Sony PSP Coverage


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Ever since the launch of the original Game Boy in 1989, the gaming handheld market has belonged to Nintendo. Despite challenges from big names like Sega and Atari (and many others), Nintendo has dominated portable gaming for 15 years, even recently strengthening its position with the innovative touchscreen-equipped DS.

But finally, there’s a new contender — and it’s one who already knocked Nintendo out of its lead in the living room console market. Sony’s PlayStation Portable, or PSP, is the first challenger with a realistic shot at breaking the monopoly.

Despite a strong portfolio of first-party games, Nintendo’s DS has struggled to excite other publishers, and it remains a tough sell to gamers more interested in Tiger Woods than Warioware: Touched. In contrast, the PSP is launching with a more familiar catalog of games, and the promise of superior software support to come. And then there’s the hardware itself.

The PSP’s overpowering feature is undoubtedly its screen. This incredible 4.3-inch widescreen LCD display offers the biggest, sharpest, most vibrant visuals ever created in a portable device. It truly has to be seen to be believed. We’re certainly not junking our DSs, but place them side-by-side, and it’s like seeing technology that’s 10 years apart. A casual user looks at the DS and says, “Neat.” They look at the PSP and start drooling (try it at your office, too!).

On the design front, the PSP is about seven by three inches in dimension, and a mere one-inch thick. Its sleek, black surface with a reflective sheen from corner to corner encapsulates everything that could possibly make a handheld sexy. It’s also comfortable to hold, with a control layout familiar to any PlayStation 2 (or other console) gamer. Sony even managed to include an analog stick that doesn’t protrude in an ugly or inconvenient manner; the only downside is its low placement that can cause thumb cramps for those of us with, um, bigger hands.

Oh, and don’t stick the PSP in your back pocket — you’ll forget, sit down, and break the screen. Side by side with the DS, it’s no competition as to which device you’d trust your kids with. Sadly, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the beautiful LCD is a little too fragile for its own good.

In terms of storage, Sony made an unusual choice, picking an optical media disc over the more familiar solid-state devices favored by Nintendo. The PSP is the first handheld to opt for a rotating, optical storage device to hold its games — it’s a bold move reminiscent of Sony’s original choice for CDs over cartridges with the PlayStation.

The plus side is that the Universal Media Disc (UMD) holds up to 1.8GB or just over 2 CDs of data. (Sony uses the term “universal” liberally, considering it’s a proprietary format.) The unusual format should make life much harder for pirates: DVD writers are on the shelves of electronic stores everywhere, but you won’t be able to pick up a UMD burner at Best Buy.

On the downside, the disc has to spin for the PSP to read it, and while it does this safe inside a hard plastic shell, more moving parts equal shorter battery life. Sony quotes about four to six hours, and our play tests concur. It won’t get you through a transatlantic flight, but for most domestic destinations you should be OK. It also inherits another unfortunate PlayStation trait — many games proved slow to load, which is particularly noticeable if you’re used to Nintendo’s instant transfers.

Non-recordable storage means you’ll need to provide your PSP with some way to save your game progress. Enter yet another Sony proprietary format: the Memory Stick Duo. Slap one of these petite-but-pricey wonders into the side of your PSP, and you’ll be able to keep your save-games handy. A standard USB cable hook-up even lets you backup/share your files by transferring them to your PC.

That’s not all. With an eye on the IPod’s slice of the portable MP3 player market, Sony’s let the PSP serve the same role. It’ll playback music or video files on the go, but you’ll have to squeeze them onto your memory stick, along with everything else. And keep in mind that the comparatively porky PSP is not going to tuck unobtrusively into the pocket of your jogging pants.

If you don’t fancy having to cram your favorite movies onto memory sticks, you can always pick them up on UMD. This is one of the least appealing business models of the PSP, since the movie catalog is tiny, the cost is equal to its DVD counterpart, and they won’t hook up to your home theater. Add in the reduced battery life with the disc constantly spinning and it doesn’t look like the PSP is going to be a practical replacement for a DVD player anytime soon. As the sticks get cheaper, perhaps we’ll see Sony move towards providing downloadable content than making us buy all our movies again. We can hope.

Talking of downloads, the PSP’s built-in WiFi makes “ad-hoc” connections to other PSPs for multiplayer gaming a breeze. It also has infrastructure support within the operating system, so it’s easy to get online at any wireless access point (at home or at your local Starbucks). Several launch titles actually support Internet multiplayer — we played online, lag-free games of Twisted Metal: Head-On with much jubilation.

Non-recordable storage means you’ll need to provide your PSP with some way to save your game progress. Enter yet another Sony proprietary format: the Memory Stick Duo. Slap one of these petite-but-pricey wonders into the side of your PSP, and you’ll be able to keep your save-games handy. A standard USB cable hook-up even lets you backup/share your files by transferring them to your PC.

That’s not all. With an eye on the IPod’s slice of the portable MP3 player market, Sony’s let the PSP serve the same role. It’ll playback music or video files on the go, but you’ll have to squeeze them onto your memory stick, along with everything else. And keep in mind that the comparatively porky PSP is not going to tuck unobtrusively into the pocket of your jogging pants.

If you don’t fancy having to cram your favorite movies onto memory sticks, you can always pick them up on UMD. This is one of the least appealing business models of the PSP, since the movie catalog is tiny, the cost is equal to its DVD counterpart, and they won’t hook up to your home theater. Add in the reduced battery life with the disc constantly spinning and it doesn’t look like the PSP is going to be a practical replacement for a DVD player anytime soon. As the sticks get cheaper, perhaps we’ll see Sony move towards providing downloadable content than making us buy all our movies again. We can hope.

Talking of downloads, the PSP’s built-in WiFi makes “ad-hoc” connections to other PSPs for multiplayer gaming a breeze. It also has infrastructure support within the operating system, so it’s easy to get online at any wireless access point (at home or at your local Starbucks). Several launch titles actually support Internet multiplayer — we played online, lag-free games of Twisted Metal: Head-On with much jubilation.

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