Those in the target demographic have eagerly awaited its arrival. And even people other than 15- to- 25-year-old males may have more than a passing interest in one of the year's most anticipated pieces of gadgetry: the Sony PSP. Originally conceived as the PlayStation Portable (and now simply called the PSP), the slick, gorgeous device succeeds spectacularly as a portable gaming console. If you view its music- and video-playback capabilities as bonus features, you'll be thrilled; if you were hoping it would be best-in-class at all its endeavors, you'll be slightly disappointed.
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With its black face, silver accents, and clear buttons up top, the PSP looks the part. The centerpiece of the 10-ounce unit (6.7 by 2.9 by 0.9 inches, HWD) is a 4.3-inch widescreen TFT LCD that displays 16.77 million colors at a resolution of 480-by-272. The screen is sharp and clear, and the built-in stereo speakers are serviceable enough, given the unit's small size. Most users will opt to use headphones, and the $249.99 (list) PSP Value Pack includes decent-sounding earbuds with lots of bass (remember the target audience) and an in-line remote for controlling volume and playback. Once you get past the long load times, playing games is a treat. Controls are where they should be, and they are responsive. Graphics seem pretty close to PlayStation 2 quality (the obvious difference being that you play on a small screen instead of a big TV). Best of all, like its set-top stablemate, the selection of games for the PSP (two dozen at launch and counting) is enticing.
The PSP offers built-in 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless LAN access. You can play against another PSP over a wireless LAN or the Internet. Up to 16 PSPs can also be connected to one another directly in ad hoc mode for head-to-head contests. You can count on a whole PSP party subculture to pop up as the device becomes widespread.
While gaming is clearly the focus, Sony designed the PSP to be a portable multimedia device, too. There is a Memory Stick Duo card slot for storing music, photo, and video files, as well as a USB 2.0 port (though no cable) for downloading multimedia files from your PC. Games come on Sony's new, proprietary Universal Media Disk (UMD) minicartridges, which can also house movie and TV content. Look for the first UMD titles (Spider-man 2, Hellboy, Resident Evil 2, House of Flying Daggers, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) to hit stores about a month after the PSP's March 24 launch. The PSP Value Pack, which we looked at, will ship with a UMD version of Spiderman 2, the aforementioned 32MB Memory Stick, a headphone-remote combo, wrist strap, battery pack, soft case and a sampler disk that includes movies clips, music and trial games.
The PSP proves itself a good, not great, multimedia companion. For starters, we found that the headphone sound volume is not very high, which could be a problem for those listening to music or watching a movie on the subway. Storing music and photos on the Memory Stick Duo is not very intuitive. It is necessary first to create a main directory named PSP and subdirectories for music, photos, and video, or the PSP will not acknowledge that the files are present. You don't get the full complement of playlist and EQ features you would see on a dedicated music player. And unlike with dedicated portable media players (such as the Archos Pocket Video Recorder line), there's no way to capture video content from TV and get it on the PSP directly. Practically speaking, for video you'll be limited to what comes out on UMD.
On the plus side, you'll never have to worry about having an outdated version of the system software: Simply connect to any wireless network with Internet access and choose Network Update. The PSP automatically goes out over the Internet to search for and apply the latest patches. That said, we wonder why a device that can get you online so easily lacks a built-in Web browser.
Although it's not perfect, the PSP is an innovative portable device built for games. If you view the multimedia features as gravy, you'll be more than satisfied.