Ever more realistic games with faster and more detailed graphics, plus broadband support for multiuser online games are in the near future of Sony's PlayStation.

So says Shin'ichi Okamoto, Sony Computer Entertainment's senior vice president. At the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, which runs over this week, Okamoto gave a hint of things to come from PlayStation.

And after that? Maybe up close and personal computer gaming biotechnology — but that's for PlayStation6 or 7, he told attendees at the conference.

For the more immediate next-generation console, Okamoto spoke of processing power multiplied 1,000 times over that of the PlayStation2, internet capabilities and other networking functions — courtesy of Linux.

With heavy competition from Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube, Sony is eager to keep developers writing for its PlayStation line and consumers intrigued by its capabilities.

A future PlayStation would let game developers add more elements of real-time processing to games. To illustrate that potential, Okamoto demonstrated a simulation showing a young girl sitting on a small island, with fish swimming in the sea beneath her and gulls circling above. Each time a fish struck the surface it transformed into a gull, and vice versa.

"Not only the image but the behaviour is transferred at the surface," he said. A close-up of the girl's face showed swirls of changing emotion. Some of the shifts were manually controlled, but others were automatic, part of the programming that made up the girl's personality.

Moore's Law is too slow for PlayStation development, Okamoto said.

Okamoto estimates it could take nearly 20 years to reach the goal of 1,000 times current processing power through traditional increases. After all, the PS2 only jumped 300 times over the original PlayStation, he said.

Rather, research into distributed computing could be applied to the PS3, Okamoto said. Using a network-based processor and sharing various tasks over a network, distributed computing could bring that 1,000x power by 2003 or 2004 instead of 2020, he said.

"We'll disclose more details later," he added cryptically.

Okamoto noted that Sony has an ambitious PlayStation research and development policy. "The future is not to be forecast but created," he said, a quote from science fiction author Arthur C Clarke. The Sony executive further likened the company's R&D efforts to navigating a jumbo jet down a 100ft diameter pipe. "It's a crazy job," he said.

Sony also plans to add internet capabilities to the current PlayStation2 soon, Okamoto said. It already has four channels — DVD movies, CD audio and PlayStation1 and PS2 games. "This year, you will see the fifth channel in broadband capability," he said.

This broadband access will include a Dynamic Network Authentication System. This can be used to authenticate hardware and software, similar to implementing Windows XP on a game system. But it's not Windows that's being incorporated into the PS2. That's one place where Sony is investigating Linux options.

Using Linux lets Sony evaluate, both internally and externally, how a general-purpose operating system can be used in a distributed computing environment, Okamoto said.