PSP Import Review
By: Matt C. on December 25, 2004. Last Updated October 8, 2005.
Eight days after its debut in Japan, my Japanese PSP-1000 arrived on my doorstep via UPS. Of course, I decided to opt for the value pack because the extra items not offered in the standard package are more expensive when purchased separately. If you haven't read my PSP FAQ guide, the value pack includes a soft carrying case with a hand strap, headphones with a removable remote control, and a 32 MB Sony Memory Stick Duo, which is basically useless unless you plan to only use your PlayStation Portable for gaming. PSP game saves appear to be around the same size as PS2 saves (depending on the game of course), so 32 MB should be adequate for saving your progress until your library of games grows large, but you won't be able to fit very much music or movies on that puny stick.
To make matters worse, the included memory isn't even the "PRO" version, which is faster than the non-PRO sticks. To get the most out of your PSP, I suggest selling the stock 32 MB memory and getting at least a 512 MB Sony Memory Stick PRO Duo with MagicGate for around $50-60. A 1 GB flavor is available for about $90 - $100, which is a better value than buying two 512 MB sticks. [Review continued below]
The official Sony PSP soft case that is bundled with the Japanese value pack is more like a sleeve than carrying case. It looks a bit like something you would put your sunglasses in and it feels really nice, but it probably wouldn't do a good job at protecting your PlayStation Portable's internal components from accidental falls. The case is probably good enough to prevent the screen from cracking though, and it will definitely stop things such as scratch marks. It does a decent job of cleaning off the screen too.
As for the headphones (or ear buds if you want to be specific) and the remote control (with play/pause, song skip, volume adjustment, and 'hold' functions); they are two separate items. The ear bud portion of the cord attaches to the remote control, which goes into the bottom left corner of the PSP. So if you don't want to use the remote control, and you can simply toss it aside and use the ear buds.
One thing I need to mention about the official PSP headphones is that the ear pieces appear to be larger than usual for some reason, so your ears may start hurting after a while. And yes, you can use your own headphones if you want.
Also included in both PSP packages are a whopping 125 page instruction booklet in full Japanese, a one year warranty card (which should give gamers some comfort since Sony is known for its unreliable game hardware), a lithium-ion battery, and an AC adaptor, which can be used in any country. So you don't have to worry about blowing the power supply and starting a fire. As for the battery, it takes several hours to charge when it is completely depleted. Battery life is difficult to measure, because it depends on what you are doing with your PSP and how graphic extensive the game you are playing. However, here are the results on two tests I conducted:
First, I played Ridge Racers on full screen brightness, wi-fi off, and with headphone volume at half. I didn't leave it in replay mode. I just played through the game unlocking new races, cars, and courses -- periodically taking breaks and carefully writing down the time (I took a total of 3 breaks). During breaks I put the system in sleep mode. In the end, the PSP lasted 4 hours and 36 minutes (whoever said it only lasts 90 minutes must have been smoking something).
Not too bad, in my opinion, considering that I had the brightness set to full. Also, I don't plan on playing my PlayStation Portable more than 4 hours each day due to college and working on the site, so 4 hours is more than enough for me. In addition, I could have easily played with the brightness set to minimum or half and still be able to see the screen clearly without straining my eyes. I'm guessing other people could as well, unless they are visually impaired or in direct sunlight. At minimum, the battery should last 6 hours, but don't quote me on that because I haven't tested it.
The second test involved the music player. I loaded MP3s onto my 512 MB memory stick, set the PSP on "repeat", plugged in the headphones with volume set to full, manually turned the screen off, and set it aside. The battery gave out at 10 hours and 26 minutes. If you're wondering, the power light blinks when the battery is running low.
The most common adjectives used to describe the PlayStation Portable's design is "sexy" and "stylish." The PSP looks nice in pictures, but it looks even better in person. If the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable were real people who happened to be brother and sister, the PSP would definitely be the PS2's hot sister that everyone drools over. Ken Kutaragi has even referred the PS2 as his son and the PSP as his daughter.
