Review by mikaa

"Games, Music, Movies, Pics, and USB Data Storage. Which is it?"

"Games, Music, Movies, Pics, and USB Data Storage. Which is it?"

I asked that question several dozen times during the pre-launch of the PSP, wondering what Sony was doing. In the history of portable gaming, very, VERY few systems have ever launched and suceeded when they try to incorporate multiple forms of media built in. Take the N-Gage, or the, for instance. No, the Zodiac doesn't count - it was targeting a specific audience, not the general public, and wasn't meant as a gaming device.

Back to the PSP, the initial launch reports indicated that Sony had built quite a lot of features into the PSP. For starters, it could display JPEG-encoded images (no other system comes to mind with that ability), play MP3s (N-Gage, Zodiac (I think), and the GBC/A/SP/DS (with accessories) can do this as well), play MPEG-4 (MP4) movies (the GBA/SP/DS can play movies via special adaptors, though they use a differient format), and play games just shy of Game Cube abilities.

"Huh? Game Cube?"

Having played quite a number of games on the 128-bit generation of consoles, I have found that the Game Cube has the best overal graphical abilites (for a great example, see Metroid Prime) of the consoles. And having played Wipeout Pure for a good while, I hvae yet to see a PS2 game pull off graphics of THAT quality as often as a Cube, and with shorter loading times yet!

But, I digress.

At plus ten minutes after launch, I purchased my PSP, along with Darkstalkers Chronicals: Chaos Tower, and Wipeout Pure the next day. I then spent a whole two weeks online once I aquired my USB cable to find programs, and now I shall tell you what I have found, and what the PSP is.

First, the USB cable, for without covering this, we would be unable to go into depth about the other sections. I bought my USB cable for US$5 (yes, $5. Didn't come with a disk to handle your files, but those cost another US$7-10), and had an additional hookup to provide your PSP with power. This is important, especially when you consider what you can do with the USB cable.

For starters, you can load MP3-encoded music files. I have yet to see WMA and WAV files work on here (WMAs do NOT work strait up, though this might have been the single file I tried), and don't even try MIDIs. The PSP's MP3s, like all non-UMD data, is stored on your Memory Stick (Pro) Duo (a 32-bit card comes with the PSP, with larger ones (up to 1 Gig right now, with a 2 Gig coming soon) available at your local retailer). Depending on how much memory you have and how many other files are on your card, you can store a fair ammount of music on your system. I've found that the speakers of the PSP pale in comparison to the Nintendo DS and GP32, but when you equip them with a set of headphones (NOT the cheapos that come with the unit), it sounds beautiful. Also, the menu for the MP3 player has many standard features, such as Fast Forward, Rewind, Next, Previous, Repeat one, all, and an assortment of other little goodies. While the menu can be activated by the Triangle button, most options (such as Next and Previous) can be activated by the L and R buttons. Overal, the MP3 abilities are about the same as any other, though it IS a very nice ability.

Next we have the JPEG-encoded image viewer. This is single handedly the most underestemated program accessable right after you hook up to the PC. The viewer can ONLY read JPEG/JPG files, meaning no BMPs, no GIFs, and no animated images (sadly) without special programs. However, the viewer can display the files with amazing clarity, thanks to the quality of the screen. And thanks to the dimensions of the screen, you can rotate and view images that would normally be squashed on the PSP. Ironically, several companies and web-sites are already designing manga (Japanese comics) and other images to be specifically viewed on a PSP. Heck, even Playboy has announced special plans for the system. Given the history of X-rated video game software, this signifies that the JPEG viewer will have dozens of available media in the future.

And now, the Movie player. First, I can't stress enough that anyone wishing to play MP4-encoded files (the ONLY type the PSP will play) must, MUST read the PSP MP4 Converter FAQ by JustChillin under the PSP Hardware FAQs. The FAQ provides all the information one needs to run and encode files onto your PSP to run them. But on the abilities of the system, MP4 files run only as good as the quality of the encoding, which is only as good as how much memory you have. The stock 32-bit Memory Stick Duo that comes with the PSP is hardly up to the task of serious movie watching, though a 256 Meg card is sufficient for a couple TV episodes (about 30 minutes each). I've been able to squeeze two Gundam SEED episodes onto my 256, along with a 10 Meg clip of Inuyasha, about 150 JPEG images, and about five MP3s, not counting the save data for my games, and still have a nice chunk of memory to play with. And don't worry about problems with screensize (normal vs widescreen); there are four options for viewing: Normal, Original, Zoom, and Full Screen (the latter being excellent for widescreen files).

