Almost all of you out there have at least heard of Sony and its PlayStation franchise, and many have heard of the Play Station Portable, more commonly known as the PSP. What you may not know is this little bundle of technology is on its 3rd generation.
The first PSP (PSP1001) was launched at the end of 2004 in Japan, but didn’t come across to North America and Europe until between the mid and end of 2005 respectively. Its smooth looks and appealing compact design, together with the successful Sony PlayStation 1 layout of controls, made this an instant hit with gamers. But it’s not been an easy road. Sony’s main rival Nintendo, released their own portable gaming systems, the old classic Game Boy and the new smarter DS system. This caused the first generation of PSPs to only sell a handful and made Sony re-think how to get ahead. Their solution was to upgrade the processing power, RAM and main layout, creating the PSP Slim and Lite in the process (also known as the PSP2001).
This was a turning point in the battle with Nintendo’s DS, as sales were through the roof compared to the old PSP1001. The smaller, more compact and faster Slims allowed for bigger and better games, thus pushing the new PSP2001 further into the handheld market. However, even though to date the Sony PSP has collectively sold over 40 million units world wide, the Nintendo DS has sold over 77 Million units. Today the PSP2001 is widely used in a variety of ways, be it either travelling, watching movies, using the internet Skype system as a phone, GPS navigation, or even the occasional music tune.
So what’s in the PSP?
Starting off with the PSP1001, it utilizes a 333MHz speed MIPS R4000 32-bit core CPU, with 32MB of main RAM, a graphics GPU of 166MHz and an extra 4MB of DRAM. Not much but when you think that it all fit’s inside a 17 x 7.3 x 2.2 cm casing, with room for a Sony Memory Stick Duo, the 1800 mAh 6 hour battery and the UMD optical disk (holding 1.8GB), it’s not a bad package. The PSP also boasts stereo speakers, phone jack for headphones (and remote headphone controls), Mini-USB connectivity for file transfer to and from a PC, an IrDA compatible infrared port for quick connection to another PSP (thus enabling dual gaming battles on some games), and an inbuilt IEEE802.11b Wi-Fi device, thus allowing true remote gaming and access to the World Wide Web.
So what’s the difference between the old and the new?
Well, technically not much has changed from the PSP1001 to the PSP2001 with regards to internal workings. The internal RAM was raised to 64MB, thus improving the loading time of the games, the speed of Wi-Fi and applications. However due to the dimension and weight changes, the PSP1001 battery is incompatible with the PSP2001 system. There are also tweaks like the position of the stereo speakers and the D-Pad buttons were raised slightly, the Wi-Fi button was also relocated to where the UMD door was (which now simply needs to be ‘flicked’ open) and the headphone socket has been moved slightly. The only addition that the PSP2001 has over its predecessor is the ability to output video to a compatible TV, the old remote connection for the headphones has gone and replaced with the connection port for the video. However with current software there is no support to play games over this port, so only movies and music can be shown.
OK, so it was a tweak on the old. What’s so special about the PSP3000?
Not much is known about the PSP3000 as yet, just that it has the same integrated parts as the PSP2001, except for the addition of a microphone. This could lead to the PSP3000 acting like a Phone with Skype, and the introduction of voice communication over Wi-Fi gaming. From an interview with John Koller, GameSpot SCEA’s director of hardware. He revealed to the world that the new model has a shorter battery life than its predecessor, a snippet from the interview explains why.
"Battery life will decrease by a small amount; it’s material, but it’s about 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes," said Koller. "And that’s because there’s a little bit of a larger power draw with the brighter screen."
The new handheld is set to go on sale on October 15th in the UK for £149.99, so keep you eyes peeled!
Now all of this is all well and good, but how does the PSP (collectively now) cope with games, movies and all the ‘other’ things it claims to do?
Well, as a pure handheld gaming device, the PSP does work extremely well. The already mentioned layout controls from the PlayStation do give it an ease for ‘Pick up and Play’ gaming. The variety of games now available means that you’re almost spoilt for choice on what to play, and as the game makers get better at writing for the PSP, the better they play and look.
As a media device for movies, pictures and music, it’s not that bad. OK so the screen is only 4.3 inches wide and the speakers aren’t exactly 5.1 Dolby, but to watch a film away from home, it’s easier than one of those portable DVD players.
The only down side is you need the movie on UMD, which can be a big waste of cash if you’re the only one who has a PSP. However movie rental places like Blockbusters and Netflicks are starting to do movies on UMD, so renting a movie for a trip might be a good alternative.
Also with the PSP having the ability to upgrade the firmware, Sony have recently added the function to watch WMV files so now you can watch home movies as well.
For the music it’s just like an iPod, but since you use the memory card for storing the data, the amount of music is only limited to the storage room. The controls are a tad complicated to get used to and changing the tune in a pinch takes a little practice.
To get information onto the PSP is up to you; either use one of the many ‘Starter Kits’ that contain a PSP Manager software (thus using a PC and connecting via the USB), transferring the data directly onto the memory stick via any compatible PC (remembering it’s a Sony Memory Stick Duo, not all memory card adaptors can take these), or finally you can download from the Sony PSPWebsite.
Browsing the web via the inbuilt Wi-Fi is a little tricky. You obviously need an internet connection with Wi-Fi capabilities and downloading large amounts in information can take a while. The PSP browser does have inbuilt web links so you can download demos and other free items, however a lot have found that the Wi-Fi does take up a lot of battery juice when used. Sony does recommend you connect the mains adaptor when using the Wi-Fi capability to upgrade the firmware.
As yet I have not had the chance to test the IrDA Infrared port; in fact there is little known about the IrDA port apart from speculation. Some gamers believe it is for 2-way gaming (but this means both PSP have to be motionless while playing, yeah right!), others believe that it may allow the PSP to act as a universal remote for consumer appliances like DVD players and TV’s, and others believe that it could be used as an additional controller for the PS3. Sony don’t actually state what the IrDA port is for just yet, which is a little strange. However some ‘other’ users believe the IrDA is used to diagnose problems with the PSP, i.e. used like a communication port with specific trouble shooting software and thus locked for normal use, but this is only speculation.
Other PSP uses like Skype come via the firmware upgrades (Skype was in version 3.90), but some of these features are only available to certain models. Skype is only available to the PSP2001 models due to the addition of the microphone, which makes some believe that the PSP1001 cannot have the capability of having a microphone added. This is perfectly reasonable if Sony used different internal components on the models, but it has angered a lot of PSPfans who have the PSP1001.
What else is in store for the PSP?
Well, Sony has just recently launched a GPS module that attaches to the USB port. It is not yet known if this is compatible with either of the current PSP models, or for the upcoming PSP3000. And since so little is known about the PSP3000, it’s anyone’s guess what’s next.
What is certain is that the PSP is here to stay. The PSP3000 is to be launched at the end of this year, and with the fan base and homebrew firmware writers being as strong as ever, the PSP will continue to grow.