With the European release of Sony’s PSP slowly
creeping up, an in-depth analysis of this handheld gaming
unit was definitely needed. Gamers are in all probability,
filled with questions regarding its worth, how it fares
against Nintendo’s DS and how effective is the browser’s
special features. In this review, all of your biggest
fears regarding the Sony PSP will finally be dismissed!
For all of you hardware buffs out there, I have compiled
a list of the PSP’s main hardware features, and
they are as follows:
PSP CPU (System clock frequency 1~233MHz)
32MB Main Memory
4MB Embedded DRAM
UMD Drive (Playback only)
IEEE 802.11b (WiFi)
Memory Stick Duo PRO – 32MB
IR Remote (SIRCS)
5V DC OUT
Terminals for charging built-in battery
Dimensions: Approximately 170mm (L) x 74mm (W) x 23mm
Weight: Approximately 260g (including battery)
For all the gamers who don’t fully understand all
of the technical jargon, I’ve included a description
of the contents that should accompany your new handheld.
• PSP Hardware
• 32 MB Memory Stick Duo
• Headphones with remote control
• Battery pack
• AC adaptor
• Soft case and cleaning cloth
• Movie/music/game video sampler UMD disc including
multiple non-interactive game demos
The PSP Hardware unit has a 4.3-inch 16:9 widescreen
LCD screen with a 480x272 resolution. On the left side,
there are 4 directional buttons and beneath the D-Pad
is a fully functional analog stick. On the right side,
there’s the same ‘Triangle’, ‘Circle’,
‘X’ and ‘Square’ buttons. The
‘L’ and ‘R’ shoulder triggers
are also existent, while ‘Start’, ‘Select’
and a whole mess of other buttons (to be discussed later)
are spread out across the bottom. An LED light indicates
the battery status.
The 32 MB Memory Stick Duo is enough to hold saved game
files on, but if you plan on listening to a lot of music
or watching homemade movies on your PSP, you will need
to upgrade to at least 512 MB, but I would recommend getting
1GB if you don’t want to worry about space constrictions.
I clocked Sony’s 32MB Memory Stick Duo with a transfer
rate of 1.57MB/s, which isn’t terrible for a device
that can only store 32MB of data. The PSP uses its own
format for playing music and video files to save space,
but even so, the default memory stick will not suffice.
The stock PSP battery lasts for roughly 3 hours of gameplay,
but there are many aftermarket battery packs that can
be used to increase playtime. Sony’s stock 3.6v
battery might be enough for people who don’t find
themselves straying too far from power outlets, but external
solutions such as the Power Brick External Battery Pack,
will add a few hours of uptime.
The PSP also has a USB 2.0 port, permitting it to be
connected to any PC so that music, video, or games can
be transfered with ease. Aside from being directly connected
to your PC, the PSP also has 802.11b WiFi support, easily
allowing users the potential to have a wireless internet
connection if they have the right equipment in their home.
The setup process for the PSP is simple,
and even those who don’t consider themselves tech-savvy
should have no trouble at getting a game to play in a
matter of seconds. After inserting the Memory Stick Duo,
making sure the battery is connected and inserting the
proper UMD disc, you’ll be ready to go in no time.
As seen in the picture above, the 3.6v
battery fits nicely into the backhand side of the PSP.
The cover will easily slip off and the battery can be
placed right in. The battery pack uses Sony’s standard
5v DC source to charge and the AC Adaptor will allow you
to use said charger.
On the back left side, you will find
the port where you can place the Sony 32MB Memory Stick
Duo (pictured below). Once the back part of the case is
lifted up, a tray will pop out. All you have to do is
put the disc on the tray and then slide everything back
into place. Once this is completed, you will be able to
have network access, save different files and truly enjoy
some of the PSP’s strongest features.
Once it’s up and running, you will
run through a brief setup process asking about your name,
the current time and your sound and video preferences.
By sliding the ‘Open’ switch (on the top)
a tray will pop out, allowing you to insert any UMD disc
you have handy. If you don’t have a disc, don’t
fret, there is still a whole new side of the PSP to uncover.
The PSP Browser
For those of you who don’t feel
like playing games or watching movies right away, or if
you simply forgot to buy a game, there are still loads
of features that can be used. The PSP’s default
browser (pictured below) consists of 4 tabs: System, Photo,
Music, Video, and Games, respectively.
The system menu consists of default configuration
settings, but more importantly, it contains network settings
and firmware updates. The PSP can automatically detect
network settings if there is any type of wireless network
in the area. You can choose to enter network settings
manually, but for the most part, this won’t even
be necessary. By selecting ‘Network Update’,
the PSP will scan the internet for a new release of the
firmware, and if one is available, it will download it
directly to the memory stick. Whether you want to update
your firmware or not is entirely up to you, but the option
is always there if you need it.
