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Tuesday December 28, 2004 8:30 am

The Top Ten Things You Need to Know About Sony’s PSP

Posted by Hector Martinez Categories: Features, Video Games

PSP Glamour ShotSony’s small wonder is coming soon to the States.  Already a huge success at it’s Japanese launch earlier this month, the system is so hot that many gamers have resorted to importing it at extravagant prices.  Here at Gear Live we’re a little more patient, (okay, maybe just a little more broke) but that hasn’t kept us from finding out all we could about the handheld.  Some of the things we’ll share about the PSP you may already know, while others features may be surprising.  Whatever the case, be sure you read on to make sure you have the inside scoop on one of the biggest releases early next year.

RELATED: Why Sony’s PSP Will Suck

1) First let’s talk about graphics.  The graphical power of the PSP is said to be close to that of a Playstation2. And yet many early screenshots show slightly less complicated character and background models.  There’s a reason for why things might appear that way, even though they are more impressive than anything else on the handheld market.  It’s because screenshots from a PS2 are full screen and need to be that detailed, whereas the PSP screen is smaller and thus can fool the eye into appearing more powerful than it is on paper.  Simply put, the character models don’t need to be as detailed, because you won’t notice the difference anyway.  That said, we need to keep in mind that these are first-generation PSP titles.  Just look at how the PS2 games have evolved since its launch.  If handheld games are looking this good at launch, imagine what a couple years of development time will do.  You can expect the same leaps, similar to those found with home based consoles, as developers become more familiar with it.

2) The battery time issue is fixable. Everyone was worried about what kind of battery time we would be looking at with such a powerful system.  Well as of now, you can expect even the most intensive games to last well beyond 3 hours of play time, while other less graphically intense games can reach up to 6 hours.  Better yet, the system can be charged while you play it, and there will also be swappable batteries available if you find your game time will stretch well past 4 hours in one sitting.  As an aside, mp3 playback will be in the realm of 9-10 hours, in large part because you can turn off the screen when the unit is tucked in your pocket.  Charging will take about 2 hours from a completely drained battery.  You can also play the PSP while charging the battery at the same time.  There’s more hope too.  Sony has already stated that higher capacity batteries are in the works.

3) Music playback.  The PSP will be able to play mp3’s right out of the box.  The only supported storage (outside the pre-loaded UMD media) will be Memory Stick Duo’s, which could be found in capacities as large as 1GB, and for about $150 if you look hard enough.  Battery life and sound quality have been reported to be pretty good, though you will probably want to use your favorite headphones.  Many folks are planning to use the PSP as a secondary mp3 player, for when they grow tired of games while on the road.

4) It’s wireless too.  The Nintendo DS has already demonstrated the freedom that can be had without carrying your cords everywhere, or dealing with tangles when trying to hook up with more than one person.  The PSP follows suit with a powerful wireless functionality that can work up to 100 feet away, even through walls.  Theoretically, you can play against someone else on the far side of the floor you’re on.  Add in other players, and you can have 8 people going at it wirelessly without any game lag, as can be seen on the launch title Ridge Racers.  And this is just the tip of it all, as future wireless titles can have internet connectivity so that you’re playing with a team of folks that span the globe.  In fact, the PSP can already log online, but only for firmware updates, at this point.  It’s only a matter of time before a third party releases a web browser UMD.

5) Sleep mode.  One of the drawbacks to a disc-based system is load time.  To help overcome some of the boot-up and loading time for the PSP, it allows you to put the system on sleep mode with a flick of a button, when you have a short break.  Turning it back on will jump you immediately back to the point where you left off in your game, in less than a second.  Furthermore, sleep mode has been found to have almost no effect on the battery-life, even after being in sleep for 24 hours.  This means you can play in short bursts, experiencing the benefits of disc-based data, but minimizing the load times, if you need to keep it off for a little while.

6) Movie playback. The PSP plays back MP4-formatted movies, right off the memory stick.  We’re still working on a way to make this thing less complicated, but right now you need at least a couple pieces of software to make the movie conversion.  One is Decrypter, to rip movies off of your DVD’s and store them in VOB format files, and in conjunction with that you will need 3GP Converter, a free utility that converts video files to MP4.  You will have better luck with smaller videos, and files that are already in AVI format.  Sony itself recently released a converter software, but it does not rip your movies off DVD (understandably) and it also costs $10, on top of being Japanese.  The 3GP program at least allows an option to change its language setting to English.  Things will continue to iron themselves out as the system nears launch here in the US, but imagine how cool it would be to watch a 2-hour film on a brilliant portable wide-screen.  The fact that you can do this, with a system that’s rumored to launch at such a low price is unbelievable.

7) Strong third-party support.  The PSP should have a huge selection of games available throughout its lifespan, if Sony’s history is any indication.  Even at launch, which we are hoping to come around March 2005, if not a little sooner, you’ll be able to jam with the likes of: ATV Off Road Fury, Dynasty Warriors, Bomberman, Hot Shots Golf, Metal Gear Acid, Ridge Racers, WipeOut Pure, NBA Street, NFL Street, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, and Twisted Metal: World Tour.

8) The price is going to be right.  In Japan, the cost of a PSP is $186 US once you make the conversion.  It is very possible, in fact it is probable, that the PSP will launch in the US at $150 for the basic unit, and maybe $200 for the expanded Value Pack (includes a memory card, a strap, and a carry-pouch).  Sony is looking to put a serious dent on the Nintendo handheld market and if they can match the price of it here, while at the same time offering all sorts of multimedia capabilities and a big leap in graphics, then it will do just that.  Competition is always a good thing though, since this will get Nintendo thinking more about what they can produce to match.  There could be a price cut on Nintendo’s part, or there could be bundles offered.  Is it any coincidence that the DS Metroid game is also set to be released in March?

9) The screen is a marvel.  The PSP’s screen has been called the crowning jewel of the system.  It is amazingly bright even from multiple angles and from far away.  Think about how some of the Sony VAIO laptop screens look like at your local Best Buy and you’ll have an idea of how sweet it will look.  Not only that, it’s also in widescreen format so all games will natively give you a larger view of your surroundings, especially racing and FPS games.  If you install your photos into the system, it will generate white bars on the side of the screen at first, since they are 4:3, but there is a zoom option on the PSP so that the image takes up the entire screen.  You’ll probably be taking more shots with your digital camera from here on out, so that you can show off pictures easier now.  The screen is substantially brighter than the Nintendo DS’.

10) Announcements are coming very soon.  Word is that Sony is waiting until the holiday season ends so that they can announce all of the US official launch plans.  Since it’s practically January already, it’s only going to be just a short couple of months before we have this thing in our hands!  Gamestop and other software retailers are already taking pre-orders so we suggest you run out now if you want to be guaranteed one on launch day.  We’re so excited to put this thing through its paces, and hopefully now you can understand why.

- Hector Martinez


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