PlayStation Portable Sony PSP Hardware Review

For close to sixteen years, Nintendo have remained at the top of the pack when it comes to handheld video games. The Game Boy, originally launched in 1989, is the world’s most popular video game device ever created. Selling in excess of 170 million units world wide, ranging from the Original Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, it is the system that launched Tetris and Pokemon. It was an evolution of the Game & Watch series, developed by Gunpei Yoki, with the same philosophy in mind; Play games on the go.

There have been many attempts in the past to compete with Nintendo in this market; Atari with the Lynx, which was leaps and bounds ahead of its time with full colour screen and relatively more power than the Game Boy. Then there was Sega, with the Sega Game Gear, Bandi with the WonderSwan. More recently we have seen attempts by the GP 32, Nokia and the N-Gage, as well as the Zodiac Tapwave. None have come close as to even denting the market position Nintendo has, that is, until now…

Sony stepped up the heat on Nintendo at the end of 2003 with an astonishing announcement that they were to produce a portable games player. The result is a very sleek, high tech piece of equipment that is sure to appeal to the masses. Utilising proprietary Universal Media Discs capable of storing 1.8 GB of data, graphically comparable to the PlayStation 2 and possessing the 802.11 protocol for both wireless and online play, the PSP is quite a technologically advanced piece of kit. However, does it have the power to dethrone the Game Boy, or even the Nintendo DS?

Design

The PSP is sleek. There is no question about it. It was designed with style in mind. It has an appeal to the 20-30 demographic with the shiny, smooth black mirrored case and super large 16:9 format widescreen. It weighs about 250 grams, similar to the NDS, and has roughly the same dimensions. As a result, it is comfortable to hold and fits nicely in the hands.

The button layout is the same as the Dual Shock controller, minus a shoulder button on each side and one analogue stick on the (Square), (Triangle), (Circle) and (X) side of the system. The edges are smooth and round, while maintaining a solid feel. There are switches on the system for the wireless link, drive eject, “hold”, which locks all buttons, as well as sporting the port for Sony’s Memory Stick Duos and Memory Stick Pro Duos. On top of this, there is a port for USB Mini link cables as well as a headphone and microphone jack, DC jack, Infra Red, volume control and navigation buttons.

All gameplay buttons have a fantastic “click” feel to them while the analogue “nub”, as it has been called, is quite precise and firm. The screen is excellent, with a brilliant array of millions of colours and the aforementioned widescreen format is a thrill to look at. The width is roughly the height of the Nintendo DS screens if they were placed adjacent to each other horizontally. However, there are a few little niggles.

As is the case with all LCD screens, there sometimes tends to be a case of dead pixelitis (dead pixels), where one dot may, for reasons of its own, fizzle out and not function correctly. The result is a dust like spec that, instead of blocking out any light, emits its own light. This has already happened to my PSP (and DS before it). Unfortunately, the best you can do is send it away for repair or replacement, which can take up to 28 days for return. Or, alternatively, return to place of purchase who may replace it or refund it. However, the best thing to do is contact Sony in your country.

The other minor problem is with the mirrored finish. The surface is like a magnet for oil and other sediments from human fingers. It is almost impossible to put the PSP down without a finger print. It is especially annoying when you are playing around friends and one of them points to a place on the screen with dirty fingers, and all of a sudden, you are visually impaired. However, despite these small problems, the overall design of the PSP is fantastic, sleek and stylish.

Functionality

Where to begin? The PSP is a multimedia hub of entertainment. Included in the PSP Value Pack is a console, headphones, wired remote control unit, 32MB memory card, chamois cloth, UMD Demo Disc, including Ver. 2.00 update, instruction booklet, battery pack, power pack and AC cord as well as a padded pouch and wrist strap.

The layout of the system “dashboard”, if you like, is quite simple and clean. There are main menus for games, video, picture and system setup. This is how you access the UMD or the Memory Stick Duo. Other access items include system information, nickname, time and date, battery information, network configuration and sound management. Navigation is easy and very straightforward.

The PSP is capable of playing all of your mp3s, showing off all of your jpeg images and playing mpeg4 layer movies. However, it is quite disappointing for the price you pay for the pack that the only memory card you get is 32MB. There are larger cards available, but at an expense.

Sometimes, it may not be possible to play mpeg4 movies straight from your computer, or any other format, but luckily there are many freeware conversion tools on the net that can allow for avi, mov, wma, etc to be converted to the mpeg4 layer format. One of these is PSP Video 9, which is quite effective. The same type of scenario exists for mp3s. Only mp3 music files may be played on the unit, and so therefore, a converter must be used to convert any other files to mp3 file format.

On top of this, the PSP plays, yes you guessed it, games, games that are comparable to PS2 in terms of power. There is wireless play for multiplayer mayhem, as well as net play. All features in the 16:9 ratio format are a treat to play with the relatively larger face buttons of the PSP compared to the Nintendo DS.

And last of the major features. The PSP plays UMD movie discs. At launch, quite a number are available from Columbia Tristar, 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures, with titles including Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse , Spider Man 2, S.W.A.T., xXx and You Got Served. Price ranges are in line with standard DVD releases.

Sound

Sound is rich and strong. It is quite amazing that such sound comes from the tiny speakers that the PSP possess on the bottom of the console. Full stereo and virtual surround sound are a treat, especially with music videos, computer movies and UMD discs. It is also surprising how intense (volume level) the sound can be. Because of the high quality in sound production, you really feel immersed within a game, especially one such as an adventure game like Medievil: Resurection.

Graphics

Mpeg4 playback is quite good, with a high resolution producing quite sharp and detailed playback. The same can be said for jpeg viewing. UMDs are brilliant, and are comparable to ordinary DVDs. There is no blurry pixilation, slowdown or “layer transition” that may inhibit the movie experience.

In terms of games, as mentioned above, the PSP is comparable with the PS2 in power, and so too are its graphics. In terms of handhelds, the PSP wins graphic wise hands down. Colours are rich, polygon count is high and the worlds within games are massive. Due to the small screen, as is the case with the Nintendo DS, objects within games appear much more smoother than they would from a console on a television set, due to the reduced resolution of a handheld.

Overall

The quality of the PSP is unsurpassed. It is a high priced, high end piece of technological wonder. But the cost is justified by the amount of functions this little baby supports, as well as the wonderful presentation of movies and games on its high resolution screen. If you are at all turned off by the price, don’t let that be a judging factor. As is the case with all systems, price eventually tumbles, and, as a result, you may pick it up in a year or so for 75% or even 50% of the launch price. On top of this, there are always good deals out there by retailers that are trying to get you to buy from their store, so keep an eye out for a pack that suits you.

People have labelled the PSP an “iPod clone”, which is unfair, as it is really an expansion of the PS2, designed for the handheld market. Regardless of the comments Sony execs make about Nintendo appearing “insignificant”, don’t worry, they care about what Nintendo is doing. Sony have taken the throne from Nintendo in the home console sector. Now, if anyone is to take it from Nintendo in the handheld sector, it is Sony with the brilliance of the PSP.

Design 9
Functionality 9
Sound 10
Graphics 10

9 out of 10
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