Normally, it would be somewhat embarrassing to carry a handheld gaming system around with you in public (at my age at least), but the PSP looks so damn cool that I won't be afraid to whip it out in public if I need to pass some time. This is partly due to the large high quality widescreen display, which will attract attention and shows that it isn't just a kids' toy. Luckily for Nintendo, appearance is not the most important aspect in determining whether or not a system is good. I could also say the same thing about Sony, because I think the PS2 and original PlayStation are also pretty ugly.
Anyway, like I was saying, the PlayStation Portable's 4.3-inch, 16:9 widescreen TFT LCD really impresses me. It is nice and large, and the viewing angle is good. If a friend is sitting next to you, they should have no problems watching you play without straining his or her neck. If other people watching you play bothers you, you can purchase privacy filters that help limit the viewing angle except when looking directly at the screen. This should be good news for people hoping to use their PSP for porn. Seriously though, the PSP's widescreen brightness can be adjusted by pressing a tiny button with a circle on it that represents a screen (press and hold it to manually turn off the display). When running on batteries, there are three brightness settings, and one setting that is even brighter is available when the system is plugged in.
There are some drawbacks about the screen though. The most obvious problem is the drain it puts on the battery. But another problem is as with many LCD monitors under $350, you can notice some ghosting during games. In Ridge Racers, you can really notice it, although some of it seems to be an intentional special effect (if you've played previous Ridge Racer games, you'll know what I'm talking about). All in all, the ghosting problem doesn't make the game unplayable, and after a while, I don't even notice it at all. I'm just glad I didn't get any dead pixels.
A third problem the large screen brings up is that it obviously makes the system larger. The PlayStation Portable is not bulky; its wide and slim, but it won't fit comfortably in everyone's pocket. Personally, I can get the PSP to fit in my jean pockets, and it's not too uncomfortable in my opinion, but it's definitely not as comfortable as a Game Boy Advance SP. There will be a bulge in your pants [insert lame "Is that a PSP in your pocket or are you happy to see me" joke], but people probably won't notice unless you like to tuck in your shirts. The PSP is probably better for cargo pants or a hooded sweatshirt with a large pocket in the front.
As for the weight, the PSP obviously feels heavier than a cell phone, Game Boy Advance, and some digital cameras -- and slightly heavier than a Nintendo DS. At first, I thought the battery pack would make the right side of the system noticeably heavier than the left side, but everything is surprisingly balanced.
Initially, I was upset when I heard that the PlayStation Portable had a glossy front panel. I was expecting a matte finish like in this image. However, I've changed my mind, because I rarely notice my fingerprints on the unit (probably because I don't use it directly under lights or lamps), I don't care if people see smudge marks on it when showing it to them, and so far, I've only had to clean the screen once.
Then there is the issue of seeing your reflection in the screen, which isn't too bad unless you sit directly under a reading lamp or something similar. If it bothers you, cheap $5 filters can be bought to help prevent reflection. Overall, the PSP actually looks a lot better with a glossy front panel.
As you know, the PlayStation Portable shares the same face buttons as the PlayStation 2 (triangle, square, etc). They are smaller than the ones on a regular Dual Shock 2, but they aren't too small. I do have some complaints though. First of all, the square button feels different when you press it. It feels more squishy than firm like the other symbol buttons. Hopefully Sony fixes it in upcoming versions. Another thing worth mentioning is that the face buttons are not pressure sensitive. Update: The square button issue has been fixed on all American PSPs and all Japanese systems made in early 2005.
The d-pad is slanted inwards like the Dual Shock 2, and it even feels better than the PS2 controller. The left and right shoulder buttons (there are two instead of four) are transparent and they are easy to reach and find with your index fingers. They don't make any clicking sounds when you press them in, but they do feel a little on the cheap side because they wiggle when you rock them back and forth.
Of course, the control item that most people are interested in is the analog pad (also called an analog nub or disc). It extends only a couple millimeters above the surface of the PSP, and it slides in any direction instead of tilts. I was expecting it to be pretty loose, but moving it around is firm, and it moves back to its resting position quickly when you let go. It only took me about 5 minutes to get accustom to steering my car with the analog pad in Ridge Racers.
