The Sony PSP (short for PlayStation Portable) has finally hit the store shelves after months of anticipation. The success of the Nintendo DS and the popularity of Nintendo handheld systems ensure that Nintendo will maintain the principal role in the handheld wars, although Sony will chip into Nintendo's market share with its new beauty of a system. Combining elegance, sleekness, power and functionality is no easy task, yet the PSP is definitely a device that will quench the lust of many consumers for a truly remarkable gaming device with plenty of other various media functions. That is
assuming you can swallow the price tag.
The Nintendo DS was released in late-November for a price of $150 and the many innovative features that it introduced to the portable gaming market (such as a built-in microphone, Wi-Fi support, two screens and a touch screen) were met skeptically but with optimism. People weren't sure how all of these features would be implemented, yet the millions of people that picked one up assumed that Nintendo would revolutionize the handheld gaming experience. The weak line-up of games that has been released has made many people, including myself, question their purchase of the DS and consider selling it to purchase the Sony PSP. I walked into my local Best Buy this Thursday afternoon and was very surprised to see a stack of PSPs. The $249.99 price tag was not easy to swallow, yet the PSP is certainly a breakthrough in technology. The Design
Take this device out of its box, hold it in your hands and marvel at the beauty. The elegant black body, with some metallic silver visible along with clear shoulder buttons makes this the iPod of the gaming industry style-wise. Unlike the Nintendo DS and the GameBoy Advance SP, the PSP does not feature a clamshell design. It is merely curvy, yet rectangular unit with an enormous screen that takes up most of the real estate on the front of the unit. Since it does not have a clamshell design, the PSP is very scratch and fingerprint-prone, just like my iPod. Handling the unit with utmost care is a top priority if you want to keep this gem in tip-top shape.
To the left of the beautiful screen, you will notice four directional buttons (instead of the classic Nintendo directional pad) and the analog thumbstick. The thumbstick does not protrude out of the unit like on most console controllers, so getting accustomed to it is tricky at first. And although it is positioned slightly awkwardly, it is extremely responsive and easy to use after a while. To the right of the screen you will find the classic square, triangle, circle and x buttons, along with a small LED that lights up when the unit is in use. There are two clear shoulder buttons on the top of the unit. Below the screen, you will find a few buttons that co-exist with the PSP logo. You will find the Start button, the Select button, the Home button, the Brightness and Volume +/- buttons as well, and a Music Setting button (an equalizer for different genres). There are three levels of brightness, and the second one is optimal in my opinion. If you decide to use the brightest setting, then the battery will drain quicker.
The right side of the unit is home to the power on switch, which is also used to set your unit on Hold. Once your PSP is set on hold, pressing any of the buttons will have no effect. This is most useful for when you are listening to music or are watching a movie, as it prevents accidental buttons presses. The left side of the unit is where you will find the Wi-Fi on/off switch. The top edge of the unit has all sorts of slots and jacks. Besides the shoulder buttons, you will notice the small infrared transmitter, a mini-USB jack and an open button to open up the UMD slot. The UMD slot opens up in the back, and there is where you insert the UMD and then close it to begin playing a game or watching a movie. To recharge your battery, you must hook up the PSP to an outlet via an AC adapter, which is inserted into the bottom of the PSP. Speaking of the battery, the battery and the Memory Stick Duo are both inserted in the back. The Screen
The screen on the PSP is just gorgeous – it's so bright, large, sharp and a joy to look at. Although it's not magnificent under direct sunlight, this can only be expected from a TFT liquid screen display. According to Sony, the screen is 4.3 inches diagonally, which is considerably larger than the two 3 inch screens that the Nintendo DS possesses. The Sony PSP screen's resolution is 480x272 pixels and can display more than 15 million colors. Now that I think about it, Nintendo's 256x192 pixel screens that can display around 250,000 colors seem to be blown out of the water. Although the screen isn't touch-responsive (which would have effectively turned the PSP into a nice PDA as well), it is of such high quality that it seems perfect for handheld gaming. The screen is what really stands out and Sony did an excellent job with it. However, with everything good there is a bad thing. And in this case, the bad thing turned out to be a dead pixel. It's just one tiny pixel near the top of the screen, but just one dead pixel can be a distraction. I'm not quite sure whether I should try to get the unit replaced by Sony or whether I should just ignore it as best as I can. The Package
