Review by SideswipeZulu

"The PSP marks a revolution in handheld gaming, but its extra features only go so far."

PSP Hardware Review

March 24, 2005 marked the initial release of Sony's first and only handheld gaming platform. Now, to call the PSP a gaming platform is fair as that is its primary purpose, but Sony is trying to take it one step further by integrating a level of multimedia capability and expanded functionality in the future. This makes the PSP far more than a simple handheld system, but whether or not you will be using those future goodies is another issue.

PSP VALUE PACK - 9/10

Selling the system by itself may have been ok, but Sony's decision to sell only the value pack at launch was, in my opinion, the best one. All the peripherals you need for the PSP and its games/media are included, requiring no additional purchasing unless you so wished to upgrade (most likely buying a larger Memory Stick Duo).

The value pack includes the PSP, 32 Megabyte Memory Stick Duo, AC adapter, earbuds with remote control, cleaning cloth, wrist strap, sample UMD disc (videos only), and as a bonus for the first shipment of one-million PSPs; Spiderman 2, the movie, on the UMD format.

Even without the bonus movie, this value pack lives up to its title. While the 32 Megabyte Duo is not enough for the music and movies you would like to put on to it, it is more than enough for game saves you will have. Prices on Duo flash memory are very high at the moment, but Sony has pledged to bring that down within the next year or so.

The Spiderman 2 UMD really shows off the video capabilities of the new format. While they will not do this, Sony would have been wise to continue providing the movie with their value packs to promote the Video UMD. It is unclear enough whether it will be a success or a failure.

GAMING - 9/10

The PSP's primary use is what it excels at the most. The system's launch library is quite grand, being one of the largest in history, but not so diversified. While the launch titles are half action and half sports, you will still find plenty of appealing titles.

The graphics, thanks to the PSP's large, high resolution LCD, are unrivaled by any other device. The PSP's graphical capabilities are comparable to the PS2. Textures are high resolution, the effects are brilliant, and the overall experience is simply immersive. Though some titles (Gretzky NHL) are plagued by frame rate drops, this is more of a developer issue rather than a hardware issue.

Sound from the PSP is nothing special from its speakers, which feel quite underpowered and low quality, but when you have a set of earbuds or headphones on it really shines through. Easily on par with console games and DVD movies, the PSP's audio capabilities are icing on the cake.

The buttons are all quite solid. Rumors of sticking L and Square buttons are easily dismissed once you have the system in your hands. PSOne and PS2 owners will instantly be familiar with the layout. There are a total of ten function buttons (including D-Pad), Start and Select, and the unique Analog Nub. The Nub is like the analog sticks of the Dual-Shock controller, but instead of tilting it slides around. There is noticeable resistance when you do so, and it is a very satisfying control.

MULTIMEDIA - 6/10

As though the games were not enough, Sony has made the PSP an all-in-one sort of device by incorporating a level of multi-media capability. Loaded directly onto the Memeory Stick Duo/Pro Duo, you can access these files via the PSP's Xross Media Bar (XMB). The interface being used on most of Sony's latest devices with multiple modes of media (TVs with built in picture viewing for example), the simple and yet elegant XMB makes for excellent navigation of settings and media files.

The picture viewer on the PSP is very basic with only single and slideshow display modes, and it will only support two formats; JPG and single frame GIFs. You can also zoom in and out on the photos. While these limited options make the picture viewer seem like an afterthought, it gets the job done of being able to share your pictures.

Video files from your PC, converted to the MPEG4 format, can be played as well. Now, this is not as great as it seems. The PSP will only allow a certain resolution of video for the uploaded MPEG4 files, and then you must select the appropriate display mode to get the sizing on the LCD screen right. Stretching can occur sometimes. 4:3 video will have black bars on either side, but 16:9 video will fit to the full LCD when the right display mode is selected.

Video will also be playable via UMD (Universal Media Disc). These movies are of DVD quality (on the PSP's screen at least), have fantastic audio, but the controls are very limited. The Spiderman 2 UMD that came with the first million PSPs had no chapter selection menu, which made it a pain to get to the scene you wanted fast forwarding or using the shoulder buttons to skip through scenes. Whether or not video in the UMD format will sell well is unknown, but I personally feel it is a great experience while on the go.

Music on the PSP is a tricky story. The PSP can play either the popular MP3 format, or Sony's own highly compressed, but outstanding quality ATRAC3/ATRAC3+ format. ATRAC3 takes up far less space than MP3s, and the audio quality is still slightly higher. However, Sony went out of their way to make sure their wonderful format only worked to a degree on the PSP. Any Memory Stick Duo up to 128 Megabytes can have ATRAC3 read from it on the PSP, but higher storage Duos (256MB+) are Pro Duos, and the ATRAC3 format is not compatible. This seemed like a business decision on Sony's part to keep sales of their portable music players up, but it was a horrible choice altogether.

STORAGE AND CONNECTIVITY - 9/10

The PSP has numerous connection methods available for whatever purposes you need. A built in WiFi adapter allows wireless play between gamers, but also will allow people to hook into a wireless hotspot and play online against others in a mode called Infrastructure. A very exciting feature of the PSP indeed.

USB 2.0 access to a PC allows for very fast data transfer of media files, having the PSP act as a flash card reader to Windows, but it will allow much, much more. With the right adapter (as the USB port on the PSP is a Mini), a large number of devices can be hooked into it in the future. These could be mice, keyboards, cameras, and even headsets.

The PSP also has an IR port, but this has little use so far considering its other options.

OVERALL SCORE - 8/10

The PSP marks a change in the views of what handheld gaming should be. While the added capabilities of pictures, music, and videoare not all they should be, and Sony adding to the problem by intentionally limiting them, the core of the PSP is as solid as we would all want it to be. This is the sort of device people have been waiting for. With more than fifty titles to be released by the end of 2005 for the US, the PSP will no doubt put on one incredible fight to gain its share of the handheld market away from Nintendo.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/29/05


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