So, is the analog pad really analog? To be honest, I don't know. Moving it slightly left and right seems to turn the car just as much as if you move it all the way. I'm going to have to test it out in some more games. However, I doubt Sony would just toss an analog looking disc on the front and hope to fool people. If it wasn't analog, developers would quickly figure it out and would probably openingly voice their opinions. Update: Yes, it really is analog. In Hot Shots Golf PSP, only moving the analog stick halfway affects how much you move the camera.
One thing that you will notice when glancing at the PSP is that there doesn't seem to be any speakers. The little dimples above the screen, which appear to have been ripped from a golf ball, looks like it could be one long speaker, but it's not. The sound comes out of two small holes on the front panel on both sides of the screen, and two more holes located on the bottom. The stereo speakers aren't horrible, but if you want enjoy CD-quality sound, you're definitely going to want to use headphones.
The PlayStation Portable obviously has moving parts inside of it (the lens to be specific), so some people are concerned about loading noises. Fortunately, the loading sounds that emit from the drive are no where as loud as the PlayStation 2.
If you imported a PlayStation Portable and don't know Japanese, one thing to watch out for is sleep mode. Sleep mode can be quite useful, because it tremendously saves battery life and the PSP can be woken up instantly. However, if you can't read the instruction manual, you might be unaware that you must hold the power switch in the "up" position for about 5 seconds in order to completely turn off the PSP. Most importers will tap the power switch, which puts the PSP into sleep instead of completely turning it off. There is no easy way to tell if you put it into sleep or turned it off unless you turn the unit back on (you will see a brief Sony screen during boot up if the PSP was shutdown). Update: It is now easier to tell if the PSP is in sleep mode or not, because the power indicator will behave differently when you put it to sleep versus powering it down. Just update your firmware if neccessary to get the changes. Thanks Sony. :)
And finally, the PSP has a USB 2.0 port for connecting it to your PC and other devices. However, it uses mini-USB (I assume it is too crowded to fit a regular sized one), so you need to purchase a mini-b USB cable for about $5. Mini-B USB is smaller than regular USB ports. In this picture, you can see a regular "A" connector (left) next to a "B" connector (right). Another way to get stuff onto the memory stick is by using a USB memory stick reader/writer. Those can cost up to $50, but I recommend just getting a cheap $10 one.
XMB (Xross Media Bar)
When you turn on the PlayStation Portable for the first time, it asks if you want to use Japanese or English menus. After that, you have to set the time and date, and give your PSP a nickname. Once that is taken care of, you have full access to the Xross Media Bar (XMB). XMB is a menu system used in the PSX and Sony's high-end TVs. Basically, you move horizontally to select the your main menu, and then press down to scroll through various sub-menus. Let's take a look at some of the stuff you can do in the XMB in version 1.00:
This menu enables you to connect to the Internet and update the PSP's firmware (system software). This allows Sony to add more features and options to the system menu. For example, in a new update, they could add an option to easily change the background color. Or they could add new features to the music player. I connected to my wireless router and checked for updates, but as expected, none were available yet.
Update: Sony Japan has released a firmware update for JPN systems. This brings them up to ver 1.50. This update includes support for German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian languages, support to retain screen mode settings (For video stored on Memory Stick), support to allow resume play after recovery from sleep mode (For video stored on Memory Stick), support to allow resume play of audio tracks after recovery from sleep mode. Other, very small changes have been made as well. U.S. systems already ship with firmware 1.50.
Update 2: Firmware 2.00 has been released in all regions, and it includes a nice official PSP web browser, ability to change the background color or use your own custom background picture, and other nice features. See the PSP FAQ page for more info.
This is where you go when you connect the PSP to another device via USB. This is one way to transfer data from your PC to your Memory Stick Duo. I don't have a mini-USB cable with me, so I didn't test this out.
Here, you can change the default menu language, audio language, and subtitle language when watching a UMD video. Can also change the UMD video volume.
Change photo slideshow speed to slow, normal, or fast.