Finally, the last bit on the USB info: data storage. Many gamers are stuck with a slow connection (ie - the five people like me with a 56K modem), and wish they could download files at school and bring them home. If your school will permit you, if you have the port for the USB cable on both CPUs, and have the time, you can store files onto the main section of your PSP's Memory Stick Pro Duo, bring them home, and load them onto your computer. Or you could load data onto your PSP, take it to a friend's house, and load it onto his PC. The PSP is a music player, movie player, image viewer, gaming system, device. What IS this system, anyway?

Now, to the games. First, I must cover two folders that are created when you format your Memory Stick Duo that apply to the games. First is the SaveData folder: this houses your game saves, or the saves you can download or upload onto your PSP from your PC. Presumably, you can also store downloadable game updates and expansions this way for your games. The second folder is more mysterious, being titled "Games." Thus far, there has been no solid evidence of what this folder does, though rumors abound. Suffice it to say that we shall see in the near future.

Now... UMD Movies. Why do I cover these before the games yet not with the other movie player? Because, being on UMDs, these have special properties kin to the games. But enough of explinations, to the disks. The UMD movies hold a full movie (assuming it is less than 3 hours), and displays it at the quality of a DVD. Fast Forwarding is possible with the L and R buttons, and most options like subtitles and audio can be activated by the Triangle Button. Seems like a dream, eh?

Did I mention that the UMD movies drain your batteries like no tomorrow?

I watched Pirates of the Carribean for about an hour and three-quarters, played Lumines for thirty minutes, and it took my PSP over an hour and a half to recharge the battery. Because the UMD movies have to keep accessing the disk, they drain the batteries VERY quickly, reducing them to being played only with an exterior power source near by if you wish to use the system afterwards. It should be noted that movie files on the Memory Stick Duo do NOT drain the batteries near as much, using only a fraction of the battery in comparison.

Now, the games.

I've played the majority of the non-sports games available for the PSP as of two weeks ago as of this review, and while the games are nice, only a handful are as good as other games found on my other portables. While the lineup of titles is stellar, compared to the available library of the GBA (and, technically, DS, which plays GBA games), Neo Geo Pocket Color, and my GP32, the PSP is lacking a strong library of games with a high replay value. Two games which should be noted are Wipeout Pure (easily the most graphically impressive title and a stellar example of the system's abilities) and Lumines (which many are hailing as the "next Tetris"). These two games are great for playing, but also show many problems of the PSP's gaming abilities.

For starters, Load times. Yep, what started with a handful of games (such as Stuntman on the GBA and Tomb Raider on N-Gage) is now present in full force for portable gaming. Fortunately, many companies have designed their games to make the load times nearly invisible, kin to the Game Cube. Sadly, even when these tricks are employed, several problems inherit in the Playstation design lineage have popped up already: 2D gaming. As with the, PSOne and PS2, the PSP's 2D gaming, while nice to look at, have load times that are far too massive to ignore. Great games like Darkstalkers are destroyed by the awful loading times. Sadly, this is one nasty problem that won't go away.

Back to my initial question, what is the PSP? Is it an expensive MP3 player? An expensive, media limited portable movie player? Is it an expensive gaming device? An expensive storage device?

Actually, at US$250, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Already I have reaped the rewards of my PSP paying for itself several times over. And with addictive games like Lumines, the abilities to watch whole TV episodes of Family Guy on the go, and being able to read manga at school and listen to music on the way home, it's a steal.

What is it exactly? The PSP is exactly what many have dreaded, and what many have wished for: a multimedia device in a portable body. Yes, the DS is a pure gaming device, and that is not a bad thing. Heck, I play more games on my DS than on my PSP. But the PSP can play movies, it can display beauty shots of the Enterprise, and it can play the Magmoor soundtrack from Metroid Prime while I clean my neighbor's windows. Can the DS do those? No, it can't. Yet... ::insert mysterious music::

Final Rating: 8 out of 10.
Games to own (as of 4-26-2005): Lumines, Wipeout Pure, Tales of Eternia (imported)
Accessories to own: Screen Cover, USB Cable, Car Charger
Required Reading: the MP4 movie FAQ on GameFAQs.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/29/05

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