Review by CC Ricers

Reviewed: 01/18/05

A worthy challenger finally arrives.

Sony, after almost 10 years of stepping into the video games market and over 5 years of leading the industry, has entered the next frontier: portable gaming. Nintendo has been leader of the portables ever since they popularized that market, but Sony will soon steal most of their thunder when its brand new PSP arrives in North America. I snagged a Japanese version to get into the experience earlier, and here's what I have to say.

First impressions

When you first open the package to reveal the PSP you'll notice that this is a very sleek, shiny sophisticated gadget. One that begs to be taken care of properly, since it's not as rugged-friendly as the DS. The front is enclosed in a very shiny plastic that seamlessly goes around the screen and the sides. The back is your typical textured plastic. The system is also well-designed from the marketing perspective. The big, shiny metal ring enclosing the logo on the backside is eye-catching and easily lets people know what is that strange new device you're holding in your hands.

The PSP sure is susceptible to smudges, though, making every play session look like you just had a grilled burger to eat. Another peculiar thing I noticed is that the system was a bit smaller than I expected. Perhaps many people will feel this way when they first see one, because its large screen can distort your sense of scale for the system. Still, the screen is more than enough size to play games that look close to PS2's graphics...

"Only the polygoniest technologies..."

Making up for the lack of a touchscreen, the PSP undoubtedly surpasses the DS's processing power in nearly all other aspects. It is true in what they say, in that you have to see it in person in order to be amazed at what this system can do. First of all, I only have one game, but it's one hell of a game to test its graphical power - Ridge Racers. Out of all the release games, it's possibly the best 'tech demo' for the system.

In this game, the background textures are very detailed, and the sunlight hitting the pavement looks very realistic. The framerate is very good too, as I never saw any signs of skipping or slowing down. However, you should expect to see jaggies; there is not a lot of anti-aliasing. But the graphics are still leaps and bounds than what people have come to expect from handhelds.

Multimedia & Wi-fi - Icing on the cake

As a bonus, there are multimedia features available on every PSP from the get-go. The handheld allows you to view pictures, videos, and music. They are all stored in a Memory Stick Duo, which you would have to purchase separately. Battery consumption is more generous (rather, it consumes less) when reading/playing data from a memory stick than it does from playing a UMD, since there are no moving parts in between.

Owners of iPods and other major mp3 players: rest assure, the PSP is not close to being the best for playing music. The music playback features are not as rich as most mp3 players, not to mention that the storage size of memory sticks don't even rival the iPod mini (which is probably the PSP's major loss of potential here). These features are nice for short trips, but don't expect to depend your entire music library on the PSP. The Value Pack comes with a 32mb Duo stick, but this is hardly enough to store a decent amount of videos or music. It is suggested that you get one at least 256mb in capacity.

The large screen is very well suited for watching movies on the go, and the on-screen interface for navigating around in videos is not much different from the PS2's DVD interface. At least here the PSP has some potential in competing with other similar multimedia players but it still falls short in storage capacity.

Wireless communication is another notable feature of the PSP. With today's new handhelds, cables are out and radio signals are in. The PSP uses Wi-Fi, so it can take advantage of your wireless network card, if you have one, or a Wi-Fi spot for whatever applications the PSP will have in its games, or other functions. They also communicate with each other directly, so you can join along with other people in multiplayer games. Note that with this feature turned on, it will use up the battery quicker.

The bottom line

Here are, in short, the ups and downs to the PSP game system.

+ Very attractive design
+ High-capacity media for games
+ Next-gen power and graphics in a small package
+ Very good developer support - as much as the DS
+ Large, vivid screen to capture every detail

- Needs memory cards to save games
- Shorter battery life in the expense of extra processing power
- System is prone to dust and smudges
- Smaller size of memory sticks limit its multimedia potential

The PSP is a great alternative, or better yet, complement to the Nintendo DS. Sony certainly did its homework, creating a device formidable enough to seriously compete in the portable games market. With its amazing specs and its lineup of future games, the PSP is sure to sell like hotcakes...ooh, especially if they smelled like hotcakes.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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