Review by corbie33

"PSP: Wave of the Future?"

INTRODUCTION: For those who have been following the portable gaming market, you know that Nintendo has long dominated the handheld market for the better part of fifteen years now. With the release of their DS system last month, it seems Nintendo is looking to continue that tradition. Enter the Sony PSP system. Sony has just released their entry into the handheld market and this has many game fans wondering if the PSP has any real chance of competing in the Nintendo-dominated portable market where so many competitors have failed before them. I was able to get my hands on a PSP system recently and have spent 30+ hours with this little beauty, and now I'm going to tell you why I think the Sony PSP is going to give Nintendo a serious run for their money.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: I must admit that considering what I had to pay for the PSP system, not to mention the long hours online trying to get it pre-ordered, you would assume that there was a high level of excitement for me in waiting for my PSP to arrive. You would be very right in that assumption and it was pure agony waiting the three days for the system to arrive in the mail. Nothing, however, could prepare me for what I was about to see when I opened the PSP box and took the actual system out of its soft wrapper. The Sony PSP is one striking system at first glance, make no mistake about it. It's sleek, shiny, black casing and beautiful arrangement make it the Ferrari of the portable gaming market. It's perfectly clear from the moment you first hold this system in your hands that this is certainly no toy.

HARDWARE: The PSP is heavier than I thought it would be and has a very sturdy feel to it. It fits well in your hands and the controls are right where they should be. The PSP features the standard Playstation D-Pad along with a new-style analog nub that is located directly below the D-Pad on the system's face. What sets this analog nub apart from the Dualshock 2 controller's analog stick is the fact that the PSP nub "slides" instead of tilts. Now before you panic I can tell you truthfully that the analog stick does take a little getting used to, but once you do get a feel for it the nub feels second nature and controls really well. Nothing a few hours of Ridge Racers won't cure. The system also features the same action button configuration with the triangle, circle, square, and X buttons laid out exactly as it is on both previous Playstation systems. The PSP features just two L and R shoulder buttons that are made of a clear plastic. These buttons have a cheap feel to them and are really one of the few gripes I have with the system's design. These shoulder buttons have a very clicky feel to them that just doesn't feel quite right, however they function just fine. On the lower face of the system you will find a host of other buttons for configuring and controlling the PSP system. The "home" button will take you back to the system's main menu. The volume can be controlled with the volume up and down buttons. You have a "brightness" button which adjusts the PSP's three levels of brightness (4 levels if it's plugged in the AC adapter) and a "mute" button for quickly muting the system's sound function. Last but not least you have the "select" and "start" buttons, which for anyone who's ever played a Playstation system (and who hasn't), you know what these are for. On the right side of the system there is a power/hold switch. You can press the switch upward to turn on the system's power and then you can press it upward again and hold it for a moment to put the system into sleep mode or hold it a little longer to power the system off. You can also press the switch downward into the "hold" mode which basically deactivates all of the system's face buttons. This is for in the event you are listening to mp3s and you put the system back in the case or in your pocket you won't accidentily press any of the system's buttons. On the left side of the system you will find the wi-fi switch that turns the wireless networking function on and off. On the top of the PSP you will find a small slide switch that pops open the UMD slot on the back of the unit. Despite the rumours and video of a UMD disc flying out of the system, I have yet to have this happen and I have inserted and removed my UMD discs repeatedly with no problems whatsoever. When ejected the UMD discs just pop up slightly to allow you to remove them from the slot. Also on top of the system is the mini-USB port for connecting the system to a USB computer port. Now that we've covered all the bells and whistles of the PSP, it's time to put this baby to good use.

USING THE PSP: You can boot the system up with no UMD disc in the unit and you will boot up to the main menu where you can control just about every minute function of the PSP. You can adjust all of the system's settings, format the memory stick to PSP format, view jpeg photos, listen to mp3 music tracks, as well as play mpeg4 video files from the memory stick (although you're gonna need a much larger memory stick than the included 32MB stick.) To play UMD games you can do it one of two ways. You can insert a UMD game disc into the system while in the menu mode and then select the UMD icon when it comes up on the screen, or you can cold boot the PSP with a UMD disc already in the system when you power it on. Either way works just fine. When you first turn on the system you'll be greeted with the Sony Computer Entertainment logo and soon after you'll hear the chimes accompanied by the PSP logo. Then you'll hear and feel the UMD drive begin to spin and boot up the game. All three games I own take about 20-25 seconds to boot up to their respective title screens, which may seem like a long time, but once you get through the initial boot up process the load times are all in the 3-5 second range after that. Not too bad at all in my opinion for a disc-based gmae system. At any time during the game you can press the "home" button and return to the main menu. You can also end the game by pressing the power switch upward and holding it until the power light goes off on the system. You'll find that navigating and using the PSP is very easy and straightforward. Also, for those who are considering importing, you can set the language on the PSP to English, although the text and menus in the games themselves will remain in Japanese. All three games I purchased with my PSP, Vampire Chronicle, Hot Shots Golf, and Ridge Racers are all fairly easy to play without any knowledge of the Japanese language. Now we'll take a look at the individual components of the system.

