Review posted March 25, 2005 by Tony Peak
and Lisa Gade
Nearly a year after Sony announced the PSP at
the world's largest gaming trade show, E3, in May 2004, the PSP
has arrived. Undeniably the slickest and most beautiful handheld
gaming console, the PSP appeals to both adult and young gamers
alike, though its non-ruggedized design, $250 US price tag and
$40 to $50 games likely target adults.
With the PSP, Sony is making the bold move of
entering a market where so many others have failed before. From
the Game Gear to the Lynx, the NeoGeo Pocket Color to (arguably)
the N-Gage. Nintendo's Game Boy series of handheld gaming consoles
have time and time again stood strong while their competitors
fell. This isn't to say there haven't been other success stories
in mobile gaming, but those stories involve hybrid devices such
as cell phones and PDAs rather than dedicated portable game consoles.
It's hard to deny that Nintendo is the king of
handheld gaming and challengers to the throne have an uphill battle
to wage. Sony understands this well, and have had great success
breaking into a gaming market. The Sony Playstation rocked the
gaming console scene and took gamers in a whole new direction from
the Nintendo and Sega consoles. Can Sony bring this same innovation
and once again capture a whole new crowd of gamers with their Playstation
Portable? With one million consoles sold in the first day of its
US launch, it looks like they can.
And in fact, the PSP attempts to be your favorite new gaming platform
and more. Not only is the PSP a gaming console, it's also a portable
wide screen movie player (you can purchase movies on UMD discs
or burn them to a Memory Stick Duo card), photo viewer and an MP3
In the Box
In the US, the PSP is currently sold in the Value Pack
package for $249 and we haven't seen the $199 base unit package. The
Value Pack includes the PSP, rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, 32 meg
Memory Stick Duo card, stereo earbud headphones with integrated remote,
a slip case, screen cleaning cloth, wrist strap, game sampler and the
movie Spiderman 2 on a UMD disc.
Design and Ergonomics
The PSP pulls off an impressive design and ergonomics coup that must
have designers shaking their heads in bemused wonder. In this day and
age of ever-shrinking phones and portable devices, and the very popular
Game Boy Advance SP and DS with their clamshell designs, Sony opted for
a fairly large, meaty slate device. They're being praised for it, and
they deserve it. As much as folks love fold-away space saving devices,
there's one thing they love even more: wow factor.
The subtle black-on-black controls, the sheen
of the black plastic, glassy display, and especially the relatively
thin 1" profile and
narrow bezel make for a stunning console that's pure eye candy. It's
clear the device is longer because of the large widescreen display rather
than lackluster industrial design. The key is simple: no wasted space.
Above: the PSP's top edge. Right, the box.
On the left you'll find both an analog controller and a four-way digital
direction pad. The four standard Playstation buttons live on the right
(square, circle, triangle and X), and the two shoulder buttons function
as L1 and R1. Along the bottom of the unit just below the display you'll
find a Home button, volume controls, brightness control, MP3 player button
and the usual Select and Start console buttons. The charger port and
headphone jack are on the bottom edge and the mini USB and IR ports are
on the top edge. The PSP has front facing LEDs for power, WiFi and Memory
Stick Duo activity.
The gaming ergonomics are excellent and the small analog
controller works well, as do the standard Playstation buttons when gaming.
Unlike hybrid devices, you won't be crying for better control, and unlike
the GBA your fingers won't go into spasms working in such a confined
Clearly, the PSP is designed for a more mature audience than the GBA
and Nintendo DS. Its heft is likely too much for the average 5 year old,
and its huge, vulnerable display isn't something most of us would entrust
to a small child. While the PSP looks like (and is) a sleek new piece
of consumer electronics, Nintendo handheld gaming consoles are by far
less sexy but durable thanks to their smaller protected displays and
bump-absorbing plastic casings.
Above: the PSP and Nintendo DS handheld gaming
The PSP is powered by the PSP CPU with a system
clock frequency of 1 to 333MHz, depending on load. It has 32MB
of main memory and 4MB of embedded DRAM. But let's face it, you
can read dry spec sheets anywhere you'd care to. What does this
really mean to you and me? Well, subjectively speaking you can
expect games with between PSOne and PS2 quality 3D graphics and
detailed, in-depth gameplay. From the launch titles, it's clear
every cycle of the CPU is put to use.
Of course there are scalebacks from its console
siblings, and the small screen size and resolution helps to smooth
the rough edges the PS1 and PS2 are sometimes known for, but a
good deal of launch titles look much better than PS1 games. Once
the developers have time to master the system and really push it
to the limits, we'll see some great results. Loading times are
reasonably fast, but those used to the 'instant on' feel of the
Game Boy series may have to adjust to short reads of the UMD discs
The PSP has an optical UMD drive which
takes 2.3" discs that look like very small CDs encased in
a cartridge with a clear cover and an opening for the laser.