You will find the PSP and all of its accessories in a really small box. I remember being surprised at how small the box of the 20 GB Apple iPod was, so I wasn't as surprised this time and the size of the PSP box. What can you say? The Japanese simply know how to pack everything inside a box as efficiently as possible. I purchased the PSP Value Pack, which has some accessories in the box. Included in the box was the unit, an instruction manual, a 32 megabyte Memory Stick Pro Duo, a wrist strap, a remote, some headphones, a soft case, a cloth to wipe your screen with, a battery pack, an AC adapter, a sampler disk and a UMD copy of Spiderman 2. The UMD copy of Spiderman 2 comes free with the first million units sold in the US, so you better hurry if you want to get that cool freebie. The headphones and remote are disk, although it's funny that they are white even though the PSP is black. Seems like Sony is trying to imitate Apple's classic white earbuds if you ask me. The Battery
The most controversial thing about the PSP, aside from its price, is the battery life. The PSP runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the most popular battery for today's cell phones, MP3 players and even laptops. The battery is user-replaceable, and at a cost of $50 a pop, buying an extra battery for a long road trip is a very wise idea. Charging a battery takes about two and a half hours, which isn't that much, but can seem like an eternity. But let me break down the battery performance: when playing games, I got about four hours of gameplay. When watching movies, I got enough juice to keep Spiderman 2 playing two times in a row and then about 20% was left. This is actually better than I expected, although it will not be enough for some. With the DS, I was able to get up to 10 hours of playing time in one go, so you can definitely see a difference. Increasing the brightness or playing games online diminishes the playing time by a considerable margin. UMD
UMD is the new media format that Sony has come up with, which stands for Universal Media Device. It is virtually a miniature DVD inside a plastic case, although part of the lower portion is uncovered by the case to allow the PSP to read the UMD. It is similar to MiniDisks, although not as secure. When you insert a UMD into the PSP, a soft humming noise can be heard, similar to the sound made by a hard drive inside a computer. UMDs store 1.8 gigabytes of information, which allows the developers to go all out with PSP games and make near-PS2 quality games.
There are two problems with these UMDs. First and foremost, the use of CD-like media means that things must be loaded, unlike cartridges that Nintendo keeps on using. Load times, as most gamers will attest, are extremely annoying. If a race takes 15 seconds to load, if a basketball game takes 20 seconds to load or if a fight takes just 10 seconds to load, gamers across the world will still be annoyed. People hate waiting for things to load, and although people will try to downplay it, the load times are still annoying. The other downfall of UMDs is that the PSP is the only device that uses them. They might be good for games, but selling movies on UMDs might not be very popular unless they catch on and replace DVDs. Sony will be selling a limited selection of movies on their UMD format, but who would pay more than the cost of an actual DVD to be able to watch the movie only on their PSP? Not many people, myself included. The Wi-Fi Capabilities
One of the most interesting aspects about the current crop of handheld systems is their multi-player capability. The PSP has 802.11b wireless capabilities, which allows users to play most of their PSP games either against up to 16 other PSPs in close vicinity or against PSPs around the world via Wi-Fi access points. I haven't been able to test out the PSP-to-PSP option, yet I did manage to get my connection set up and I have already played against gamers around the world. Once you are online, the PSP even checks for system upgrades to make sure that you are running the most up-to-date version of the operating system. Setting up your connection takes a few minutes, yet the benefits you reap are limitless. It is the ultimate experience. Unfortunately, you cannot go to a coffee shop and use their Wi-Fi to play your PSP online, but if an Internet browser becomes available for the PSP, then this will become possible too. As of now, I feel that Sony is underutilizing the online capabilities of the PSP, and I can envision Sony creating an Internet browser and even adding the ability to download music straight onto the PSP. Pictures, Music and Movies
The PSP has been touted as not only a gaming console, but also as a multimedia device. With the use of Memory Stick Pro Duo (since blank UMDs do not exist right now), you can upload and view pictures, listen to music and watch videos. The main downside is the cost of Memory Sticks, as the 32-megabyte card that comes with the PSP Value Pack will be necessary for game saves (which take about 0.5-0.8 megabytes each), and this leaves you with space for a few pictures or songs at best. As most of you know, songs are typically around 4 megabytes each, TV shows are about 250 megabytes while full movies are around 700 megabytes. So if you plan on using the PSP as a multimedia device, buying a 512-megabyte or one gigabyte Memory Stick is a must. Unfortunately, Memory Stick Pro Duo is one of the most expensive forms of memory on the market, as a 512 megabyte card will cost you roughly $100 (while a 512 megabyte SD card is less than half the cost). So as you see, $250 for the PSP, an extra battery at $50 and a 512 megabyte memory stick will set you back a cool $400. And not to be forgotten, the Value Pack doesn't even come with an USB cable.
