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Top: the PSP-1000. Bottom: the PSP Go.

"Everywhere Just Got Better."
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Short story: You wouldn't be wrong in christening the PlayStation Portable (aka the PSP) as a "successful failure." It failed in the sense that it did not enable Sony to achieve their goal of stealing the handheld market from Nintendo who, in turn, went on to achieve dominance in the handheld space for the third time in a row. But it was a success, in that it still sold tens of millions of systems (selling nearly 80% as many systems as the PlayStation). It was the closest anyone had ever come to presenting legitimate competition for Nintendo's handhelds, and it featured a number of hit games — particularly in Japan, where a few Killer Apps led to the system getting a second lease of life in the latter half of its release cycle and becoming, at least locally, a real competitor for the Nintendo DS.

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Long story: in 2004, Sony was riding high off the success of the PlayStation and the ludicrous sales numbers the PlayStation 2 bought themnote , and decided to get into the handheld market, confident they could replicate that level of success in this new arena. The gaming press were just as confident. It seemed like all the factors were in place for it to happen. Sony's use of their proprietary, high-capacitynote  Universal Media Discs (UMDs) versus Nintendo's reliance on low-capacity cartridges for the DS; a more traditional, two-handed control scheme not dissimilar to that of a pre-DualShock PlayStation Controller, versus the DS's unconventional, often-stylus-and-button-centric inputs; several third-party developers onboard versus Nintendo's largely skeleton-cast show; multimedia capabilities such as movies, television shows and music stored on UMD coupled with digital downloads through USB Mini connectivity; PlayStation Network support following the launch of the PlayStation 3, allowing for ad-hoc play to the larger system, access to the PlayStation Store, and far greater processing power (which wasn't the case with the two console systems, but still a touted factor) all contributed to the notion that success was written in the sky. It seemed like the PSP could become the leader in the handheld gaming market, and finally place itself upon a throne once held strong by Nintendo.

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As expected, not everything went as planned. Among the reasons for this include:

  • The battery life wasn't much better than that of other handheld challengers Nintendo had faced previously, lasting 6 hours max. While not as big of a problem as it was for older handhelds due to rechargeable batteries being more convenient than disposable ones, it still paled in comparison to the DS... and this was before factoring in the variable power draw from how often a given application utilized the optical drive. For example, playing a feature-length movie in full, off of a disc - in other words, having the optical drive constantly read data off of a continuously-spinning disc for upwards of two hours - could cut the battery life by upwards of one-third.
  • Although discs proved to be superior to cartridges as the storage medium for home consoles, the format's advantages were less pronounced on a handheld device, while its disadvantages were more so. While UMDs still offered higher capacity for developers to better execute just what they wanted to put on the system, the optical format resulted in comparatively longer loading times, louder system noise, more fragile components, and increased battery usage due to constant disc spinning, seeking, stopping, and spinning once more. Without the production volume of the established DVDs or CDs, the format didn't have the huge cost differential that made discs preferable to cartridges in the 5th console generation (and beyond). Storage of multiple games was also made less efficient, due to each UMD disc being permanently encased in an outer shell, itself usually shipped in either a flimsy cardboard sleeve when bundled with a system, or in a tall plastic case if sold separately. Additionally, UMDs were less convenient to lug around due to the nature of being discs and also larger than DS carts. While both the system and discs supported Region Coding, only three PSP applications/games would make use of this feature (the Asian release of the Battlezone remake, as well as the Digital Comics eBook reader and Remote TV Viewer applications). As a means of combating potential piracy, all UMD movies were region coded, and couldn't play on PSPs from a different region.
  • Loading times aren't as much of an issue with home consoles, where a player is usually settled in, intent on playing the game in question for a while. But handheld systems are often played here and there, on the go, in pails of time players are intent on quickly filling. Taking upwards of thirty seconds to load is a major downside under those circumstances. In the later models, Sony incorporated a method which considerably shortened loading times note  for compatible games. The system also has a "sleep" function to compensate for this difficulty, which saves the current memory-state for quick flick-on later.
  • While the PSP received a couple Grand Theft Auto games early on that sold well, it didn't have many other Killer Apps for some time and generally wouldn't hit any impressive software sales figures. Meanwhile, the DS was quickly and constantly pumping out major successes; Nintendogs, Mario Kart DS, New Super Mario Bros., Brain Age, Animal Crossing: Wild World and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl all came out in the first couple years of the DS's life and flew off store shelves. The DS's library also had very wide casual appeal, which the PSP was severely lacking in. The PSP did later get sales boosts from system revisions and true killer apps like Monster Hunter Portable/Freedom in Japan, but those were well after the DS took off and after the PSP had lost any lead.note 
  • Poor, often-tasteless advertising, a problem that also plagued the PlayStation 3 at various points in its lifespan. Most infamously, it resulted in the "PSP Squirrels" television ads, which instantly garnered controversy due to perceived anti-black stereotyping via the titular characters' portrayals, and the "alliwantforxmasisaPSP.com" fiasco, a botched attempt at a Viral Marketing/quasi-Augmented Reality campaign that, if anything, hurt the system just when it was starting to get some momentum back.
  • Most important of all was the different focus. Sony was convinced there was a "handheld gaming ghetto". This meant that the smaller-scale games on handhelds were supposedly inferior to home console games. The PSP was an unsuccessful attempt to bring the sense of scale and level of production quality that were the hallmarks of home console gaming to portables, because handhelds simply couldn't compete with consoles in those categories. This left developers scrambling to find a balance between the huge games of home consoles and the "bite-sized" style of gaming for portables, whereas Nintendo already had plenty of practice driving that golden spike. This mindset would carry over to the PS Vita and heavily contribute to its downfall.

