The Playstation Portable is here
(does it live up to the hype?)
By Jestin Jund

There are times in your life when you just feel all sorts of Ooey Gooey on the inside. These seminal moments tend to shape the rest of your years, and stick with you until the very end. We're not talking chocolate chip cookies here, we're talking video games, and March 24th can now be considered a milestone in portable gaming. Sony has finally released the Playstation Portable here in America, to a very eager group of people. The months leading up to this day have been filled with speculation, rumors, and all out hype. The question is what's true? What's not true? And why the hell hasn't my mom made me chocolate chip cookies yet?

First off, I'd like to say that I've been following the progress of this system rabidly. Since it's first initial announcement, concept photos, and eventual E3 display, I've eagerly anticipated the launch date and price. Every day I spent time looking around for any new information as it came available, hoping to get an even closer glimpse at what has turned out to be an amazing little system. My crack-like addiction even went as far as having a count down timer on my computer desktop, leading my friends to believe that not only was I dorky, but a PSP glutton.

For those who somehow haven't heard all about the system, I'll give you a bit of information:

The PSP is Sony's first attempt to have a competitive portable gaming and media device. The screen is 4 inches from corner to corner, and boasts an amazingly crisp full color picture. The controls feel similar to the Dual Shock controller that you have all come to know and love (or hate), but only features one analog nub. Yes folks, a nub. The nub basically feels similar to an analog stick in it's movement, but it has a rubber band feeling kick back to it. It's nearly an impossible feeling to describe, and although strange at first, you get used to it quickly.

The PSP plays both games and movies, but contrary to popular belief, it does not play ps2 games or DVDs. The system uses a proprietary format known as UMD, or Universal Media Disc. These discs can hold nearly 2gb of information, are about the size of a gamecube game, and all come encased in a plastic cover. The entire plastic cover and case go into the PSP, and there is about a ½ inch square opening on the back so that the lens can read the information. Movies work the same way as games, and while the selection of movies currently is slim to none, there are many already confirmed to be released.

As previously stated, the PSP also works as a media player. Included with the system is a 32mb duo memory stick which can be used for game saves, music, video, or content download in games. Although 32mb isn't much in terms of music or video space, it's easy enough to buy 3rd party duo, or pro duo memory sticks and use those. Getting files onto the PSP is generally as simple as using it's built in wi-fi card, or using the micro usb 2.0 input and connecting it to your computer. When plugged in, the PSP is recognized as a removable disc drive, and you will see the different sub-directories on the memory stick. To add photos, you have to create a seperate directory in the folder, and the same goes for music. Video is a bit more tricky to put on the system, as it only recognizes mpeg4 format. There are already a number of easy to use converter programs specifically made for converting video to the PSP, so with a little searching, it's not too hard to get started.

Approaching launch day, I began to realize that I was starting to have doubts about the system. I've been hyping this thing up to all of my friends, and I think I tricked myself to think that there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with this wonder system. As absurd as it sounds, I even began having dreams (nightmares) where I had the system in my possession, but I absolutely hated. Well, rest assured, I really love this piece of equipment. Seeing pictures just doesn't do it justice, because when it's in your hands, you realize that you have something special in front of you. It feels expensive, and at the 250 dollar price point, it really is. For the casual gamer, this seems like quite a bit to fish out for a portable system, but when you compare it to similar devices such as the Nintendo DS, and Apple's Ipod, it's monetary cost seems proper, if not bargain like.

By this point and time, it's obvious to gamers that it is impossible to make the perfect system, and the PSP is no exception. First of all, included with the Value pack is an incredibly cheap feeling music remote. The remote is used primarily as a music controlling device, as it has options to skip forward, play, or stop. It's meant to be connected to the headphones (also cheap, but don't sound too bad), as a wired device to make things easier, when in reality it's just a pain. I used it very briefly, only to realize that it's just not necessary and serves only as an extra. For players with large hands, the system is going to be awkward for you. There are small indents on the back in which your hands rest, but they don't accommodate your entire hand. I am sure that 3rd party companies will develop some sort of grips that will mimic the Dual Shock more closely.

I had heard of early problems with the square button on Japanese models, but this seems to have been resolved with the U.S model. Out of the box the buttons are a bit squeeky, but after a little use they work just fine. One complaint I have with the screen is that it is extremely high maintenance. It's extremely beautiful, and you really want to keep it that way. The smallest smudge of a finger, or fine dust spec is easily noticeable, making this a device for people who really take care of their equipment (no pun intended).

The interface is extremely smooth. Options are very easy to reach, read, and overall the system's operating system is of top notch quality. One of the classier features is how it includes a preview of what you're about to see. For instance, if you were to put video on the PSP, you would be able to see the first frame from the movie in the interface. The same goes for pictures as well. Games each have their own preview, and even the save data for the game comes with animated backgrounds or sound clips. The color of the background changes depending on what you have the date set to, and the colors generally coincide with the feeling of each month. March is a yellowish green, January is an icy blue, and October is a pumpkin orange color. It's these small touches that make the system so classy.

Overall, my first hands-on experience of the PSP has been a very rewarding one. If you are serious about portable gaming and are interested in the system, its a must have. Games run smooth as silk, and while not as good as the PS2, they are very close, and it's still too early in development to tell just how far the games will be pushed. Video is quite vivid and clear, and the included Spider-Man 2 UMD movie shows how a little compression can go a long way. Sony has hit the nail on the head with this release, and it's thankful that they dropped 1million units on launch, with nearly 25 game titles to coincide. After the PS2 fiasco, it's good to know that they have baked enough cookies to keep the kids happy.