Sony Playstation Portable Review

By Mike on 7:33 pm

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When I first started this blog, my first post was a list of things that I thought the PSP needed to improve it. Some have been done, others haven't. I've talked about it on and off but I've never done a review of it. After writing up on the DS, I'd thought it was time for the PSP to get full rundown. As I mentioned in the DS review, Nintendo has long dominated the handheld console market. Others have tried with mixed success. Enter Sony who's widely successful Playstation line was crushing Nintendo's once successful console business. If anything could bring Gameboy down, Sony could.
The Playstation Portable, or PSP for short, was first released late 2004 in Japan and arrived in North America March 2005. Here in Canada, it sold at the hefty price tag of $249 for the core system and $299 for a Value Pack which threw in a 32mb memory stick duo, headphones, strap, and pouch. The system currently retails for $169.99 for the core system and $199.99 for one of three value packs.

As with the DS, we'll start by looking at it's hardware. The PSP is a rectangular shapped system. It features a single glossy 4.3'' LCD screen with a resolution of 480x272 with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. The screen is polarized but its glossy nature renders it difficult to see in certain lighting conditions, particularly outdoors. However, the screen itself is bright and colours are rendered well. There are four levels of brightness controlled by a simple button under the screen. LCD response times are a little slow in games with high speed such as WipEout Pulse.
Under the hood, the system is powered by a 333mhz MIPS R4000 CPU with 32mb of RAM. An unidentified GPU runs at 166mhz with 2mb of on-board VRAM. Originally, the CPU had been locked at 266mhz, presumably as a power reduction feature. However, a recent firmware update unlocked the processor to its full speed allowing for more complex games. Game performance is on par with earlier Playstation 2 titles so it's not inaccurate to call the PSP a portable PS2. The system runs off a lithium-polymer battery which provides up to 11hrs of music and 5-6hrs of gameplay or movies. An extended life battery provides 20% extra play time but is not entirely compatible with the new, slimmer PSP models. It fits but requires a special cover. This battery has since been discontinued though third party units are probably available.

The games themselves are stored on proprietary UMD discs. These discs can hold up to 1.8gb of data. UMDs (Universal Media Discs) are miniDVD based, though blank ones are not available. The discs are contained inside a plastic caddy to protect them from dust and damage. They are used to store both games and movies. The load times for UMDs can be a bit on the slow side since they are optical discs. Besides UMDs, the PSP has expandable, writeable storage in the form of Sony's Memory Stick Pro Duo flash cards. The cards are used with Sony branded digital cameras and are thus widely available. They range in size up to 8gb with a 16gb card on the way. The cards have come down drastically in price recently but are still more expensive than comparable Secure Digital cards. A memory stick is required for game saves since the PSP has no built in storage.
The control layout is based on a cut down version of the DualShock. It has a D-Pad, four right hand buttons (X, Square, Triangle, and Circle), and two shoulder buttons. Unlike many other portables, the PSP features an analogue stick (called the nub) for fine control in a 3D environment. As with the DS, I'll discuss how well the control works when I get to gameplay.
For connectivity, the PSP has a USB port, 802.11b Wifi, and an IR adapter. Unfortunately, Sony does not provide a USB cable with the system, or at least mine didn't. You'll need to buy one with a male type B connector like the one used for charging the PS3's controllers. It is used to connect the system to a PC, Mac, or PS3 to upload or download files to and from the system. The wireless networking feature is speeder and more robust than on the DS, allowing the system to stream media from a PS3 (or PC with special software) or the internet, browse the internet, and talk on Skype. 802.11b runs at up to 11mbits/s, enough for streaming uncompressed CD quality audio under ideal conditions. The IR port on the original PSP was added but never officially used. It has been removed on the newer models.
In 2007, the PSP was redesigned. Above I've been discussing the original PSP-1000 model. The new model, dubbed the Slim & Lite, or PSP-2000, includes a few new features. Physically, the new system is 20% thinner and 33% lighter than the original. Under the hood, it includes 64mb or RAM, a UMD caching feature for faster load times, charging of the system via USB, and TV out. The additional memory is needed for caching and other applications such as Skype. The IR receiver was removed with the Wifi activation switch moved in its place. The speakers have also been moved near the top of the screen. There's really not a heck of a lot of difference between the two systems once you strip them down. Game and media performance is identical. It retails for $169.99 for the core pack and $199.99 for the Value packs.