THE CONTROLS: The D-Pad, for those wondering, is the same as the standard D-Pad found on both the original Playstation controller as well as the PS2 Dualshock 2 controller. If you like the D-Pad on those controllers you'll feel right at home with the one on the PSP. The analog stick, as I mentioned earlier, is quite a bit different from any analog stick I have used in the past. Instead of tilting over, the nub slides in all directions. It is a self-centering nub which means when you release the nub, it returns to center on it's own. It's also tighter than most analog sticks I've used in the past. I have been using the nub with Ridge Racers and, although it does feel a little strange at first, after an hour or two of Ridge Racers I was controlling the car like a dream. In fact I am getting to where I like the analog nub on the PSP more than the one on the PS2's Dualshock 2 controller. The four action buttons on the left side of the PSP's face are very well-placed and very responsive. They are also quite a bit stiffer in feel than those on the PS2's controller. They are spaced very nicely and are easy to find on the system even without looking down at it. The shoulder buttons are another story. These clear plastic buttons have a cheap feel to them and make a noticeable "clicking" sound when pressed. I would also have liked them to be moved a little farther back, but they function well, although using them for long periods of time might make your hands cramp up a little. The buttons along the bottom of the PSP's face are very small and don't go down much when being depressed so they may take a little getting used to, although you won't find yourself using them that much anyway. They're functional but by no means perfect. All in all I've been really impressed with the way the PSP is put together and laid out. Simple but elegant in design.

THE SCREEN: You can't talk about the Sony PSP without mentioning the 16:9 widescreen LCD. There are no words that I could use in this write-up that could even come close to expressing the magnificence of the PSP's display. It is one of the crispest, brightest, most colorful LCD displays I have ever seen in my life. Even with the brightness of the PSP set on the lowest setting the screen still looks amazing. Viewing the golf courses in Hot Shots Golf with the widescreen make the game a joy to play simply because you can see so much of the golf course at any one time. If you want to turn some heads out in public, take the PSP out with you along with Ridge Racers. Almost every single person that I've shown the system to have all commented on the PSP's screen. It's that amazing and when you boot the PSP up for the first time and take a look at that widescreen, you're gonna be stunned. I kid you not. You just have to see it in person to really understand what I'm talking about. Let's just say that the screen alone is worth the price of the system.

VALUE PACK: The main question on a lot of people's minds is whether or not to go with the standard PSP package or pay the extra $50 and get the PSP value package. I went with the value package, but truth be told, you don't get much extra for the fifty bucks. The headphones that come in the value pack are garbage. They sound horrible and the cord isn't nearly long enough. The remote control LOOKS really cool but offers very little in the way of functionality. In fact it feels pretty cheaply made to me personally. The strap that comes with the value pack, for some strange and unknown reason, is white. Now you might think that this isn't such a big deal, but it sticks out like a sore thumb when connected to the shiny black PSP system. The only two items that provide any real worth in the value package is the 32MB memory stick and the soft carry case. The memory stick isn't going to be able to store any decent amount of mp3s or mpeg4 movie files, but if you're just going to use the stick to save your game data, the 32MB stick is more than sufficient. The carry case looks really nice with the PSP logo on it, but it doesn't completely close around the system which will still let in dirt, thus defeating the whole purpose for having a case for the system. It will at least offer some minimal protection in the event you drop the system, but not much. Hopefully some third party companies will release some good PSP cases in the near future. For those who want to play mp3s and mpeg4 movie files on the PSP, you're gonna need a much larger memory stick duo. Preferably a 512MB stick if you want to have any type of adequate storage. ScanDisk makes a 512MB pro duo memory stick that you can buy for around $80. If you prefer to go with the Sony brand 512MB duo memory stick you are going to pay about twice that. The Sony PSP will only play videos that are in the mpeg4 file format so you'll have to convert any videos you have into that format with a program that you can grab off of Sony's Japanese web site for around $10US. To put it bluntly, the value pack doesn't offer a whole lot of value so my advice is to stick to the standard pack and put the $50 towards a larger memory stick or a game. You'll be glad you did.

CONCLUSION: I've owned around 30 video game systems over the years but I have honestly never been as excited or optomistic about a new system as I am about the Sony PSP. With graphics that rival the Playstation 2, one of the most beautiful widescreen LCD displays, and an attractive system design that makes the PSP look as good as it plays, Sony, in my opinion, have created the system that will finally be able to compete with Nintendo in the portable market. Now don't get me wrong, Nintendo's Gameboy Advance and DS systems are going to sell well. And in their own right they are both wonderful systems that I really admire and enjoy. However those who simply dismiss the Sony PSP as "just another Sega Game Gear" had better sit up and take notice. Sony has come out swinging and once the world gets a good, long look at the PSP, they're gonna snap it up like candy at Christmas. For those who are considering the PSP, know's one amazing peice of gaming hardware like nothing we've ever seen in the portable market before.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/22/04

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