Multimedia and online features
The PSP is primarily a gaming device, but it's got some notable media functionality as well.
- Video playback: The PSP can play videos from a variety of sources. The easiest--and most ill-advised--is to buy prerecorded UMD video discs. (With an extremely limited selection, and the fact that the PSP is the only place you can watch them, UMD videos are--not surprisingly--pretty hard to find.) A better--albeit more involved--option is to copy your own videos from a computer onto a Memory Stick Duo card, and pop it in to the PSP. A variety of free and commercial software products can convert files to PSP-friendly formats and resolutions (MPEG4 or H.264-AVC, up to 720x480). Other content sources include TiVo Series2 (the TiVo To Go Desktop software can convert recorded shows for viewing on the PSP) and dedicated flash media recorders, such as the Neuros MPEG-4 Recorder 2 Plus and the SanDisk V-Mate, which can be preset to record TV shows in PSP-compatible formats straight away, with no PC needed.
- LocationFree TV: Built into the PSP is the ability to stream live TV from a Sony LocationFree TV device, which is Sony's take on the Slingbox. As long as the PSP is in a Wi-Fi hotspot, it can stream the video and change the channels on a LocationFree box, even if it's halfway around the world.
- audio playback: The PSP doubles as a decent music player, with the ability to play DRM-free MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, and ATRAC3 files, along with support for album art. Shuffle and repeat modes are supported, along with a visualizer function.
- photo display: The PSP can display JPEG, GIF, and TIFF photos stored on the MS Duo card--individually, or as a slideshow.
- PS3 "Remote Play": The PSP can log into a PlayStation 3 on a home network or via the Web, and stream any video, audio, or photos stored on the PS3. The PSP can also download and play some PlayStation Network game titles from the PS3 (mostly PlayStation 1 titles that have been rereleased specifically for that purpose).
- Web browsing: The PSP has a built-in Web browser, but it's the one place--more than games--where you'll really lament the device's lack of a touchscreen (or even a numeric keypad). A lot of graphically rich pages will be cramped or broken on the screen, and the limited Flash support isn't particularly robust (no Flash-based video, for instance). That said, using the analog stick to control the cursor is nice, and any Wi-Fi connection is fair game (it can handle WEP and WPA encryption). And for a lot of people, it will be a better mobile Internet experience than they're getting on a phone. A separate RSS reader option is available, but it's a little more complicated than we'd like to add your own feeds.
- Network update:The PSP has an upgradeable firmware, and Sony has been diligent about adding additional features, fixes, and updates every few months. The upgrade is as simple as choosing the option from the system menu.
Outside of North America, the PSP media options are even more robust: Japanese users have the option of a snap-on digital TV tuner for over-the-air broadcasts, while Europeans will soon have a video-on-demand service and VoIP communications. Likewise, Sony's international subsidiaries tout other PSP add-ons--a GPS device and a camera--that never quite seem to turn up stateside.
Can the PSP take the place of your iPod, iPhone, or portable DVD player? For die-hard media junkies--those with an 80GB iPod filled to the brim with music and videos--the answer is basically no. But if you're looking to travel with a few hours of music or some TV episodes, it makes for some nice diversion from a game, without having to lug a second device along. And while the screen isn't as large as you'd get with a portable DVD player, the PSP is decidedly less bulky--and its screen is considerably larger than that of the iPod or the iPhone.
While its robust media and online functionality are impressive, for most buyers, they'll be decidedly secondary to the PSP's raison d'etre: gaming on the go. Yes, Nintendo's DS remains king of the portable gaming scene in terms of units sold, but plenty of people are looking for more sophisticated (read: less kiddie-oriented) games than the DS offers. And for those who can't abide the oh-so-cute antics of a Pokemon, Cooking Mama, Zelda, Mario, or Animal Crossing title, the PSP will be a welcome breath of fresh air. The graphics on the PSP are noticeably better than those on the DS as well--games are essentially at the level you'd expect on the PlayStation 2.
Early on, the PSP was knocked for being little more than the "PS2 portable," because so many of its titles were simply ports of PlayStation 2 games. And, indeed, its hit list is dominated by many PlayStation franchise standbys, including Grand Theft Auto, SOCOM, Tekken, and Burnout. But many of these are phenomenal titles that have been designed for the PSP from the ground up. Genre strong suits include sports, racing, action, and shooter titles, but it's not all sweat and blood, either--plenty of quirky puzzle games (Lumines, Puzzle Quest, Loco Roco) are available, as well as a host of family-friendly favorites as well (Daxter, Ratchet and Clank).
It's also worth noting that many of the PSP games include an online multiplayer component. Some games offer ad hoc multiplayer (peer to peer, for playing against other PSP'ers in the same room), others offer Internet play, or both. Online gameplay is free, and--while the experience varies from title to title and is dependent on network speed--it can be just as fun and fulfilling as playing on a home console.
To keep its slim figure, the new PSP has a flatter 1200mAh battery than the more bulbous 1800mAh one on the previous model. But, because it uses power more efficiently, it's actually rated for the same play time--3 to 6 hours of gameplay, or 3 to 5 of video playback. Going on a long flight? The more capacious battery actually fits into the battery bay, and offers several more hours of battery life--but the battery cover won't fit over the top of it. (Sony will be selling an extended battery kit, with the larger battery and proper cover.) The better battery life is welcome, of course, but DS gamers will be disappointed--unlike that Energizer Bunny of gaming systems, you'll need to be juicing up the PSP more frequently.
Is the new PSP for me?
Someday, no doubt, Sony will debut a full-on PSP2, with a host of next-gen features and a more radical redesign. But for now, we've got an evolutionary upgrade of a portable gaming and media console that already had a lot going for it. Existing PSP owners won't need to run out and get this new version unless they really need one of the key upgrades--video out, lighter weight, or faster load times. Anyone else need only look at the available lineup of PSP games. If playing sophisticated, graphically rich versions of games such as Syphon Filter, Metal Gear Solid, MLB: The Show, and--in 2008--God of War is appealing to you, the PSP will ensure that you'll always be entertained. With its impressive game library, lower price, and expanded feature set, it's certainly a much better deal than the original PSP was when it debuted in 2005. And while its media and online functions won't necessarily replace a dedicated AV device or laptop, you may well find it to be good enough in plenty of situations.
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