Despite these issues, the PSP still saw financial success during its lifespan. As mentioned, it's easily the most successful competitor to Nintendo's handheld dominance and one of the highest-selling second-place systems of any console war. The final sales tally is believed to be somewhere around 80-82 million units, which potentially puts it slightly above the Game Boy Advance's 81.51 million. Impressive considering that the PSP was Sony's debut into a market that Nintendo effectively owned.

Firmware updates since its launch would increase the system's capabilities, ranging from being able to play more file formats, to being able to organize media in folders, to PS3 remote play compatibility. In addition to this, later released UMD titles allowed portions of the game to be installed to the memory stick, reducing loading times and extending battery life.

However, in some countries, namely developing markets such as Morocco, the Philippines and India, the PSP was and still is the most successful handheld gaming device, where the absence of Pro Evolution Soccer and a 3D Grand Theft Auto title didn't allow for the DS, and subsequently the Nintendo 3DS, to thrive. Additionally, the relative ease of using Custom Firmware (see below) allowed small shops to make a business of installing downloaded games into the PSP for a small price (about £0.50 or $0.70 each per game).

Moreover, as has been mentioned above, around the time that the system's success was slowing down in other developed nations, in Japan, the system experienced a full-bloom renaissance, initially spearheaded by one specific game: Monster Hunter Portable/Freedom in 2005. The enhanced port of Monster Hunter G for the PS2 added local multiplayer, which proved to be the real missing element that Monster Hunter needed to become a legitimate social phenomenon, and future sales of the PSP would be heavily driven by Monster Hunter and its sequels. Once the system began establishing a real userbase, other developers took note and developed for it as well, because MHP had inadvertently proven something else: PSP development was rather similar to PS2 development in cost and labor scope. Many mid-size dev studios, or publishers with mid-size development houses attached, had been very hesitant to develop for the then-upcoming PS3 because of the ballooning costs for HD development in the mid and late Noughts. The PSP, with MHP as a proof-of-concept, proved to be an ideal platform for developers who knew and could handle a PS2-like workload and wanted to make a game more complicated than what the DS could handle but didn't want to commit to HD development costs. As a result, Japanese software development for the PSP exploded in the wake of Monster Hunter Portable, and its software list from the latter half of its life cycle — 2007 or so onward — is a who's-who of some of the greatest games of the entire Seventh Console Generation.

During its heyday, the PSP was also notable for a massive hacking and homebrew community. Custom firmware was easily installed as early as Japan's launch model and opened a multitude of new ways to use the system's advanced hardware, from running various emulators (up to the Game Boy Advance and PS1), browsing YouTube videos, reading eBooks, and even using a console as an IR Remote. A modified PSP was one of the most versatile and powerful portable devices of its time, long before modern smartphones entered the market. However, the scope and prominence of the hacking scene likely influenced Sony's decision to use proprietary memory cards for its successor, the Vita.