This is where you change your PSP's nickname and system language. In addition, you can format your memory stick to prepare it for PSP usage, and view system information such as your MAC address (basically a unique address used to help ID a device on a network), system software version, and the nickname. Another useful item is the battery information sub-menu, which displays remaining battery life in both percentage and "hours left" format, much like a laptop. The hours left attribute isn't always accurate though.
Date and Time Settings
Change the date and time, select your time zone, etc.
Power Save Settings
Tell the PSP to automatically turn off its backlight or go into sleep mode after a certain amount of time. Enable/disable wireless LAN power save features, which turns the wireless feature off if it is not in use, even if the WLAN switch is in the "on" position.
Enable/disable automatic volume limiter system (AVLS). Basically stops you from accidentally setting the volume above a certain level so that you don't blow out your eardrums. You can also turn off key tone sounds when navigating the system menu, much like a cell phone.
Enable/disable parental controls to prevent kiddies from watching inappropriate movies and games by setting a 4-digit password.
Create or edit a network configuration file for the Ad Hoc and Infrastructure Mode. I'll talk more about this later in the review.
I'm glad that I held off on buying a simple MP3 player, because the PlayStation Portable's music player is surprisingly functional. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised, because Sony has quite a bit of experience when it comes to music devices (they invented the friggin' Walkman). However, if you plan on using the PSP as an iPod or iRiver alternative, there are some important things to keep in mind. First off, memory is not cheap, so a 512 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo costs around $89 (update: it now costs around $50). You don't need that much if you only plan to use the PSP for games and photos, but I'm guessing most people will want to take full advantage of the music and movie features.
So how many songs can a 512 MB stick hold? It's impossible to give an exact number for obvious reasons, but I managed to fit 63 MP3s on it, with space leftover for at least 50 to 65 additional songs. Not bad, but keep in mind that when this article was created, I only had two movie files on my memory stick. So the more movies you have, the less space for music, and vice versa.
Despite pricey memory, I still find the PSP to be a better deal than an iPod. Why? Because I'm not a huge music person (I only have 5 GB of music on my PC, which is weak compared to most people). I'm not the type of person that needs to carry hundreds of songs with me, so buying a $300+ iPod wouldn't make sense for a person like me. An iPod easily holds hundreds of songs more than the PSP, but it can't play games -- and games are more important to me. Of course, if you love music, you're going to disagree and that's okay.
If you're in the same boat as me, then the PSP will make a nice alternative to an iPod. But how exactly does the music player work? Well, first of all, you need to format your memory stick via the PSP (if you haven't already done so) and place as many MP3 songs as you want into the music folder that the PSP creates. Then, in the system menu under the Music category, a list of all your songs will load. You can organize songs into folders, or just have one giant list. In addition, you can delete or view the view info for each song by hitting the triangle button. Here, you can view the title, artist, album, genre, the exact file size, the date is was created on the PC, duration, sampling frequency, and the audio codec. Music can also be played via UMD.
While the song is playing, you can use the left and right trigger button to go to the previous track or go to the next track respectively. The circle button is to play, X is to stop, the start button equals pause/play, the right d-pad is to fast forward and the left one is for reverse. If you are listening to music on the go, just turn off the screen, turn on the "hold" feature to prevent accidental button presses, and put it in your pocket (assuming it can fit).
Basically, only problem I have with using the PSP as an MP3 player is its size. The size is no issue when you are sitting down in a car, train, plane, subway, or whatever, but once you start walking around, the PSP might be too large to fit in your pocket.
One neat feature the PSP offers is the ability to view pictures right off of the memory stick. All you do is place as many JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PNG, or BMP pictures as you want into the "photo" folder located on the memory stick. Then, in the system menu under the Photo category, a list of your pictures will load as thumbnails after a couple seconds. You can view info on the pictures by pressing the triangle button or view them using X. With some pictures, the quality will look blurry at first, but the PSP will automatically adjust the photo so that it will look as clear as possible. This all happens within 1-2 seconds. When viewing your photos, you can rotate them, zoom in and out, move around while zoomed in, and start a slideshow. The PSP will typically shrink your photo, leaving a white border on the sides, but you can force it to take up the entire screen if you want. Even when you tell it to take up the entire screen, the picture usually remains clear.
