Editors' Note (08/20/2008): Sony has announced a minor upgrade to this product. Scheduled to become available in October 2008, the Sony PSP 3000 adds an anti-reflective screen, a built-in microphone, and better video output support. Otherwise, it's pretty much identical to the PSP 2000 reviewed here.
When Sony first announced an updated PSP at 2007's E3 show, a lot of people were straining to see what was so new about it. Indeed, from a distance, the new PSP is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. But pick one up, and the differences are more apparent: it's thinner, much lighter, and sleeker than the original. It's also got a few other new tricks under the hood. The new PSP (which Sony calls "the PSP 2000," to delineate from the earlier "PSP 1000" model) will be available in North America on September 10 in two different versions: a black PSP-only package ($170) and the Daxter Entertainment Pack version, a $200 package that includes a silver PSP with the Daxter game, a Family Guy UMD video, and a 1GB Memory Stick Duo. A similar Star Wars Entertainment Pack will follow a month later (white PSP with black Darth Vader monogram and the Star Wars Battlefront Renegade Squadron game--but no MS Duo card included). Expect the bundle configurations to be updated periodically, along with the possibility of new colors at any time in the future.
What's different: Comparing the updated PSP to the original
If you're already familiar with the PSP, we'll cut right to the chase. The new PSP is an evolutionary upgrade, with the following key changes:
- Thinner and lighter: The new PSP is 19 percent thinner and fully one-third lighter than the original version of the console. Anyone used to the older PSP will immediately notice the reduced weight as soon as they pick it up.
- Slightly improved cosmetics and controls: The thinner profile offers a slightly sleeker, more rounded look and feel. Even better, however, is that all of the control buttons (the D-pad on the left, the PlayStation circle, X, square, and triangle on the right, and the shoulder buttons on the top) are all sitting a bit more elevated on the chassis' face. As a result, they have a bit more travel and spring to them. They feel just a tad more responsive--and that's a good thing.
- Faster loading times: The new PSP utilizes a system setting called "UMD Cache" that enables faster loading of game discs. The secret is the new PSP's extra RAM--it's got 64MB versus the 32 on the original model, and just like a PC, more memory enables faster performance. Many games do indeed load faster--while Test Drive Unlimited showed no real improvement in GameSpot's testing, Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 both showed nice gains, for instance. But don't expect miracles: the UMD load times are still poky when compared to the lightning-fast, Flash-based games of the Nintendo DS and Game Boy.
- Video output: The new PSP features an AV output jack (which doubles as a standard headphone connector). With the purchase of a special breakout cable (composite and component versions are available for about $20 apiece), you can display the PSP's audio and video on virtually any TV. But there are a few notable caveats--most notably, the maximum video resolution varies according to the content displayed. Video content from UMD discs (prerecorded movies) and Memory Stick (home-ripped videos) can be displayed at DVD-level 720x480 resolutions--though quality will vary depending upon how the compression of the video in question--but games are locked into the PSP's native 480x272 display. So, if your TV doesn't have a robust zoom function, you're stuck with a window-boxed experience for games. Another potentially bigger problem with games is that they don't seem to even work on TVs that can't handle progressive-scan (480p) output. So while nearly any HDTV should be fine (with the component cable), older televisions will be limited to displaying nongaming video output.
In other words, there are a couple of nice cosmetic improvements, but the USB charging and video output additions are something of a disappointment. (Perhaps some of the problems can be addressed via future firmware upgrades.) But demanding gadget fans will note that there's still plenty of room for improvement. Even without a radical redesign, the lack of a second analog stick and some built-in flash memory seems like a lost opportunity. Likewise, some persistent annoyances--such as the low volume levels and glossy fingerprint-prone screen--are frustratingly intact. And while it's more a political than a technical limitation, Sony's continued resistance to the homebrew movement seems shortsighted; we'd love to see the PSP be available as an open platform for third-party game and application developers without the need to hack it.
Aside from the slimmer dimensions (2.81 inches high by 6.63 inches wide by 0.63 inch deep) and lighter weight (just over 7 ounces--or 200 grams-- with the battery, game disc, and Memory Stick on board), the new Sony PSP doesn't look much different from its predecessor. The luscious 4.3-inch wide-screen LCD display remains, bordered by controls on its left, right, and bottom side, plus two shoulder buttons along the top edge. The button layout is based on the classic PlayStation controller layout--four-way directional pad on the left, square, triangle, cross, and circle keys on the right--so anyone who's used a Sony console over the last decade should be able to pick up and play. The bottom left of the front face also houses an analog thumbstick, for more precise movement. More mundane media controls line the bottom of the screen: select, start, volume, brightness, and a "home" button.
The rounded contours on the backside of the earlier PSP have been replaced with a totally flat surface. And we mean flat--unlike the rough exterior of the older model, the skin of the new PSP is perfectly smooth. And while it certainly looks even sexier, it may well be too smooth for the sweaty palms of some gamers. They'll probably want to invest in a case that doubles as a grip enhancer (just be sure to wait for cases that are specifically designed for the new PSP, not its fatter older brother).
Other changes from the old to the new: the UMD bay is now a bit more low-tech (instead of a sprint-loaded eject, you just pry open the chamber with your fingernail) and the Wi-Fi on/off switch is on the top edge (rather than the left side). And the headphone/AV jack is on the bottom edge, free of the obstruction of the handstrap loop. That doesn't sound like a big improvement, but being able to use any set of 3.5mm headphones--regardless of the size of the plug nub--is a nice contrast to the iPhone's annoying restrictive recessed headphone jack.
The Memory Stick Duo slot remains on the left edge. Like the UMD bay, it's a pry-open cover that slides on rubbery plastic rails. If you're not buying a PSP bundle that includes an MS Duo card (or don't have a spare one from a Sony camera), you'll want to invest in a decently sized one. Thankfully, 1GB models are widely available for under $30.
The PSP's interface is known as the Cross Media Bar, or XMB. If you've used the PlayStation 3, or even one of Sony's new high-end AV receivers or TVs, you already know what to expect: it's a pretty slick menuing system that's generally pretty easy to maneuver through using the D-pad and control buttons. As you get into some of the applications, however, that simplicity can get lost. We wished the Web browser, for instance, was as well-designed as the overall XMB menu system.
The USB port remains centered on the top edge of the PSP. Sony doesn't include a cable, but it's a standard mini-USB connector, so it's likely that you already have one lying around. The USB connector is flanked by two screw holes that allow for accessories (see below) to be firmly attached to its frame. But most people will use the USB port for quick connections to the PC to transfer digital media--photos, music, video, and even game demos available at Sony's Web site.