The Photo, Music, Video, and Game modes
are really self explanatory. By uploading .jpg images
to the /PHOTO/ directory of the PSP, you will be able
to have your own personal slideshow wherever you travel.
While you can simply upload .mp3 files
to the /MUSIC/ directory on your Memory Stick Duo, these
files will take up most of the stick’s capacity.
Fear not, because a freeware program entitled SonicStage
will convert the .mp3 files to PSP’s “ATRAC
3” format, saving you a ton of space. In this format,
the stock memory stick will hold roughly 26 full-length
Again, there are some compatibility issues
with videos on the PSP. The handheld will only read .mp4
format video files, which can’t even be viewed on
most computers. Luckily, another freeware program entitled
PSPVideo9 will convert .avi and .mpg files to mp4, easily
allowing any videos on your PC to become mobile. With
the basic storage capacity, users can look forward to
about 5 minutes worth of video.
Uploading games to the 1.51 firmware
or later isn't possible, but PSPs with earlier firmware
should have no trouble with homebrew applications. Some
freelance programmers have also developed their own little
games, such as Pac-Man, Tic-Tac-Toe and there is even
a homebrew version of Doom floating around. Unfortunately,
these programs are only compatible with 1.50 or earlier
versions of the firmware. There is currently no way to
downgrade the firmware either, so it will be a while before
people who upgraded can play homebrew games. Most of the
1.50 Firmware PSPs are no longer on sale in stores, those
unfortunate enough to have purchased said version of the
PSP will have to play the waiting game. The upcoming 2.0
firmware will also fix a serious amount of security issues
present, but will most importantly add a new web browser
to the PSP, allowing gamers to surf the internet wherever
they have internet access.
Instead of having a bare bone GUI, the
PSP browser has a very homely feel to it. The soft background
moves gently and in a soothing manner that is relaxing.
In addition, the color of the background varies each month.
Whether it is time for the clear blue skies of summer
or the brisk colors of autumn, the background always seems
to fit right in with the current time of year.
Performance – Entertainment
Now that we’ve covered the basics,
it’s finally time to see just how well the PSP performs.
In the photo department, you truly couldn’t ask
for much more. The 16:9 LCD Widescreen not only displays
a crisp picture, but the luminescent glow makes them come
to life! The quality is absolutely outstanding, it’s
impossible to find blemishes, rough edges, color distortions,
or any other problem at all. Although the PSP uses an
LCD screen, the fear of dead pixels is ever present. With
the screens coming from various manufacturers, it’s
really a game of hit or miss, albeit I have no complaints
about mine. In the event of having the misfortune of receiving
a faulty LCD screen, Sony offers a specific return policy
on the subject and there’s even a variety of methods
and programs that attempt at “unsticking”
the pixels, such as the “Stuck Pixel Fixer”
Two small speakers on the bottom-left
and bottom-right of the PSP is all you’ll have in
the audio area, so don’t expect a blaring 5.1 Dolby
Surround Sound experience. There is hardly any bass and
static can be heard during some games or songs, but for
the most part, it is bearable. Luckily, a set of ear buds
come with the PSP. These headphones offer an enjoyable
amount of bass, the quality is superb and it is simple
to distinguish noises reverberating from the left or right
speaker. The headphones will be more than sufficient for
any music buff to get the most out of their handheld.
While the sound effects on the PSP won’t
be crisp due to the simple speakers, the video quality
is incredible. Again, the sharp widescreen LCD screen
displays perfect quality that is similar to that of a
Plasma LCD TV. Movies run perfectly and there is nothing
negative to complain about here. There are even aftermarket
products that can be purchased, such as Nyko’s Theater
Experience, which provides you with a stunningly impressive
Performance – Gaming Controls
Aside from all of the PSP’s other
features, at its core, it is meant for one purpose: gaming!
Firstly, we will uncover the PSP’s button layout.
The main frame looks much like a standard
PS2 with an LCD screen in the center. You have the four
D-pad buttons on one side and the four other geometric
buttons on the right. The ‘L’ and ‘R’
shoulder triggers are intuitively placed on top. However,
there is much more to the PSP than these few buttons.
On the left hand side, you can find the network switch.
Turning this off will preserve your battery life slightly,
but you will not have access to the wireless network feature.