One practical use for the photo viewer is using it as a map. If you can manage to find a nice high-res picture of a map, you can import it to the PSP, and view it if you get lost. A paper map would seem more reliable, but in this digital age, who wants to mess around with paper? (If you haven't figured it out, I'm half joking)
Movies and Videos
One of the most exciting features is watching TV shows and movies on the PSP. I used Sony's Image Converter 2 to prepare my movies for playback on the PSP. The format that the PSP can read is somewhat rare, and it is typically only used on Sony PDAs, cell phones and digital cameras.
Getting your PSP to read movies is not as easy as music and photos. First, you must create a directory next to the root PSP folder called "mp_root" (without quotations). After that, you must create another folder called "100mnv01" inside mp_root. Then, place movies inside the 100mnv01 folder. There is a catch though. You gotta rename your movie files to m4v00001.mp4, m4v00002.mp4, m4v00003.mp4, and so on. In other words, just replace the zeros with whatever number you want. You don't have to go in order.
Once the movies are in place, you can begin watching them just as easily as starting up an MP3 or viewing a photo. While a movie is playing, there are a number of options at your disposal when you press triangle. First off, you can change the screen mode from original, normal, zoom, or full screen. Zoom forces the movie to fit the entire screen, while "full screen" forces it into widescreen mode with letterboxes. In addition, it is possible to make the PSP display the movie title at the top (along with the time and date) and the movies' total length and your current position in the film. There is also a "go to" function, which allows you to skip to an exact moment in a video. Then there are standard options like rewind, fast forward, slow motion, frame advance, play, pause, stop, and repeat. If you are watching a UMD movie, I assume there will be a chapter skip function.
The quality of the movies you convert depends on the screen mode you select, and how much it is compressed. I didn't receive a PSP demo disc, but I've been told from readers that the quality when viewing from a UMD is "near perfect and crystal clear."
At the time of this article, the only PSP game I have in my hands is Ridge Racers (update: I have a lot more games now). I bought some other games, but they haven't arrived yet because of delayed shipping from Asia due to the holidays. Ridge Racer was the first game I bought for the PlayStation, and up until now I've played every single Ridge Racer game in existence. Although I won't go into a lot of detail since I want to give Ridge Racers own proper review, I will say that Ridge Racers looks great on the PSP. In fact, it is probably the best looking handheld game currently on the market, despite tiny "jaggies" on the edges of the cars and on some of the roadside objects. Too bad I can't say the same thing about the fun but rehashed gameplay.
Anyway, starting a PSP game is pretty straightforward. If you insert a UMD while the PSP is already on, a white screen will pop up after a couple seconds with info on the software on the right side and a video clip showcasing the game on the left. If you don't want to play the game right away, you can move away from the white screen and return instantly to the Music, Video, Photo, or Settings menu. When you turn on the PSP with a UMD already inside, the game will automatically begin to load. Luckily, you can stop the loading and go the the XMB by pressing the "Home" button located on the front panel. The Home button can also be safely pressed anytime during gameplay if you want to return to the XMB (takes about 7-8 seconds).
There is an option to start a PSP game straight from the memory stick, but there are no downloadable games yet.
Loading times on the PSP seem faster than I thought they would be. Using a stopwatch, I recorded Ridge Racers boot up time from the XMB to the Namco screen to be about 22 seconds. Starting a race after selecting the track, car, and background music took about 14 seconds. On paper, these times seem extremely long, especially when compared to the Nintendo DS, but I didn't find them to be too bad. Naturally, you might disagree, which is okay, because people have different opinions when it comes to time.
Update: If you're wondering, American games work perfectly on my Japanese PlayStation Portable.