Like many handhelds and Sony consoles, the PSP underwent several revisions over the years. The major one was the PSP Slim (or PSP-2000) in 2007, which slimmed the body, reduced the weight, simplified the UMD drive, introduced USB charging, and included a brighter LCD screen and a video out port that allowed it to play on TVs. In 2008 the minor Slim & Lite revision (or PSP-3000) came along with a better LCD screen, a microphone and the ability to output component videonote . Finally, in 2011 Sony announced the PSP Street, a budget PSP that has a simple plastic finish, lacks a microphone and has mono speakers and a very simplified bottom button row. Interestingly, the Street's UMD drive opens up the entire back shell of the device, rather than just where the UMD goes. It also has no Wi-Fi, meaning it cannot connect to the internet. This meant no PlayStation Network, no PlayStation Store, Digital Comics, Downloadable Music, TV Shows, Films, Games, and no means to play any of the aforementioned unless you had a UMD.

That exception aside, the PSP is capable of downloading retail titles available for it through Sony's online storefront, as well as smaller games, video and Downloadable Content for existing games. Furthermore, a special incarnation of the PSP, 2009's PSP Go, was specifically built around digital distribution, having no support for the UMD medium. Despite fears from older PSP owners, Sony insisted that the Go was never meant to replace the PSP. Response was lackluster at best, with reports that some stores wouldn't even stock it. note  Up until the release of the Xbox One All-Digital Edition ten years later, the Go was the only console revision by the big three to be digital only, home or handheld. Many gamers and brick-and-mortar retailers hope it stays that way, for various reasons.note 

Since the PSP was released in 2004, and Sony historically released new consoles every six years, by 2010 there was a storm of rumor and speculation over what would come next. The announcement didn't hit until January 27, 2011. Sony's new device, named the Playstation Vita, was released later that year. The Vita officially allows any PSP games sold on the PSN store to be played, along with PS1 and Mini games. Notably, the Henkaku system hack and Adrenaline custom firmware program allows the entire PSP operating system to be directly emulated on the Vita, enabling total PSP backwards compatibility on the Vita with all PSP hacks and other goodness conferred by this original environment available.

On July 2, 2021, the PlayStation Store for the PSP was officially shut down. While the server sunset was originally intended for the PSP, PS3 and PS Vita collectively, fan backlash caused Sony to keep the latter two's storefronts up, with only the PSP store getting taken down due to lack of demand for it. This allegedly rendered around 120 PSP-exclusive digital titles no longer obtainable in any legal capacity, although the storefront's purchases list is still accessible for those who bought any of these titles.


Technical Specifications:

Processors

  • The PSP is divided into 2 distinct SOC's (System On A Chip) that contain a multitude of processors. The "Tachyon" SOC drives the core components of the system and the "Lepton" SOC for the Universal Media Disc drive. Parts of the Tachyon SOC would be reused in the PlayStation Vita for backwards compatibility.
  • The "Tachyon" SOC contains a custom MIPS R4000 32bit based CPU dubbed "Allegrex" with a variable clock speed of 33MHz to 333MHz. By default the system runs this at 222MHz although custom firmware and some later games can force it to 333MHz at the cost of a shorter battery life.
    • Allegrex is based on the MIPS I ISA with branch instructions backported from MIPS II. Sony added a series of custom instructions dubbed the "Allegrex Extended Instruction Set" which adds features for arithmetic functions such as multiplication, bit-shifting, subtraction, min/maxing and interruption control. It also comes equipped with a 7 stage CPU pipeline for instructions, a 32KB L1 cache divided into 2 16KB blocks; One for instructions and one for data with a write back buffer cache and lastly a Memory Protection Unit or MPU which can map the physical hardware into the CPUs memory space and act as a form of security to only allow software to access specific memory regions.
    • Allegrex also comes equipped with 2 co-processors, in particular a 32bit Floating Point Unit dubbed CP1 which handles arithmetic operations using 32bit based decimal values. CP1 also has its own 8 stage CPU pipeline to allow rudimentary parallelism. The other co-processor is a Vector Floating Point Unit dubbed CP2 with its own custom ISA and a 128bit data bus with variable CPU pipeline. This is very similar to the macromode found in the PlayStation 2 and its own Vector Processing Unit.
  • A second Allegrex CPU with the same variable frequency as the main CPU although it lacks the vector unit. This CPU acts as a conductor for the "Media Engine" block and its hardware decoders, as well as receiving instructions from the main CPU.
    • Developers do not have explicit access to the Media Engine block directly. Sony obfuscated this through a series of complex API calls and software libraries shipped with the SDK.
  • A AVC decoder for decoding H.264 video streams.
  • A custom Virtual Mobile Engine dubbed the VME is a digital signal processor used to aid in media decoding.
  • A custom "Graphics Engine" GPU with a variable frequency of up to 166MHz. The Graphics engine is broken down into 2 distinct units: The "Surface Engine" which comes with its own vector processor for 3D calculations and the "Rendering Engine" which performs rasterization and graphical effects.
  • The Lepton SOC handles all communications to and from the UMD drive, including its own custom CPU and DSP. It also works with 2 security processors dubbed "KIRK" and "SPOCK" which sit within the Tachyon SOC. KIRK functions as a AES-128 security engine with SHA-1 functions and pseudo random number generation as well as acting a master bus for all RAM operations. SPOCK decrypts all data from the sectors of the inserted UMD and also handles all NAND memory read/writes for updating the internal firmware files.
  • 2 DMA controllers for rapid data movement to different memory areas and processors.
  • Custom System Controller or "Syscon" codenamed Baryon to manage all low level hardware operations, including input.
  • An ARM9 based daughterboard CPU used for handling Wi-Fi communication and Memory Stick access.

