Hamburg – The expectations are as great as the box is small. On the slim black housing of the Playstation Portable (PSP) weighs not only the hopes of Sony. The film, games and music industries are expecting a small mobile boom from the multimedia machine, which is supposed to be able to display everything: Music, movies, games, Internet. But what can the PSP really do?
Sony PSP: The new lifestyle accessory
In Germany, the device is currently only available in the "Value Pack", that is for about 250 Euro including headphones with cable remote control, charger, protective bag, 32 Megabyte Memory Stick Duo, battery and carrying strap. There is also a demo disc, a "Universal Media Disk" (UMD) as Sony calls its newly developed proprietary format.
On UMDs there will be films – first of all aimed at the target group "man under 30" titles like "Hellboy or "Triple X" – and it will also be the data carrier for all PSP games. The number of games lined up for the European launch is manageable – but both Sony itself and various third parties have quite a few bangers at the start.
Especially in the area of sports and racing games, the PSP is already so well supplied that one could do without supplies for a while. A new incarnation of the super-fast science fiction racer "Wipeout, a new version of the "Ridge Racer, Virtua Tennis" to it (in which you can also run around the square as Tommy Haas), a portable version of the long-running skateboarding hit "Tony Hawk’s Underground", Various soccer and golf titles.
Directional keys, analog stick:
Fluted control button that takes some getting used to
PSP game "Ridge Racer": Sports and racing games galore
"Wipeout Pure": lightning-fast science fiction racer
|Sony PSP: games, music, movies, internet (4 pictures)
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For those who like things a little more complicated, there’s Metal Gear Acid, a version of Konami’s famous "Metal Gear Solid" scaled down to a trading card game-Series. At launch there will be a total of 29 games. Those who have acquaintances who also own a PSP can organize tournaments via ad hoc network. According to Sony, up to 16 PSPs can be networked in this way – but the small console will first have to become established for this to happen.
button as joystick
Button as joystick
Playing is pretty much like using a Playstation 2 controller, which in turn is similar in principle to that of all other current consoles: the right thumb rules over four buttons, which are used to shoot, hop or accelerate. The left one operates either four directional buttons or an analog stick, in the case of the PSP a flat, ribbed button that is spring-loaded and can be moved sideways in all directions.
It doesn’t get any fancier than this: The PSP is an "object of desire"
This button takes a bit of getting used to, and the precision of an official controller will probably never be achieved with it. But you get used to it – and especially in racing games you are better off with the simpler directional buttons anyway.
There are two additional transparent "shoulder buttons" on the upper edge of the device, which can be operated with the index or middle fingers – for example, in order to play "Wipeout Pure" to drift elegantly around the curves. Plus a few buttons below the screen to call up menus, adjust volume, sound and picture quality.
The display itself is one of the PSP’s big plus points: it’s crystal clear, bright enough to be usable even in daylight, and the 480 by 272 pixel resolution delivers color-intensive images in 16:9 format. It’s not cinema, but the private screens on the first class seats in airplanes aren’t any bigger either. The sound of the PSP has about the same quality as that of an iPod – but the headphones that come with it are not very good and, above all, very quiet.
However, the device is only conditionally suitable for a quick game between two subway stops: It easily takes one and a half to two minutes from switching on to the boot process through numerous menus until you can start racing or bring the first serve over the net. And also between levels or race tracks, the loading times are occasionally too long.
Nevertheless: You can play with the PSP. Not as much innovation as Nintendo’s competitor, the DS, but with proven controls and a larger screen. But what about all the other features that are supposed to turn the gaming device into a lifestyle accessory??
Sony hands pirates new toy
Sony hands pirates new toy
Movies on UMD will cost 20 euros apiece for now – a hefty investment for a disc you might watch once, in playing card format, and which can’t be played on other platforms. The PSP doesn’t have a video output, and on a larger screen the movies wouldn’t look very sharp either. It remains to be seen whether video stores will soon have UMDs available for rental.
But there are other ways to add videos to the PSP – and here, sneaking in through the back door, is what could really give the device cult status. With conversion programs, which are available for about 20 euros, many movie formats – even DVDs – can be converted into PSP-compatible videos.
Too little storage space
This is relatively easy, at least the notorious pirates and file-sharing users who scare the industry won’t have any problems with it. Those who used to watch movies on a loudly blow-drying laptop on the train could soon be sitting on the train with converted files and a PSP right in front of them. It’s interesting that Sony, the music and cinema giant, has just handed the pirates of this world a new toy.
But there’s a catch: The 32-megabyte Memory Stick Duo supplied with the device can only hold a few meager MP3s. The memory stick is completely overwhelmed with video files. Larger sticks can provide a remedy, but they are expensive. You currently have to spend at least 70 euros for one gigabyte, and the largest memory cards currently available, which can hold four gigabytes, cost well over 350 euros. If you want to use your PSP as a mobile movie player, you have to pay a lot more than the original purchase price. And the PSP can be used as an MP3 player, but with 32 megabytes you won’t get very far with music files.
Getting data onto the device is not difficult: The console can be connected to the PC with a USB cable, which is not included. The test computer also recognized the device after short start-up difficulties, files can be moved from the computer to the memory stick formatted in the PSP and back via drag and drop.
Off to the net
Off to the net
Verdict: If you’re willing to invest in extra memory, you really can turn the PSP into a general-purpose mobile player. As an alternative to the upgraded PDA or the standalone media player for on the go, so to speak. And the PSP’s hardware, unlike the competition, is subsidized, because the money is supposed to be earned through the sale of games and movie UMDs.
You should also be able to access the Internet with the PSP, but only after you have installed a software update from the included UMD or downloaded it from the Internet. The small console can then actually be connected to the net via a WLAN hotspot.
Typing text messages like a toothpick
But if you have a Wi-Fi router at home, you could have the console next to you on the sofa as a mobile network access. This works, but is not overly convenient. The small screen is not well suited for viewing websites, and navigating via analog stick and control buttons takes some getting used to, to say the least.