I finally have my hands on a working Playstation Portable and thought it only right and proper that I post my views after a few days use. I have a fair bit to say so I’ve split this post into three. The first will deal with the hardware and the value pack that Sony supply’s. Next will be the multimedia elements of the PSP and the final post will talk about games. Don’t know why I’m doing it – just feel the need.
The PSP is one of the sweetest looking gadgets I’ve seen in a long time. When I saw the early prototypes I just did not believe that the final device would look this good but Sony delivered. It is sturdy and well put together but you can flex it slightly. There have been scare stories about flexing the PSP will automatically pop out the game media but unless you are trying to force the disk out it won’t happen.
On switching on the PSP for the first time and getting the obligatory language selection and time setting out the way the quality of the screen makes your jaw drop – it’s bright, clear and very big. The resolution is 480×272 and even on the menu screens it looks lovely. One nice touch is the menu backgrounds change colour depending on which month it is although you would have thought you could set your own background. Unfortunately not, well, at least in this firmware you can’t. Although the clarity of the screen cannot be called into question the PSP’s achilles heel is dead pixels. Since it’s launch in December it’s been plagued by stories of units with lots of dead pixels, Sony originally refusing to exchange these units and an American launch which suffered from more screen problems. Without doubt the dead pixels are an issue. The first 2 PSP’s I bought (one for me, one for Graham) had a large number of dead pixels. Thankfully the replacements don’t have the same problem but I am left with a nagging doubt that over time the number of dead pixels will rise. However during gaming and movie playback they are not noticeable and so common sense must be used if there are any on your screen. One or two are fine – over 10 however is unacceptable. It’s interesting to note that the ISO standard with regards TFT’s allows the sale of TFT’s with dead pixels due to the complexity during manufacture and the difficulty in guaranteeing that there will be no dead pixels. Visit Scan for a guide to what is acceptable and also Seimens for an explanation of their guidelines. Sony are now replacing PSP’s with more than two dead pixels in the USA.
The second cause for concern was the battery life. Early rumours suggested 2-3 hours for a typical user. I’ve found it more like 4-6 hours. The battery takes around 1.5-2 hours to charge and it’s drain is very much dependant on how you use the PSP. If wi-fi is enabled and in constant use that will obviously drain the battery more quickly. The same applies if you are running a disk intensive game like Ridge Racer. Even then I would estimate you’d get 4 hours out of it. For movie playback at least 5 hours, mp3 around 6. At first I had a concern about how little the battery would last – my 3rd gen iPod last’s for around 7 hours on a full charge which I don’t think is much. However my usage of the PSP is mostly games with the occasional video. I’m not going to use it for any more 2 hour’s at a time so the battery should never be an issue.
Sound through headphones is amazing – the best I’ve heard yet from a hand-held gaming system. The quality is excellent, both music and voice. However the built in speakers are very poor. Tinny and susceptible to distortion as you push the volume they are a real weak point. Strangely though during Ridge Racer there is a nice attempt at some stereo sound but this is better heard through headphones.
The PSP uses a new proprietary disk format from Sony – the Universal Media Disk (UMD). This loads into the back of the PSP and allows for 1.8Gb of storage (it’s not writeable). Games and Videos will be supplied on these disks. On the whole they are sturdy apart from the part of the disk that is exposed for the drive to access – see the square that is exposed on the left of the picture. This is a weak point especially as games do not come with any covers – expect a roaring trade in 3rd party disk covers. Load times are ok via the disk but solid state memory would have allowed for faster load times. A great feature is that once a game has loaded and you switch the PSP off it stays in memory. Next time you switch the PSP you can resume from where you left off without any more loading. Memory sticks are also supported, more precisely Pro Duo memory sticks. These are tiny memory cards that come in sizes from 32Meg to the recently announced 2Gig cards. Expect to pay around Â£90-Â£110 for a 1Gig card. They are needed for game saves and also any videos, pictures and music you want to play on the PSP.
Connectivity is provided via wi-fi (B standard) or USB. The USB mode works well allowing for easy transfer of data to and from the memory stick. Wi-fi allows you to connect to the net for game downloads (Wipeout), firmware upgrades and also to allow multi-player gaming. You can play head to head with other PSP’s local to you but in the near future games will allow you to play over the internet with anyone. XLink Kai will also allow you to play over the net with games that only support local wi-fi using your pc to act as a tunnel. The wireless gaming works very well – connect with up to 7 other PSP’s for some head to head gaming. I’ve tried both Wipeout and Ridge Racer and the game was silky smooth, no lagging at all and no crashes – very impressive.
One vital part of the hardware that I’ve not covered are the controls. The PSP comes with the usual d-pad and also an analogue stick. This might not be obvious as everyone mistakes it for a speaker but if you look on the bottom left of the PSP under the d-pad that’s an analogue joystick. It’s different to anything I’ve used before in that the stick isn’t stationary – it slides around rather than staying fixed in one position. It take’s a bit of getting used to but allows for good analogue control in racing games. The rest of the buttons are all standard including the see-through shoulder buttons which are digital I think and not analogue.
The PSP comes in two packs – standard and value. I went for the value pack although I would recommend that if you want to buy a PSP you buy the standard over the value pack. The case that comes in the value pack as seen in the picture is a low quality soft black case with a PSP logo. It neither covers the whole PSP or offers much protection. The Aero case from Lik-Sang is under Â£5, offers protection and also space for headphones and UMD’s which makes it a far better choice. There is also a white strap for attaching to the PSP in the value pack – for me totally useless. A set of headphones with remote control are included and while the remote is made of the cheapest plastic known to man it does the job of changing the volume and skipping tracks. The headphones are cheap, uncomfortable in the ear and don’t actually sound that great – the iPod headphones are of a better quality and that’s saying something. Speaking of iPod’s the headphones and remote come in white. Doesn’t match the PSP at all and I can only think it’s white due to the popularity of the iPod. Finally a 32Meg Pro Duo stick is included in the value pack. Although required for game saves you would be better off buying you own bigger card.
Overall the hardware for the price is very impressive. The PSP is clearly aimed more at the adult market than kids as the styling is very slick especially in comparison to the Nintendo DS. However it is very difficult to keep clean. Greasy fingerprints and dust are attracted to the PSP like a magnet – yet another characteristic it shares with the iPod. I’m making comparisons with the iPod and PSP as I see similarities between the two. Both looks incredibly stylish and will be on many gadget lovers must have list. They also have the backing of two style aware companies and unlike some of their competitors, with these two products it really is style and substance. The key aspect of any gaming machine however is software – but that’s for another post.
It’s an amazing device but I want more. I want a hard disk built in, not UMD’s. They are a fudge to get a large amount of media onto a disk of some sort. A built in hard disk (even just 6 Gig) with games available via download would have given Sony a far more flexible platform and a device not any bigger than it’s current footprint. It would also have improved game loading times which can be quite slow. Ideally battery life would be nearer 8-10 hours but the next generation of batteries may deliver that kind of performance. I also want wi-fi streaming from a pc or external hard disk. Finally the value pack should have so much more…value. Include a good set of headphones, a usb data transfer/power cable and a case that actually stores the whole of the PSP + more while keeping it all safe.
That aside it is already my number one gadget and in my view the best portable gaming platform out today. Buy one – you will not regret it. Finally there is also rumours that there is still more to be unlocked from the current PSP hardware that will come when battery life improves – see here for more.