Sony PSP 
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Written by Bryan Dailey   
Wednesday, 01 June 2005

Let me come right out and say that in the 20-plus years that I have played video games, from the Atari 2600 to the Microsoft X-Box and Sony PS2, I have never been more enthusiastic about a video game system than the handheld Sony PSP. This brand new, handheld gaming system from Sony is not the most powerful game machine on the market. It packs a modest 333 MHz processor and there aren’t a great deal of games available yet, so why am I so up on this system? The answer is simple. A video game system is only good if you actually end up playing it. I almost always fall for the hype and buy the newest home game systems. I currently own an X-Box, a PS2 and a Nintendo Game Cube. I’ll probably be replacing them with the next generation versions when they hit the streets, but I can already tell that I’ll be playing my PSP more than all of the aforementioned systems. All too often, I find myself getting the next big thing in video gaming. However, in a week or so, the system ends up collecting dust. From the moment I got my PSP a month ago, I have probably played it more than all of my current gaming systems combined in the last two years. For me, the PSP surpasses my Apple iPod as the ultimate portable pastime. Whether you are sitting on the sofa watching a baseball game or flying cross-country with nothing but time on your hands, the PSP is pure entertainment.

With a slick-looking black finish and a ton of technology packed into the palm of your hand, the Sony PSP features a 4.3 inch, 16:9 Widescreen TFT LCD display in the center that has a resolution of 480 x 272 pixels and is capable of displaying 16.77 million colors. The PSP is very thin at only 0.9 inches thick. The shape is like a rectangle with rounded ends and the dimensions are 6.7 inches wide x 2.9 inches tall. Fans of vintage gaming systems who are familiar with the Atari Lynx can think of the PSP as a Lynx on a diet. It weighs in at a very comfortable and easy to hold 0.62 lbs with the battery pack installed. This is just heavy enough to feel solid without being fatiguing to hold for long stretches.

Priced at $250, the PSP’s current competitor is the $150 Nintendo DS that features two screens, one stacked on top of each other. There is more surface area on the DS screens, but there is a seam in the middle where the unit folds up, so if action takes place on both screens, this gap can be hindering. The PSP has a widescreen format that lends itself to sports games, while the DS seems more at home with adventure games where the action takes place on one screen and maps and other details are located on the other screen. The DS has more games available and is less expensive. However, it pales in comparison with the multimedia capabilities of the PSP. Both the PSP and DS would probably make any kid happy, but if an AV enthusiast wants a portable game machine to take on the road, the PSP is the way to go.

For controlling games and menus, the PSP features standard Sony Playstation 2 X, O, box and triangle buttons on the right side, four directional buttons on the left and right and left buttons on the top that are made to be pressed with each of the player’s index fingers. Sony’s PS2 controllers feature a second directional button called the “analog directional stick.” The PSP also features an analog control stick that can be moved in any direction. The four directional buttons are used more often in most games. However, a more exact sense of control and the ability to make more subtle diagonal movements make the analog stick a useful tool.

On the right edge of the PSP is the power button. Smartly, Sony has created the PSP so that by pressing the off button quickly, it turns the machine off but puts it in “standby” mode, so you can resume your game as if you had paused it. Holding the button for three seconds turns it completely off and you’ll need to start your game or movie over when you turn the machine on again. On the left side is a slot for putting in an external memory card. The PSP comes standard with a 32-meg card, but it can be upgraded to as much as two gigs. This is very useful for storing music files and video clips, as well as saving the data from a large number of video games.

As I kept reading through the incredibly fat instruction manual for the PSP, the feature list is absolutely dizzying, considering the fact that this system is about 1/20th the size of a regular laptop computer. Wireless gaming and high speed data transfer are available via an internal wireless 802.11b card. This will allow up to 16 PSPs to link together for insane group gaming possibilities. A USB port on top of the PSP lets the user connect to his or her computer and upload movie clips, sound files and photos. Depending on the amount of data available on the internal storage card, the PSP can also be used as a portable slide projector. Images can be placed directly on the storage card in the user’s computer via a media reader/writer or can be sent over directly with the USB connection. A simple onscreen interface gives users a great deal of control for showing images either individually or on a timed slide show format.

The open button, home button, volume controls, brightness control, audio control and the select and start buttons round out the controls on the front of the PSP. The back of the unit has a round silver ring around the word PSP. The battery cover is on one side and a small hatch for the external memory cards is on the other. You’ll want to take care to shut off the PSP completely before removing the external memory, as the removal may otherwise damage the device. Some games that are loaded completely into internal memory can be removed while the PSP is on and the game will still continue, but the idea situation is to avoid opening the game compartment while playing a disc.

The PSP is a small machine, so needless to say, the game discs need to be small as well. Utilizing a new disc format called UMD, which stands for Universal Media Disc, the games are just a little over one inch by one in diameter and are protected by a plastic outer shell with a small space on the back so the laser can read the disc. Many youngsters will be playing PSPs, so this is a brilliant way of keeping their often grimy little fingers off of the discs and will help prevent scratching if the games are not handled with care. They are far from indestructible, but this design should help them last longer, provided loose items do not fall inside the opening on the bottom of the disc.