Below the D-pad is a mesh-skinned analog stick that slides
along the surface of the PSP, allowing for precision movement
when needed. Along the bottom of the PSP resides the main
function keys. The ‘Home’ button will prompt
you to quit the game and take you to the browser. Failing
to do this before turning off your PSP may lead to some
troubles on startup, so you should always make sure to
quit your programs before powering down. Next to this
are the audio controls, where the volume can quickly be
adjusted by the press of a button. Subsequently, the next
button controls the LCD’s brightness, which also
affects the battery life. Pressing the button will cycle
through the dim, normal, bright, and overbright settings.
Lastly, the typical ‘Select’ and ‘Start’
buttons can be found side by side.
With a slimmed down design, many have
wondered how hard it is to use the PSP as a controller.
For those of you who have used a PS2, you shouldn’t
expect much of a change. The controller is slightly less
bulky, which makes it easier on your hands during long
hours of gaming. The top shoulder buttons fit smoothly
with the curvature of your fingers and are easily accessible
during gameplay. The only problem regarding the controller
deals with the analog stick. While it certainly was a
nice feature to include, the joystick has a very small
range of motion. The entire analog stick has about 2cm
to cover 360 degrees of rotation, and frankly, this isn’t
enough. The stick will slide around effortlessly under
your thumb, but with a lot of practice, gaming experts
will eventually become accustomed to it and utilize it
to its full potential.
Performance – Playing Games
Remaining to cover is the PSP’s
capability at playing games. The 233MHz processor with
4MB of DRAM may not seem like much, but it packs quite
a punch. The graphics are comparable to a PC system with
a 64mb onboard graphics card and you can see this clearly
from the bland textures and rough edges seen in most games.
Most titles can be played with steady frame rates and
the LCD’s quality is amazing enough to make the
gameplay come to life right before your eyes. While analysts
are comparing the results to that of PS1, the LCD screen
alone is enough to leave PS1 titles in the dirt.
Gamers have been curious as to how well
the online feature was going to work with such a little
device, but again, the PSP is still able to amaze us.
The PSP will automatically set up the Ad-hoc connection,
allowing the information to be “tunneled.”
It will also automatically create the system’s infrastructure
and access points, giving the handheld device network
capabilities. A few select games, mostly launch titles,
require the use of the Xlink Kai software that can be
setup in the Windows Control Panel. Despite this, other
games with fully functional online capabilities hardly
experience any lag and relatively no frame rate loss,
so most of the problems found with multiplayer on other
systems is nonexistent here.
The most popular question regarding Sony’s
PSP is: “Is it really worth $250, and would I better
off buying a Nintendo DS?” To answer the first part
simply, yes. The PSP definitely lives up to its hefty
price tag not only because it is an impressive gaming
system that can be taken with you anywhere, but also for
the vast multimedia features. Aside from playing games,
you will also have a personal slideshow, mobile music
player, portable UMD video player and a web browser is
even in the works. Along the road, you might need to purchase
a bigger memory stick, screen protectors and even protective
cases, but the PSP Value Pack is quite a bargain considering
everything the system is capable of accomplishing.
Even though some may argue that owning
a PSP or a DS is simply decided upon preference, there’s
certainly a handful of reasons why the PSP is leaps and
bounds ahead of the DS.
Regarding controls, again, the PSP is
superior to Nintendo’s DS. While puzzle games are
easy to control with the D-Pad on both systems, the immersive
3D games clearly separate the boys from the men. Using
a stylus to travel around a world is difficult and not
very user friendly, while PSP owners will have the option
to use a D-pad or an analog stick for precision controls.
Comparing the functionality of these
devices is hardly fair, the Nintendo DS was made to play
games and nothing more. The PSP allows you to play games,
watch movies, listen to music, view slideshows and even
compete in wireless online competitions against your friends.
As I mentioned above, this is a no-brainer.
In conclusion, Sony’s PSP is an
outstanding handheld device that has immense potential
and a solid future. This device maintains the simplicity
of a standard Playstation controller with the visually
stunning quality of a 16:9 widescreen LCD.
There are certainly enough aftermarket
products for the true hardware enthusiast and there will
certainly be more to come. Hip Gear has a PSP stand that
will turn the speakers into a booming stereo, while SanDisk
has their own line of Memory Stick Duos for increased
The firmware is constantly being updated
to include new features, such as the web browser, while
security fixes are preventing the use of homebrew programs
on the PSP; the updates alone add enough innovations to
make the PSP even more enjoyable.
The hardware is unrivaled by any other handheld device,
and as a result, we can expect to see a handful of games
pushing the system to its limit. There have already been
games including free-roaming, fully destructible environments,
but only the future will tell what lies ahead.
If you’re in the market for a handheld
device, then you should definitely purchase Sony’s
PSP. It has so many uses not only for gaming, but for
all areas of entertainment as well. Simply put, the Sony
PSP is the best handheld device and a must buy for anyone
looking for a sensational multimedia experience.