Memory

  • The original PSP-1000 shipped with 32MB of Double Data Rate SDRAM. Starting with the PSP-2000 revision this was doubled to 64MB to allow games to have reduced loading times by using aggressive caching from the UMD. Some homebrew software may require 64MB and thus will not work on the original PSP-1000.
    • 8MB of this RAM is reserved at all times for the kernel and operating system.
    • Development kits came with 64MB by default. However, Sony restricted developers to only use 32MB for software in order to maintain compatibility with the original PSP-1000.
  • 32MB of NAND based flash memory divided into partitions for kernel and VSH related firmware files.
    • The PSP GO comes with 16GB of NAND flash memory to act as internal storage for games and save data.
  • 4KB of Mask ROM to store the Initial Program Loader or IPL for short.
  • 4MB of embedded DRAM. 2MB of this is embedded in the Media Engine block for multimedia decoding and encoding as it would otherwise consume expensive bandwidth from the main SDRAM. The other 2MB is embedded in the Graphics Engine with its own dual 256bit bus via a eDRAM controller for storing the framebuffer, Z-buffer and texture buffer.
    • The System Group Allegrex CPU can access this memory, although doing so is rather slow.
  • 16KB SRAM which acts as a general scratchpad area for the Graphic Engine and the main Allegrex CPU.
  • Games, movies, TV episode compilations and music videos were distributed using the Universal Media Disc format developed exclusively for the PSP. The UMD format can hold up to 900MB per disc (1.8GB with a dual layered disc) with a x2 read speed of 11Mbps or 1.3MBs per second. This slow read speed led to Loads and Loads of Loading, so models from the PSP-2000 onward came with the ability to aggressively cache the most commonly accessed files from the disc to try and reduce loading times and increase battery life in the process. UMD adheres to DVD region coding for all non-game related releases and uses a ISO9660 based internal file system.
    • Later games allowed users to install parts of or the entire game to the Memory Stick to heavily reduce loading times due its faster read/write speed.
  • Save data, DLC, updates, digital games, music and videos were stored on Sony's own "Memory Stick Pro DUO" format, which can vary in size from 8MB up to 32GB in size with a maximum read/write speed of 20MB per second. The system can support up to 128GB in this format thanks to the system using FAT32, but no Memory Stick of this size was ever produced due to the popularity of the competing SD Card killing the format a few years after the PSP was released. Adapters exist to allow users to use Micro SD cards up to 128GB in size instead of the original Memory Sticks. Some adapters even allow multiple Micro SD cards to be inserted at the cost of speed.
    • The PSP Go forgoes this format for a new variant dubbed the Memory Stick M2, which has the same limitations but in a Micro SD card sized package. However, unlike the previous formats the M2 format only received a 16GB card as the highest capacity. This format was a commercial failure for Sony and was discontinued barely a few months after the PSP GO was released. Sony later repurposed this format again for the PlayStation Vita and its own memory card format.