As of this review, the Sony PSP official website lists 27 games as being available. Sports games have always been my favorite reason to play video games and the PSP has two real winners that anyone who is into sports games should rush out to buy first when picking up the PSP.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour (EA Sports) is an extremely enjoyable golf simulator that plays so much like its PS2 big brother, just on a smaller scale, that I was almost dumbfounded. The game has a cartoonish feel to it, with the rendering of the players ranging from Tiger himself to any user-generated player. Tiger Woods PGA Tour has a feature that will let you create a replica of yourself. I bought this game on the recommendation of my best friend who has a PSP and when I saw how closely he was able to replicate himself, complete with the same shape of eyeglasses and same length sideburns, I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

When playing holes on unbelievable golf courses like Pebble Beach and the TPC at Sawgrass, the accuracy of the layouts are staggering. Despite the slightly cartoonish look of the players and the courses, the level of detail that is worked into a game that is still 100 percent playable is perfect. All too often with sports games, the action is very disconnected from what is actually going on in the game. I can think of several golf games that feature better graphics, but ultimately the player pushes the right series of buttons and it cues a movie clip of the shot taking place. With Tiger Woods for the PSP, you can put subtle amounts of topspin on drives, hit an intentional fade or draw and can back the ball up on the greens by putting backspin on approach shots.

Just when I didn’t think the game could get better, it did. Linking up with my friend via the wireless network, we found ourselves wasting countless hours battling each other in head to head Skins game for big virtual money. Bathroom breaks were no problem as the wireless PSPs could go anywhere in my house and our signal was never lost. The potential for fun with race car, football, soccer, basketball or fighting games with multiple players each having their own screen is endless.

Baseball season is underway and, being a Dodgers fan, I was thrilled to learn that it is possible, thanks to the external memory cards, to play an entire season of baseball as the Dodgers and save the games as I progress through the year. MLB 2005 (Sony Computer Entertainment) for the PSP is bar none the best baseball game I have ever played in my life. Various X-Box and PS2 games have come and gone and up until playing MLB 2005 for the PSP, I considered World Series 2002 for the old Sega Saturn to have the best combination of playability and decent graphics. Now in 2005, all of the fine details of every park in MLB have been created with amazing clarity and the movements of the players on the field are just as impressive. If a player in the outfield fields a ball on the run and the throw button is pushed as the catch is being made, the player on screen keeps moving and makes his throw on the run as well. If the third baseman has to rush to field a bunt, he will make a sidearm diving throw to first. Players on base make slides to avoid tags by the infielders and the level of control that the game gives you when pitching is topnotch. All of this adds up to the one addictive game that I like better than anything I have for the X-Box or PS2.

Not only is the PSP a truly amazing handheld gaming machine, but it is also a portable MP3 player and, incredibly, it plays feature-length motion pictures. When I first heard that the PSP would have the ability to play movie discs, I figured that the resolution would have to be low and they would not be able to include much in the way of bonus features. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Using MPEG-4 video file format, the PSP almost blew my mind when I cued up the demo movie trailers included with the PSP.

Among the first wave of movie releases for the PSP from Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Columbia TriStar are box office stars like “Kill Bill” Volume 1," “Pirates of the Caribbean,” "Reign of Fire," “Hellboy, Director's Cut,” "House of Flying Daggers" and “XXX,” with many more currently available and more on the way. Looking through the decent-sized list of titles for sale, I noticed that almost all of them include bonus features of some type that I wouldn’t have guessed would be possible, given the size of the UMDs. Like the video game discs, the new disc format UMD is also used for storing the video and audio for the PSP movie discs.

It’s not exactly like sitting down at the local cineplex or plopping down on the couch in front of a big-screen TV, but with the head phones on, the lights dimmed and the sound cranking, the PSP delivers a pretty damn impressive cinematic experience when watching movies. As the vibrato guitar strums and the haunting voice of Nancy Sinatra sings “Bang Bang, He Shot Me Down” during the opening black and white credits of Quentin Tarrantino’s brilliant film “Kill Bill Volume 1” (Miramax), I almost forgot that I was looking down at a small gaming device. It made me think back to when I was chomping at the bit to buy a Nintendo Game Boy and the graphics were impressive to me at the time. Technology sure has come a LONG way.

”Kill Bill” has a mixture of black and white footage, color live action and Japanese anime. During the back and white scenes, such as the opening shot of Uma Thurman’s Bride character lying on the floor bleeding and clinging to life, the contrast ratio and depth of the image was so surprisingly strong that it made me wish my rear projection TV was as good. During the color footage of the Bride having a kung fu battle with Vivica A. Fox’s Vernita Green (codename: Copperhead), in a peaceful Pasadena, California home, knives and fists fly but there are very minimal motion artifacts. I was unsure if the PSP would be able to reproduce live motion effectively, but as the machine had done with games, it continued to impress.

