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Sony PSP

Kaz Hirai

If there is indeed a handheld title fight brewing, someone forgot to tell Kaz Hirai. Ask the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America if he’s worried about launching his company’s new PlayStation Portable (PSP) early next year, months after Nintendo’s new DS handheld, and he shrugs. “They can [launch the DS] before us, after us, on the same day—that’s a decision for Nintendo. But we’ve seen all kinds of permutations in the past: Saturn was out before [the PlayStation], Nintendo 64 after, Dreamcast before [the PS2], Xbox after... whatever they like.” Hirai may be talking about release dates, but his list of defeated home systems has a clear implication: We’ve beat ’em before, and we’ll beat ’em again.

The philosophy behind the PSP isn’t to redefine gaming like the Nintendo DS; it’s to re-create it, only this time on the go—to “bring the modern 3D console experience to a mobile platform,” as Hirai puts it. The system’s design reflects this goal, sticking close to Sony’s home controllers (with Triangle, Circle, Square, X, and two shoulder buttons, a D-pad, and even a small analog stick) to ease the transition between PS2 and PSP games for both game developers and players. The system can also take advantage of online gaming, with Wi-Fi wireless support that lets the system connect to the Internet or network with other PSPs for multiplayer.

And even though Hirai acknowledges that “games—great games—are the most important application [for the PSP],” Sony’s new handheld is about much more than playing Metal Gear on the bus. The PSP’s disc-based UMD media can hold high-quality audio or movies at near-DVD quality. Sony is anticipating that this new format will become a standard, eventually incorporated into other devices besides the PSP.

Plus, Sony is already hinting at “other entertainment applications” for the PSP, including online music downloads. Other possibilities include Web browsing, PDA-like functions (appointment book, calendar, etc.), and connecting the PSP to your PS2 or PC to swap data. Who knows? With the PSP’s infrared data port, perhaps you could even use it as a programmable universal remote for your home-theater system. “I would call the PSP a handheld videogame system first,” Hirai says, “but with a lot of different capabilities to expand it beyond gaming.”

Expansion

A USB 2.0 port allows the PSP to connect to all kinds of other devices—digital cameras, computers, even your PS2. Sony was already showing prototype devices that would interface through the port, including keyboards, cameras, and a GPS. Game saves and other data can be stored and transferred on Memory Sticks that fit into a slot on the side.

Big Screen

The first thing you notice about the PSP is just how huge its 4.3-inch screen is. The picture quality looked great on the demo units we saw playing video, and the 16:9 ratio means that movies won’t need to be cropped or converted to pan and scan.

Control

All the standard PlayStation buttons are here (only two shoulder buttons, though), plus a D-pad and a single analog stick underneath it. Opinions on the analog stick ranged from excellent to merely decent, with a few people complaining that it didn’t have the range of motion of PS2’s DualShock controller.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.





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