Wireless technology has really taken off the last few years, so it comes to very little surprise that both the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS offer wireless capabilities (IEEE 802.11b to be exact). It seems everywhere you go, you can pickup wireless access points. I'm not just talking about airports or large cities either. Go wardriving through any modest neighborhood, and you can usually find a reasonable amount of networks. With that in mind, I took my PSP outside to see if it could find my next door neighbors' wireless routers (I knew they were there because of my laptop).
Sure enough, I found two networks in my culdesac, not including my own. It can even find networks which have SSID (Service Set Identifier) broadcasts disabled; although the PSP still won't display the SSID, which is good, because if SSID broadcast is disabled the owner probably doesn't want you knowing his ID. Of course, if broadcasts are enabled, the PSP will display it, along with the encryption type (if any) and the signal strength. Speaking of signal strength, the PSP appears to have pretty good wireless range. I went to a spot in my two-story house that my laptop has trouble picking up my router's signal, and the PSP out performed my lappy. I intend to complete a more extensive wireless range test at a later date.
Once connected to a network, you can check for PSP system updates, or play online enabled games. In addition, successfully connecting to a network gives some useful information about the access point. For example, you can see the IP address, net mask, primary and secondary DNS of the access point, and more.
If your broadband connection uses a static IP address and certain DNS addresses, you can give it to the PSP and save it to a file so that you don't have to create a new network configuration file each time you want to go online. Otherwise, you can choose "automatic" and the PSP will handle the work for you.
The Ad Hoc Mode allows PSPs in the same room to communicate with each other without connecting to the Internet. Depending on the game, up to 16 PSPs can form a LAN. Your PSP doesn't have to face a certain direction, but all the PSPs obviously need to be nearby (at least 50 feet within the host). Does each person need a copy of the same game? For the most part, the answer is yes. Although it is possible for each person to share a game and store it onto the memory stick and play it from there, none of the current PSP titles appear to allow this. So for now, you can't play Ridge Racers with several people using one copy of the game like you can with the DS.
Overall, I am please with my PlayStation Portable. It functions well, looks great, and aside for a borked square button and lack of pressure sensitive buttons; I have no major complaints about the actual hardware. Is the PSP innovative? In my opinion, not really. Unlike the DS with its stylus and touchscreen, it won't change the way you game. In addition, there are pocket PCs and PDAs that can do just about everything the PSP can, and much more. However, to be fair, pocket PCs and high-end PDAs are typically three or four times more expensive, and the PSP can pump out some awesome looking games that PDAs can't even touch. I'm glad Sony didn't just focus on gaming. Turning on my PSP to listen to some music or view photos is so much more convenient than dragging out my laptop.
On the software side of things, nearly all the U.S. launch titles are based upon existing PlayStation 2 games, which is cool to take some of your favorite games with you on the go, but some totally new games mixed in would have been nice. Then again, it's called the Sony PlayStation Portable (instead of a totally new name), so I guess the rehashed games makes sense. Anyway, I'm confident that the weak lineup won't significantly hold back the PSP. Remember, the PS2 didn't have great launch titles either (except for SSX), which gave a bad outlook to its future, but it still managed to recover.
Should you buy a PSP? I don't know, I can't make that decision for you. Just because this is a PlayStation web site, I'm not going to sit here and try to convince you to buy one. I'm not going to lose sleep if you buy a Nintendo DS over a PSP. Both systems are great in my opinion, and I plan on buying a DS even though I think the PSP is better overall.
Personally, I think that the complaints and problems that are commonly associated with the PSP are exaggerated and that people are simply being picky or biased. I'm not a picky person when it comes to things like this, so I'm quite happy with my PSP. If you're more critical than I am, I suggest you wait until the PSP is released in your region so that you can play it in a store or test drive a friend's copy. [Article continued below]
Despite all that, I will say that the PlayStation Portable is definitely not for people on a budget. To get the most out of the system, you will need at least one $50 512 MB Memory Stick Duo or better, and UMD movies probably won't be as cheap as DVD movies (unless you take the time to encode the movies yourself). If you read this entire review, I hope you either learned everything you wanted to know about the PSP or at least came halfway to a decision on whether or not you want to purchase one. Thanks for reading. Article created December 25, 2004. Last Updated October 8, 2005.