On the special effects juggernaut “Hellboy: Director’s Edition” (Columbia TriStar), the PSP didn’t flinch, even in the darkest of scenes with gigantic computer-generated monsters. Hellboy is played by former “Beauty and the Beast” star Ron Perlman, whose red look here is a combination of prosthetic makeup and a bit of computer-generated imagery. In the very dark scenes where Hellboy’s red skin is in front of a black background, the level of shadow and detail is astonishing for such a small piece of gadgetry. The contrast ratios are not printed on the specs, but I can say with complete certainty that the PSP looks as good, if not better, than portable DVD players costing many times more.

Uploading some MP3 files to the PSP was as simple as drag and drop from the desktop of my PC laptop. I ripped the Deftones’ new self-titled disc (Maverick) to my computer and transferred the crushing metal song “Hexagram” to the PSP. The meta data for the track stayed intact, showing the track and band name on my screen and, despite a slight loss in audio resolution, the crushing guitar tone of Stephen Carpenter and haunting vocals of Chino Moreno were still in full effect. My stock media card is fairly small at only 32 megs and even with the largest two-gig card currently available, the PSP isn’t going to threaten the iPod as the king of MP3 players, but if you have the room, you’ll surely want to store some music on PSP. The stereo speakers on the front of the PSP are small and work better for games than music and movie soundtracks, so you’ll almost always want to use the included headphones, complete with a volume and disc control unit on the headphones cable or pick up a pair of aftermarket headphone that are comfortable.

The Downside
There are so many things that are right with the PSP that it’s very hard to pick fault with it. One flaw that comes to mind is, when playing the unit with the headphones in and/or the AC adapter plugged in, the cords attach along the bottom of the unit on each side (the headphones on the left and the AC adapter to the right). These cords can get in the way of your thumbs and can be a little distracting. I also found the battery cover on the back to be a little tricky to open.

As stunning and clear as the 4.3 inch widescreen screen is, watching an entire two-plus-hour movie can be a little taxing on the eyes. It can also be taxing on the neck if you are holding the PSP in your lap while on a plane or car ride. There are companies making aftermarket stands that allow the PSP to be set back at an angle that make viewing easier, but I did not test any of these units, as I wanted to see the PSP’s performance right out of the box.

The front of the PSP is very shiny and can easily get fingerprints on it, making it look pretty ugly. If you are a neat freak, you’ll want to be sure to clean your hands off after eating when playing the PSP to help avoid this problem. Good luck explaining this to your kids. A small cloth is provided to clean off the screen. You can alternatively carefully use a soft lint-free cloth or a cotton shirt to clean it off as well.

The PSP is a very fragile game system and it can easily be scratched or broken. A very ugly but important faux leather strap is included for the user to put around his or her wrist. This gives the owner a fighting chance if the PSP is accidentally dropped while holding it, but the fact that a black gaming system comes with an ugly white strap seems strange. Perhaps the thinking was to match the white ear phones but, by that theory, the power cord should be white, too. It’s a very small thing to nitpick, but this game system is very close to being perfect and a black wrist strap is something I wish it had. Aftermarket wrist straps are also available should you not dig the white one.

Conclusion: How the PSP Has Made My Life Better
Just a few days ago, my car needed its 50,000 mile servicing, so I headed down to my local car dealer. I figured this would be a great real world test for the PSP. The car servicing was going to take about three hours and I didn’t have a ride home. I grabbed the PSP, put it in its protective neoprene travel case and tossed it in my car with the headphones, a few games and movies and the AC adapter, just in case the battery wasn’t going to make it.

In the dealership’s service waiting room, I looked on the end tables at the stacks of tattered magazines and newspapers that I would normally thumb through. I sat down, put the headphone cord in and powered up the PSP. You’ll need to know that kids that will flock to you and want to either see what you are playing or watching and some will even be so bold as to ask if they can play, too. This wasn’t a big problem as it was 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning, but I saw a few young eyes glaring at me in the waiting room as if to say, “When is it my turn?”

As I played golf, baseball, watched a few movie clips and listened to a song or two, the entertainment was flowing as was the sand through the hourglass. Before I knew it, the service tech tapped me on the shoulder in the middle of the fifth inning of my second baseball game of the day and informed me that my car was done. I took one of the most mundane tasks of sitting around and waiting for my car to be serviced and turned it into an opportunity to catch many of the great scenes from the beautiful and epic martial arts movie “Hero” (Miramax) and to add two more wins to my Dodgers 2005 season that I am playing out on the PSP. Long story short, it ended up being three of the fastest hours of my life that could have been among the longest. Sure, I could have read a book or listened to an iPod to pass the time, but with the PSP, the wait is much more compelling.
Manufacturer Sony
Model PSP
Reviewer Bryan Dailey

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