Onto gameplay. As I mentioned, the PSP is essentially a portable PS2 with game quality resembling early titles from that system. Games are far more adult oriented for the PSP than they are with the Nintendo DS. Popular titles include Daxter and God of War: Chains of Olympus. It can also play PS1 titles bought and downloaded from the Playstation Store. Original games can also be bought from the store and stored on a Memory Stick. Additionally, demos can also be downloaded from the store allowing you to try before you buy. The Playstation Store can be accessed either through PC or a PS3. Sony is promising a direct to PSP store in the near future.
The system is unique from other portables due to its inclusion of an analogue stick, which some refer to as the nub. Located on the lefthand side, the nub appears as a textured disc. It works like any analogue stick and it's quite responsive. The nub however can be difficult at times, particularly in games that want you to rotate it to perform specific actions. It's not as easy as using a stick design. Given the nature of the system, a stick design would be impractical though since it would likely get broken easily. The system does not include a second analogue stick so camera control can be wonky. Most games will use the shoulder buttons or an automatic camera. Games like Daxter and God of War work well with this system but Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters does not. Another complaint I have is that the system can get somewhat tiresome to hold after a while due to it's layout and bulk. I haven't tried the new Slim model yet. Unlike the DS, the PSP still uses conventional gameplay which is not actually a bad thing but it's not exactly the most innovative either.
For the games themselves, there are a wide variety of titles available spanning various genres and age classes. Patapon and LocoRoco are two excellent, family friendly puzzle games for the system which use colourful 2D environments. God of War satisfies your lust for blood on the go. There are also shooters and 3D platformers, auto racing, RPG, etc. Multiplayer is achieved over Wifi ether using an ad hoc (PSP to PSP) or infrastructure (over a network) mode. You can either connect several PSPs together wirelessly for local play or connect to world servers for online play. In addition, the PSP is region free so games bought in Japan or Europe will work on American systems and vice versa.
Right now, there is a current drought of new titles coming out for the PSP. Sony has admitted that the Western market needs more games. Sony has actively discouraged homebrew gaming due to piracy fears. I feel Sony needs to start encouraging more indie developers to make game for the system by opening it up to alleviate the drought. The fact that so few new titles are being released is really causing the downfall of the system. Developers has claimed piracy (due to homebrew firmware that allows disc images to be played) and lack of sales as the primary reasons for shying away from the PSP. The latter being the main reason.

How about other features? The PSP has been described as a Swiss Army knife. Aside from playing games, it also boasts a wide array additional features that perfectly complement the lifestyle market. In addition to a gaming device, the PSP also boasts personal media and online functionality. It uses the same Xross Media Bar (XMB) interface which allows you to quickly scroll through icons to find what you want. The XMB also features a clock and calendar as well as customizable themes and wallpapers. There are a wide variety of official and user created themes available online or through the Playstation Store. The system can display photos, play music, and play videos. It does a good job at all three of these. For music, it can play back MP3, WMA, and unprotected AAC files at up to 320kb/s. Video can either be stored in MPEG or AVC at up to 480p resolution. Furthermore, it can stream photos and unprotected music and video files from your PS3 using Remote Play. Remote Play allows you to control your PS3 using the PSP's built in WiFi. Unfortunately, Remote Play cannot be used to watch BD movies, DVDs, play most PS3 games, and PS2 games. Pixel Junk Eden is a notable PS3 game that does support Remote Play.
For web connectivity, the PSP can stream RSS 2.0 feeds (but not text RSS feeds), watch live TV using Sony's LocationFree TV media server, listen to internet radio, and browse the web. The PSP's web browser is provided by NetFront. It's a little clunky and doesn't display some web pages correctly. Google however provides a service that converts web pages for use on mobile browsers. The browser does support Adobe Flash, though it is an older version that may not work with some sites. The biggest downfall of the browser is the complicated and tedious text entry system given that the system does not have a keyboard or touch screen. While you can't really use it to visit social networking sites and the like, it's good for getting quick information such as weather reports or news provided you're near a Wifi hotspot. Additionally, the new Slim PSP allows you to make phone calls using the Skype internet phone service if you're near a hot spot. The original PSP does not have this feature.
Additional features can be added thanks to upgradeable firmware. Updates for the system can be downloaded to from your PC to the PSP over USB, or you can use the PSP's built in wifi to download them directly. The advantage to this is that new features can be added to the system over time. For example, the Skype, XMB themes, and internet radio features were not part of the original PSP. This gives the system a longer potential lifespan than past portables.

I would say the PSP is definitely a system worth looking at if you want a portable game device, or want to buy one for someone else as a gift. Even if you don't like the games, it's excellent media and internet functionality will make sure it still gets plenty of use. I give it a 9 out of 10 just for the bang for buck alone. The PSP currently retails in four bundles for North America. The core package includes just the system in piano black, battery, and power adapter with a game and memory card sold separately. It retails for $169.99 though I only recommend this for people who already have a PSP and are looking to upgrade to the new Slim model. As I mentioned, there are three bundles available, all retailing for $199.99. The God of War bundle includes a red PSP with Kratos lithograph, God of War game, and Superbad UMD movie. The Star Wars bundled includes a white PSP with Darth Vader lithograph and Battlefront Renegade Squadron game. The Daxter bundle includes a silver PSP with Daxter game, 1gb memory stick, the Family Guy Freakin Sweet Collection UMD movie. All the above bundles also include the battery and power adapter. In my opinion, the Daxter bundle is the best bang for your buck. Lets move onto score.

What Works:
-Near Playstation 2 game graphics
-Excellent media capability. Plays movies, music, and photos
-Excellent online capability
-Remote Play for wirelessly interfacing with a PS3
-Good game selection with downloadable content available
-Expandable storage
-Excellent value for the money

What Doesn't Work
-Short battery life compared to the DS.
-Game drought for new titles
-Analogue nub awkward at times
-Gets dirty easily, no screen protector
-Slow load times with optical media

Score: 9 out of 10

You might be asking how I do with these reviews. I have to admit I really do just pull the scores out of my butt. I do consider several criteria though. As with my DS and PSP reviews indicated, I heavily focus on value and quality. That's why I ranked the PSP higher than the DS given the general trend for devices these days is more all-in-one functionality. What works vs what doesn't also factors in heavily but it depends on how much one benefits the product vs how the other cripples it. How many items I put into each category doesn't determine the score. I might have four pluses and only one minus, but if that minus is particularly sever, it will trump the pluses. It works vice versa as well if issues with the product are minor. Unlike professional reviwers, I don't get paid and this blog isn't sponsored by anyone except Google's free web space.

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