PlayStation Portable (PSP) Review [04/20/05]

Not happy with having a strong hold on the console market, Sony had launched their first effort in the handheld market with the PSP. Released on 3/24/05, the PSP launched in North America as part of a "Value Pack" for $250, along with a handful of titles to augment the purchase. It doesn't take much time to realize that Sony intends to make this gaming device capable of additional features, like playing movies and music, to enhance the worth of the product.

Out of the Box
Grade: B+
The Value Pack comes with a ton of accessories, most of which prove to either be a necessity or completely replaceable. Along with the handheld is the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery and plug-in cords for recharging the battery or just playing while near a wall outlet. Fortunately, you can play while the battery charges, but when you are away from an outlet, the battery has a life that varies depending on what you're doing. I've read accounts of getting anywhere from 2-8 hours depending on what the PSP is doing, but I've only managed to around 4.5 to 6 hours of game time before needing to recharge. The Value Pack comes with a 32 MB Memory Stick (see Memory below), free earbuds and a remote, a sampler UMD and a free copy of Spider-Man 2 on UMD. While some of the items are nice to have, others are just a waste. The earbuds aren't all that great and the sampler UMD is good for one look through, but without any playable content, it will find its way into a trash can quickly. The remote for playing movies and music is actually nice, though I could only see it having use if you were to use the PSP as a MP3 player on the go or had set up your PSP on a stand while watching movies. The free copy of Spider-Man 2 on UMD (for the first million PSPs sold) is a nice tease, but it feels like it may have been rushed to market. The video quality is nice and looks sweet on the LCD screen and the audio is pretty good, but the lack of scene select is disappointing. You can skip through chapters with the shoulder buttons, but if you stop watching the movie, unless you leave it in the PSP and put the PSP in sleep mode, you'll have to click back to your chapter when you return.

Resources
Product Specs GameSpot
Official website PlayStation.com
Console Hardware/Features
Grade: A-
I would have to say that I'm impressed with what the PSP can do. But, first and foremost, it's a gaming machine, and that's the most important aspect of the unit. Graphically, the games already available show off some nice power, putting the PSP anywhere in the late Playstation, early PS2 range of visuals. I wonder how the games will look once the PSP has a year or two under it's belt. With the addition of a Memory Stick, tech heads can view their own photos, listen to music and watch downloaded movies on the PSP. Each section has a number of options and serves the "all-in-one" aspect well without excelling in any of these regards. The LCD screen looks gorgeous and is bright on a scale that sometimes can screw with your eyes when you look away. The speakers are okay, but until you get a good set of earbuds, you're not going to get the best out of the PSP's audio.

Drawbacks? The eject mechanism is a bit aggressive. When you open the eject button for the UMD disc, be careful not to launch the disc at any nearby friends. Also, the glossy surface sucks down fingerprints like cookies at a fat farm. Also, the first batch of PSPs seem to have issues with dead pixels on the screen, so if you buy one, I'd suggest buying from a place with a product replacement warranty for your own sanity.

Controls
Grade: B
Patterned after Sony's controls for the Playstation and PS2, the PSP features four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, a D-Pad and Analog "Nub" (for lack of a better term). Except for the Nub, none of the buttons feature analog support, but that really doesn't seem like much of a limitation. The D-Pad is useful for most games, except for the fact that Sony style D-Pads have never felt 2D Fighter friendly. The Analog Nub looks like a control stick, but slides around in an odd manner that takes a little bit of use to get the handle on. When you do, it controls pretty well, though I usually find myself defaulting to the D-Pad. While there were reports that the Square Button has response issues, I have found no such problems.

Memory
Grade: Out Of The Box Gaming: A, Out of the Box Multimedia: D-, With additional purchase: A-
The 32 MB Memory Stick Duo that comes with the PSP is purely a tease if you seriously want to use the PSP for anything more than gaming. For gaming, though, it proves to have more than enough space for your gamesaves. Since the 32 MB Memory Stick comes with the PSP, at least you won't have to buy one right away to play games. But, if you want to do any serious music or movie (non UMD) storage, you better start looking into the bigger Memory Sticks put out by Sony or SanDisk, ranging in size from 128 MB to 1 GB. Don't expect any of these to be cheap and you may have to do some looking for these as they are a hot commodity right now. Also, be sure to get the Memory Stick Duo or Pro Duo as those seem to be the only ones that are compatible right now.