When you turn on the PSP, you will be taken to a screen where you can select whether you want to go to Settings, Music, Pictures, Games or Videos. After you have connected your PSP to your computer, after you have created all of the necessary folders, after you have transferred the files that you want on your Memory Stick, you can use these files. Picture viewing is very simple, and you even have the option of watching a slideshow. Due to the brightness and sharpness of the screen, photos look remarkable. Showing off pictures is always nice, and I'm glad the PSP has this feature. The only downside is that only JPG files are supported.
As far as audio goes, you shouldn't sell your iPod. You can transfer any of your MP3 or ATRAC (Sony encrypted music files, which is great for MiniDisk users) onto the PSP, and the audio quality is surprisingly good. The MP3 player feature is fairly basic, but it gets the job done. It certainly isn't as user-friendly as iPods, as for example playlists aren't easy to create, there are few equalizer presets and bass cannot be adjusted, but the audio quality is good and that is what matters. What I dislike is that you cannot view pictures and listen to music at the same time, and the volume is not loud enough for me at times. Using higher quality headphones is recommended. I also hope that most of the games in the future will allow you to use custom soundtracks, as in tracks that you have on your Memory Stick.
I haven't uploaded any movies or TV shows onto my Memory Stick because I don't have one large enough to support them, but I have watched Spiderman 2 on my PSP and I have watched the trailers on the sampler disk. The video quality is stupendous – the screen is so good, that the quality is even better than on quite a few DVD players. Every color is so vibrant that it is a joy to watch clips. I'd really like to upload a few episodes of the Simpsons simply to enjoy the magnificent colors. The Games
After everything that I have talked about, it's incredible that I haven't even touched on the most important aspect of a portable console – the games. The success of a console is determined by the quality of the games. No matter how cool a system is, it will not be a success if the games do not attract a wide audience of gamers. The PSP has a 333 MHz processor inside, along with 32 megabytes of RAM. That little baby powers the console, and is one of the reasons why the PSP can play games with near-PS2 graphical capabilities. When I say that, I am not joking around. The graphics on the PSP games are drop-dead amazing, and it boggles the mind to think that a year ago the GBA possessed graphics that were considered modern. The PSP blows every other handheld out of the water graphically.
Then again, graphics are nice, but a solid line-up of games is even nicer. And in my opinion, the PSP was released along with a superb crop of titles. You've got adventure games, sports games, extreme sports games, RPGs, racing games, strategy games, even an original Metal Gear game. I'm a huge sports fan, so the release of titles such as Gretzky NHL, NBA, NFL Street 2 Unleashed and Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix made my day. But all gamers can find something they like, as titles such as Ridge Racer, Lumines, Twisted Metal Head-On, Metal Gear Acid, Ape Escape: On the Loose, Dynasty Warriors, Spiderman 2 and Need for Speed Underground: Rivals are sure to keep everyone happy. The PSP already has more games out in the first week than the Nintendo DS has out in nearly four months. And out of those games, one can argue that only Super Mario 64 DS and Wario Ware Touched! are good games.
The quality of both the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP line-ups are sure to get better as the year moves along, although the PSP will definitely end up having more games released. PSP owners can look forward to Midnight Club 3, NBA Street Showdown, a Grand Theft Auto game that is sure to sell PSPs, Gran Turismo 4 Mobile and a slew of other titles in the coming months. It seems like most of the PS2 releases will be ported or changed a bit and then released as PSP games. Some might argue that this prevents the PSP from being a good system and that they should buy a DS for original games instead, while for others have PS2-like games on a handheld is just what they wanted. To each his own. Overall
, the Sony PSP is a milestone for the handheld industry, as it is the first true challenger to Nintendo. Loyal Nintendo faithful will critique it, Sony loyalists will adore it. If you are neither, then you must consider what you want. If you want a gorgeous screen, Wi-Fi capabilities, the ability to listen to music, watch videos, look at pictures, and play PS2 quality games (a large portion of which are ports), then the PSP is for you. That is, assuming you can overcome the low battery life, the price of accessories and the price of the unit. A price tag of $250 is never easy to swallow, especially for a portable console. Throw in the fact that most games cost $49.99 (some are $39.99), it becomes apparent that not everyone will be able to afford one. The PSP is a high quality gadget geared toward young adults and older gamers, so it is not wise to shell out so much cash and give it to your 7 year old son as a gift. With great power comes great responsibility.
Related Products: GameBoy Advance SP Nintendo DS Apple iPod (20 GB)