This opening will likely trap dust and dirt, so keep UMD discs
in their protective jewel cases when not in use. Both games and
movies are sold on UMD discs. To insert a disc, side open the
release and the drive door will open in a fashion similar to
minidisc and cassette walkmen. Drop in the disc, close the door
and you're ready to play.
Display and Sound
The 4.3" 16:9 widescreen is certainly larger than any PDA or competing
handheld console display, and for comparison, it's a bit taller and much
wider than the standard 3.5" Pocket PC screen. But the comparison
ends there: the moment you turn on the PSP, you'll know it's in a league
of its own. To appreciate the PSP, you simply must see it in person.
The screen is superbly crisp, carries perfect color
tones in both games and movies, and is very bright. The only drawback
is that the screen does glare in well lit rooms thanks to its reflective
XBrite-like surface. The PSP offers four brightness levels controlled
by the front button, though the brightest level can only be activated
when the unit is plugged in. In well lit rooms, the 2nd or third brightness
level is plenty bright and in a dark room, the 2nd brightness level is
quite good. No one will complain that the display is dim!
While the internal stereo speakers on the PSP are adequate
for brief gaming or general use, they're neither loud nor impressive
in terms of sound quality. I rather hoped for higher quality stereo speakers
built right in to the unit, but thankfully the unit sounds great through
Using the bundled earbud headphones in the value pack,
sound is very impressive. It's loud, clear, and has great dynamic and
tonal range. While it may not deliver the slamming bass of your home
theater amp, the PSP is more than suitable for listening to your favorite
music or watching your favorite action flicks. We tested the PSP with
Kinyo 5.1 surround sound headphones, and the end result was decently
deep bass and rich, smooth sound. Yes, you can use any set of 3.5mm stereo
headphones you like. And yes, the PSP doubles as an MP3 player.
Memory Stick Duo: Game Saves, MP3s, Videos and More
The PSP uses Sony's Memory Stick Duo card format for storage, which
looks like a half length Memory Stick and can be read by card readers
with a Memory Stick slot using an adapter. Unfortunately Sony doesn't
include the adapter, though if you buy a Duo stick an adapter is always
included. Games saves go on the card and you can put photos, MP3s, and
your own videos on the card. If you're a big MP3 or home-brew video fan,
you'll want to get a higher capacity Duo and those are available in sizes
up to 1 gig.
To get content onto the Duo, you can either use a card
reader or get a mini USB to USB cable and plug the PSP into your computer
(the PSP is a USB 2.0 device). The Memory Stick Duo will appear as a
removable drive on your computer and you'll be able to move, copy and
delete files on the card. Sony instructs you to format the card on the
PSP before use. The card really uses the same standard FAT file system
used by all flash media cards and formatting it creates several standard
directories used by the PSP. If you wish to play movie trailers, you
can visit www.connect.com/psp/ to
download a zip file and a selection of movie trailers and other content.
The zip file merely creates a folder that the PSP uses for movies and
has a sample video. Drag that folder structure to the Memory Stick Duo,
or create it yourself rather than using the zip file. Simply create a
folder called MP_ROOT on the card, then create a folder named 100MNV01.
Put the MP4 and thumbnail files from the download site into the 100MNV01
folder, insert the card into the PSP and you're ready to watch movies.
MP3s go in the MUSIC subdirectory of the PSP folder on the card and
JPEGs go in the PHOTO subdirectory of the PSP folder. The PSP creates
these folders for you when you format the card, and yes, they must be
ALL CAPS. You may remove the card from the PSP whenever you wish as long
as files aren't currently being read (i.e.: it's playing MP3s) or written
in the case of game saves. The PSP's Memory Stick LED lets you know if
the card is in use. When playing music and videos, you can bring up an
on-screen display that allows you to control playback features and settings
by pressing the triangle button. You can also use the various hardware
buttons to control playback.
Games and Software
Launching with an impressive list of 24 titles (17 were available
on launch day) and many more in the coming months, it's quite clear
the PSP has a great deal of support where it needs it most. With
titles from giants like Namco and Konami such as Ridge Racer and
Metal Gear Acid, Sony has an impressive lineup both now and forthcoming.
The future promises both many original titles, and ports of old
favorites from the Playstation lineup.
