance (we were not sure if this was good feature considering Gameplanet's vocal talent). In the free play mode you can effectively record your own music with the added touch of being able to add effects from a small selection of standard options.

If you really want to get serious about your singing there is a career mode where you are challenged to build your reputation by singing at various venues throughout “Harmony City? The better you get the more doors and deals are opened up to you. It’s like competing in your own ‘Idol?show.

Once you have it up and running (basically plug it all in and you're away) and chosen your track, the video starts playing with very little load time. The quality of the video is good and takes up about 60% of the screen. A strip at the top is reserved for your scoring and a timer display while at the bottom has the traditional Karaoke system of giving you the current words and those about to come up with a rolling cursor to keep you with the state of play.

In a departure from the traditional Karaoke, Sony has also included what it calls Pitch and Timing indicators overplayed on the video. These horizontal bars give you immediate feedback on how well you are hitting the right notes and keeping time. The technology used to achieve this is cutting-edge stuff, and Sony has employed audio software specialists to bring the technology into the lounge via SingStar. At the end of each line you are given feedback on how well you did ranging from awful, through bad, good and cool. This immediate and constant feedback can be unnerving at first. However, once you get used to it, it is amazing how you will improve your singing.

There are 30 songs that come with the unit and it’s not bad you consider they are also packing in the accompanying original videos as well. The choice of tracks is designed to appeal to a wide audience with music from the village people, Atomic kitten, George Michael, Ricky Martin David Bedingfield, Elvis and Darkness to name a few. A lot of thought has gone into the selection as some are very familiar and the pace and words easy to sing while some others are more challenging. There is even Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown?that Granny will recognise! Sony plans to release further discs for the unit every 6 months, including bonus SingStar discs accompanying Sony Music CDs. And if the hard disk drive should appear in these waters, downloadable content is a given for additional songs and videos.

This is all a ways off, and Gameplanet would have liked to have seen additional songs available right up front as the 30 included will likely wear thin for most people way before the next lot is released.

This unit’s wide appeal makes it ideal for parties and get-together’s with friends. In particular, tweeny girls just can’t seem to put the microphones down. If you have kids and are looking for an excuse to convince your better half to buy a PlayStation 2 then this is it. It keeps the kids amused for hours, not to mention everyone else.

If you have an EyeToy you can also connect this up to the game and see yourself perform as well. And, if you hit a particularly good note the game pauses so you can pose for a camera shot and record that special moment for posterity.

This package is a must buy for any PS2 owner with broader audiences in mind. Once you get over the initial embarrassment of singing in front of others it is a lot of fun to challenge friends and invite them to beat your high scores. SingStar represents another significant step in Sony’s plan to make the PS2 a truly integrated entertainment device.