Early in its life cycle, the price of a PlayStation Portable was often a point of ridicule for those who supported Nintendo’s DS. The latter system’s $130 price tag has given it a nearly untouchable status in the handheld market. Certainly, this lower expense was the main reason that I myself initially shied away from purchasing Sony’s entry into the handheld market. Once I finally got my hands on a PSP, albeit as a birthday gift, I began to realize just how much functionality comes out of such a diminutive device.
The most important function of a PSP, obviously, is its capability as a gaming system. During the initial release window, Sony and other companies saw fit to simply translate boatloads of PlayStation 2 games into portable packages. Some saw this as a problem: why pay $40 for a game you’ve already played many iterations of in the comfort of your home? Others embraced the idea wholeheartedly, content to revisit old favorites while developers got their feet wet. The ability to take a console-level production on the road was more than enough for these sorts of people. In comparison with the DS, this massive computational power is the PSP’s big draw. The system also has the advantage of being able to accurately mimic analog control with its tiny black nub. This may not seem like much, but it offers much more precise movement in a 3D environment than does the use of a stylus or a directional pad. The familiarity of the button placement and control schemes has likely drawn in many a PS1 and PS2 veteran as well.
Until they had begun to fade from store shelves, and despite low sales, UMD movies made great use of the PSP’s clear, bright screen and clean audio sampling. The format was initially popular with movie studios as a quick way to cash in on both recent and previous releases. Most system owners, on the other hand, were not so ready to jump on the bandwagon, as they were justifiably repulsed by the often outrageous prices of the miniature DVDs. Often, a film on UMD lacking many extras would cost as much or more than its two-disc special edition DVD counterpart. The failure of this convenient format is a prime example of a solid idea brought down by an innate corporate desire to make as much money as possible. Even if a high cost of disc production is assumed, Sony and others probably could have found a solution or come to middle ground on the pricing issue.
Because UMDs were generally expensive, resourceful PSP owners utilized the Memory Stick slot and Sony’s own Media Manager or a freeware third-party tool called PSP Video to convert and watch movies on the go. While the company’s proprietary removable media format was usually priced higher than the SD or CompactFlash competition, inserting one into a PlayStation Portable turned the machine into a multimedia machine comparable to an iPod, though with much less storage space and shorter battery life than Apple’s current models. The system’s external speakers, while nothing to write home about, are a sorely missing component on most MP3 players. PSP can play movies, music, and photo slideshows just like the competition, of course in addition to its application as a gaming device.
The system’s Wi-Fi capabilities bolster the experience by providing users with a way to play many games online. While the DS has this feature, it took nearly a year for any games to be released with support for it; the PSP had a few online titles at launch. The ability to download system updates is an added bonus, although any game that requires a system update will include it on the disc. The web browser, while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, is a perk for those who want to hop on the internet at a hotspot to check e-mail or read RSS feeds. One of the most recently added features is the ability to network with a PlayStation 3 from any Wi-Fi access point, enabling the user to view pictures and listen to music stored on the system’s hard drive.
The core system is now $30 cheaper than it was originally and now includes the capability of outputting video to a TV. For the same price as the first model, which included nothing but the PSP itself, you can purchase this lighter, slimmer model with a game, a 1GB Memory Stick, and a UMD included in the package. Nowadays, the cost of a Memory Stick is perhaps a little bit more than most flash memory, but prices are well within reason. Additionally, cards with storage up to 8GB are available. The internet browser is much better at formatting web pages than it was in the past. Developers are beginning to discover the full potential of the machine, pushing graphics comparable to some of the better-looking PS2 titles. The system’s library is constantly growing with new games in every genre.
All of the features mentioned above, as well as a few more, can be found in the PlayStation Portable. Yet it remains a point of contention with potential buyers that the system is more expensive than Nintendo’s handheld offering. The DS certainly has its strong points, including a massive catalog of well-designed and unique games, but it fails as a convergent multimedia device unless outfitted with an expensive third-party storage peripheral, which are designed for those familiar with computer terminology and structure. This is not ideal for those who want a plug-and-play experience. The PSP is of great value to a gamer who yearns for more in a portable device than the ability to run video games. Perhaps the price isn’t so bad after all.