The PSP, though not exclusively, tends appeal
to an older audience than that of Nintendo. Of course everyone
can enjoy Mario and Lumines, but it's refreshing to see more mature
titles like Grand Theft Auto and Gran Turismo 4 Mobile alongside
more general audience titles like Bust a Move in the upcoming games
list. The M rated Metal Gear Acid is a prime example of Sony's
opportunity to steal adult gamers from the Nintendo handheld console
line, and to thus repeat their original success with the Playstation
and expand the market in new ways.
The manual estimates game time at 3-6 hours and video playback
at 3-5 hours with a 2 hour 20 minute complete charge, and that's
proved accurate. You'll see less time when using WiFi, as is the
case with all devices since the wireless radio consumes significant
power. After the better part of a day playing two games off and
on, watching part of a UMD movie, and watching various music videos
and movie previews off the demo disc, the PSP still had 47% power
The system menu has a battery icon with four segments, as well
as a menu option with more detailed information such as percentage
and an estimated time in hours and minutes of remaining power.
When the last brick disappears from the battery meter, the system
warns you that power is low. You can also play the PSP while it's
connected to the AC adapter, and charge the battery at the same
time. The unit ships with an1,800 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's
user replaceable. So if you're on the go for long periods of time
and won't be near an outlet, get a second battery. Given the cottage
industry of accessories that's already sprung up for the PSP, someone
might even make an external battery charger that would allow you
to charge spare batteries.
While it's true that battery runtime is lacking compared to Nintendo
handheld gaming consoles, the PSP's much larger and brighter display,
along with the fast CPU and optical drive do require more power.
And without those features, the gaming and video playback experience
simply wouldn't be so stunning. The PSP actually offers longer
runtimes for gaming and video playback than do current PDAs.
If you put a game down the unit will automatically
turn off the display and put the unit to sleep so it won't run
out of juice if you forget to turn it off. You can set the display
and system timeouts individually. If you waken the unit by sliding
the power switch, you'll see your game exactly where you left it.
If you turn the unit off while a game is still running, you'll
be returned to the same point in the game when you turn it on.
The PSP seems to go into a deep sleep rather than fully turn off.
And don't worry about accidental button presses turning on the
console when in transit: simply slide the power switch to the bottom
to activate the hold switch.
Wireless and Multiplayer
The PSP has integrated WiFi 802.11b wireless networking which
you'll turn on and off using a switch on the unit's left side.
The PSP's WiFi indicator light won't light up when you switch on
WiFi, you must actually establish a connection to power up the
radio and LED. That's very battery friendly: even if you forget
to switch off WiFi, the radio will sleep until needed for an active
connection. The PSP can connect to other PSPs and access points.
We found it easy to set up and use the WiFi,
and the device had good range. It played nicely with DHCP and
WEP encryption when connecting to access points. You can save a
long list of connection profiles, so you need not re-enter settings
if you enjoy online play at home, at a friend's house and your
favorite Starbucks. The network utility can search for available
access points and PSPs and walk you through connecting to them.
Unlike the Nintendo DS, this is true 802.11b using standard networking
protocols with support for both ad hoc and infrastructure mode
as well as 64 and 128 bit WEP encryption. If only Sony had included
a web browser! They do include a network update feature which you
can use to update your PSP when it's connected to the Internet,
should an update be available.
You can use WiFi to connect to other PSPs in
ad hoc mode and play multiplayer (1-8 players) games wirelessly.
Quite a few of the launch titles support multiplayer gaming between
PSPs. In addition, select titles support online play right out
of the box, such as Twisted Metal: Head On. Simply connect to your
WiFi access point using the infrastructure setting, and you're
ready for some online action. Another interesting upcoming feature
is 'game sharing'. For example, Namco Museum lets an owner of the
game send a temporary one round demo over to a friend's PSP.
Who wouldn't love a console that looks like a
$500 ultra-modern and cool device, has Sony behind it, a great
list of rollout titles and a widescreen that can't be beat? Throw
in movie playback, an MP3 player, stereo, a photo viewer, stereo
output, standard 802.11b WiFi and geat gaming ergonomics, Sony
is taking the market in new directions. If you wonder
what may make Sony different than the rest that have tried in the
past, Sony makes Sony different. They have the tools, the developers,
the technology, and from what I see so far, the audience they need
The PSP isn't perfect, the internal speaker could
be better, the battery life could be longer, and the price could
be just a little bit lower to compete with the DS. There have been
reports of dead pixels and some of us have had first hand experience
with very small amounts of dust trapped under the display on the
initial US shipment, and it remains to be seen how this will play
out or the quality of subsequent shipments. For your money, the
wow and quite possibly a whole new direction of handheld gaming,
I can completely and honestly recommend the PSP to any gamer out
there. For the most part, I haven't had to... Anyone who sees one,