Graphics & Display

  • The PSP-1000, PSP-2000, PSP-3000 and PSP-E1000 use a 4.3-inch 16:9 widescreen TFT LCD screen with a resolution of 480 x 272 capable of 24bit color depth of up to 16,777,216 colors. The PSP-3000 replaced the TFT screen with a redesigned variant that increases the field of view and extra levels of brightness. However, some users found the redesigned screen had more visible scanlines which was a deterrent to some.
    • The PSP GO comes with a slightly smaller 3.8 inch screen but runs at the same resolution as other models.
  • The Graphics Engine allows the PSP the render a theoretical maximum of 33 million polygons per second if it is doing no other task.
    • Thanks to the included Vector Unit on the Surface Engine the PSP can do both software and partial hardware rendering to address a design flaw and common complaint of the PlayStation 2 and its own Graphics Synthesizer sub-system.
  • The Surface Engine has support for performing tessellation, Bézier and B-Splining for 3D models up to 64x64 sub-divisions along with variable Level of Detailing (LOD) and vertex blending including skinning, scissoring for clipping and morphing before it sends the results over to the Rendering Engine.
    • The Surface Engine uses a series of display lists sent from the main Allegrex CPU and the two can work in tandem using deferred rendering in either a double buffer or store control format via DMA to prevent stalling of either processor.
  • The Rendering Engine supports 3 types of texture mapping such as Projection Mapping, Shade Mapping and UV Mapping with texture compression support. Shade mapping allows for the PSP to output cel shaded graphics. For pixel operations the Rendering Engine supports functions such as depth comparing, color comparing, alpha, stencil and scissoring. It also supports some post effects such as alpha blending, color dithering or clamping, anti-aliasing and masking.
    • A sizeable number of these features were inherited from the PS2 and its own graphics pipeline. Unlike the PS2 these functions are now hardware functions rather than software only rendering functions. The similarities also allows developers to port software from one system to the other with greater ease.

Battery Life & Accessories

  • The PSP-1000 models have a 3.6V 1800mAh battery, which can be upgraded officially to a 3.6V 2200mAh battery. Typical battery life is 4-6 hours depending if a game or UMD Video is playing. Later models used a 3.6V 1200 mAh battery; however, due to using more energy-efficient components, the PSP-2000, PSP-3000 and PSP-E1000 series models had roughly the same battery life as the original 1000 series, and older battery packs will work with the newer models. The PSP Go uses a 3.7V 930 mAH battery pack not officially intended to be user-replaceable; however, the battery is not soldered to the logic board.
    • Users wishing to purchase a PSP should check if the battery is present and in good health. Over time the batteries internal cells bloat with lack of use and age causing physical damage to the housing and potentially short or damage the system in extreme cases. There are third party replacement batteries although your mileage may vary on their lifespan and build quality.
  • A USB 2.0 mini connector to allow the PSP to connect with PC's, the PlayStation 2, the PSX DVR and PlayStation 3 as a mass storage device to transfer files or communicate with supported games.
    • The PSP GO replaced this with its own proprietary connector.
  • 802.11b based Wi-Fi allows the system to communicate to nearby systems wirelessy or over the internet via the PlayStation Network or tunneling software.
    • The PSP-E1000 removed Wi-Fi preventing it from playing online or any local multiplayer games.
  • The PSP-1000 shipped with an IrDA port for data transmission via infrared, apparently just for kicks, because it was not officially supported nor used in any first-, second- or any-party software. Some homebrew software would take advantage of it to turn the PSP-1000 into a universal media remote or even a garage door operator. All models starting with the PSP-2000 removed this port.
  • Late-model firmware enabled the "ad hoc party" feature, allowing PSPs to create virtual local networks via the internet.
  • The PSP-2000 and PSP-3000 models have an AV output connector. This connector originally only allowed component cable output. Starting with the PSP-3000 composite support was added using the same connector.
    • The PSP-GO has this function as well, but requires different cables and its own dock due to its proprietary connector.
    • A third party company released the LKV-8000 which allows the PSP to output to HDMI using a converter. It also includes a zoom function as the PSP's small resolution would barely fit a high definition screen.
  • The PSP-3000 and PSP-GO have a intergrated microphone. This was intended for Skype support but some games can also use it.
  • The Go!Cam is a 1.3 megapixel camera that plugs into the USB connector that supported games can use for augmented reality functions as well as video calls with Skype.
  • A GPS receiver that plugs into the USB connector that allows the PSP to become a GPS device with supported software. Different map regions were released on separate UMDs.
  • The PSP-S310 is a 1seg TV tuner exclusive to Japan that can receive digital television signals. The tuner does not work outside of Japan due to different TV standards in the rest of the world.

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Alternative Title(s): PSP, PSP Go

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