Multimedia
Grade: B+
Once you format the Memory Stick, it'll have folders for photos, music, saves and games. Since there is no extended file structure, you'll have to dump your music and photos in a single folder, which makes it harder to group by subject or the like. Though the PSP uses a USB Mini-B cable to connect to your PC, it doesn't come with one. They aren't too expensive to buy if you don't have one lying around. With the USB cord, you can hook your PSP up to your PC (or maybe Mac, but I haven't tried this) and toss in files that you want to view/listen to/etc. When it comes to adding videos that you downloaded to your PC (legally or illegally - I don't want to know), you're actually going to have to do some work as Sony didn't give you the required folders to place your movies in (God only knows why). Engadget.com has a lengthy How-To on how to get videos onto your PSP. The gist is that you need to download a converter that converts your video files to the MP4 format that is supported by the PSP. You'll need to download the folder for videos from a number of places, including at PSPConnect. Once you do that, you can drop your files in there and watch away. You may have to tool around with the converter to get decent audio and video. My first attempt was a low res music video found on the new Otep album which looked and sounded pretty good despite some issues with the low quality conversion.

Online and Multiplayer
Grade: A-
Right out of the box, the PSP has the ability to play multiplayer, whether it be locally or over the internet. Fitted with WiFi wireless LAN, the PSP can play against other players locally in an Ad-Hoc mode. This mode allows up to 16 people to play at one time, though the most I've seen listed for a game is 6 players at this time. By using a wireless router, players can also play online against other people. Much like XBox Live, the online component for the PSP will offer downloadable content, most notably in WipeOut Pure. One of the more interesting things to come out of this is the fact that gamers have already used a "glitch" in Wipeout Pure to browse the Internet While there were some hiccups in the online gaming experience early on, things seem to have ironed themselves out.

Games - Launch
Grade: A-
It seems that Sony must have learned something with their less than wonderful launch for the PS2. The PSP has the good fortune of launching with some familiar names and a number of excellent, worth-your-money titles. Along with first party titles like Twisted Metal: Head-On, Wipeout Pure and Ape Escape, the PSP benefits from the likes of the puzzler Lumines, a card-based strategy Metal Gear title, and handheld versions of THUG2, Spider-Man 2, and Darkstalkers, giving a good base of games to start with. Puzzle, racing and sports games are readily available, leaving other genre to be filled in as the gaming library evolves.

Games - Short Term
Grade: B-
Okay, so there are some games coming out for the PSP after the launch, like Hot Shots Golf, Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, MVP Baseball from EA and Dead To Rights: Reckoning, but these releases feel like the calm before the storm. After the nice launch, the release list feels more like a trickle of console ports and a few Sony titles to hold us over until more games are being developed. Fortunately, the launch came with enough good titles to hold most people over until a later date.

Games - Long Term
Grade: B
I can only give the PSP a B for Long Term game library because honestly, I have no damn clue what the extended product line is going to look like. There are a lot of names being thrown around, like Grand Theft Auto, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Persona, and a Final Fantasy 7 spin-off, but until E3, there are next to no hard details. With what's being rumored, though, the game lineup for PSP could potentially be great, but I can't make that kind of assumption. I doubt Sony' going to squander what they've already built up, marketing-wise, but they and the third party developers may need to focus on specific genres to balance out the library. Hopefully by the Holiday shopping season, the line-up will be fully fleshed out.

Overall, I'd say the PSP has launched well and will likely survive against the titan that is Nintendo's handheld dynasty. While the initial Value Pack bundle can be a bit pricey and the handheld still has some growing pains, the PSP does offer a good selection of games to start with and enough additional options to make tech heads happy. Considering the online options and the ability to hook the PSP to your computer, I fully expect to see some interesting homebrewed software turn up before too long. Sony would do well to embrace some of this additional content as it's sure to add value to their handheld.

- - Kinderfeld

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