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Useful Notes / PlayStation Portable

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Top: the PSP-2000. Bottom: the PSP Go.

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Short story: the PlayStation Portable could be called a "successful failure." It was a failure in stealing the market from Nintendo for the third time in a row, but a success in that it still sold tens of millions of systems (so far has sold nearly 70% as many systems as the original PlayStation), and had 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.

Long story: in 2004, Sony was riding high off the first two PlayStation systemsnote , and decided to get into the handheld market, confident they could repeat their success for a third time. The gaming press were just as confident. It seemed like all the factors were in place for it to happen. Sony's use of discs versus the Nintendo DS's cartridges, a traditional controller versus an unconventional controller, better third-party support, multimedia capabilities, and far greater processing power (which wasn't the case with the last two systems, but still a touted factor) had all paid off for Sony in the past. It seemed like the PSP could become the leader in the handheld gaming market, dethroning Nintendo.

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However, not everything went as planned. There were a few reasons for this:

  • The rechargeable battery's life was much better than other handheld challengers Nintendo had faced, but 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. Playing a feature-legnth movie - e.g., having the optical drive working constantly - could cut the battery life to one-third.
  • Although disc-based formats proved to be superior to cartridges for home consoles, the format's advantages were less pronounced on a handheld device. The discs still offered higher capacity, but the optical format resulted in comparatively longer loading times, louder system noise, and increased battery usage due to disc spinning and seeking. Without the production volume of DVDs or CDs, the format didn't have the huge cost differential that made discs preferable to cartridges in the 5th generation. Storage of multiple games was also made less efficient due to each disc being permanently encased in an outer shell. The console and discs support Region Coding, and though only three PSP applications/games made use of region coding (the Asian release of the Battlezone remake, as well as the Comic Book reader and Remote TV Viewer applications), all UMD movies were region coded and couldn't play on PSPs from a different region.
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  • Loading times aren't as much of an issue with home consoles, but handheld systems are often played here and there in two-minute windows. Taking even 30 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 console also has a "sleep" function which saves the current memory-state for quick revival later.
  • The system didn't have a Killer App by the time the DS had Nintendogs, Mario Kart, and New Super Mario Bros. The PSP did later get sales boosts from the redesigns and true killer apps like Monster Hunter Portable in Japan, but those were well after the DS took off and after the PSP had lost any lead.note 
  • Poor advertising, a problem that the PlayStation 3 was also suffering from at the same time. Most infamously it resulted in the "alliwantforxmasisaPSP.com" fiasco, a botched attempt at a viral marketing 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," which meant that the smaller-scale games on handhelds were supposedly inferior to home console games. The PSP was an unsuccessful attempt to bring home gaming to portables, which left developers scrambling to find a medium between the huge games of home consoles and the "bite-sized" gaming for portables, whereas Nintendo already had plenty of practice with that golden mean.

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. Firmware updates since launch increased 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. 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 GTA title didn't allow for the DS, and subsequently the 3DS to thrive. Additionally, the relative ease of using Custom Firmware (see below) allowed salesmen to make a business of installing downloaded games into the PSP for a small price (about £0.50 or $0.70 each).

Moreover, as has been mentioned above, while the system foundered a bit in other developed nations, in Japan the system experienced a full-bloom renaissance, initially spearheaded by one specific game: Monster Hunter Portable. An enhanced port of Monster Hunter G for the PS2, the addition of local multiplayer proved to be the real missing element that Monster Hunter needed to become a legitimate social phenomenon, and sales of the system were driven heavily by MHP 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 PS3 because of the ballooning costs for HD development in the mid and late Noughts, and 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 on - is a who's who of some of the greatest games of the entire Seventh Console Generation.

During its heyday, PSP was also notable for a massive homebrew community. Custom firmware has opened many new ways to use the PSP's advanced hardware, from running various emulators (up to GBA and PS1), to browsing YouTube videos, reading eBooks, and even using a console as an IR Remote - all of which made a modified PSP one of the most versatile and powerful portable devices of its time, long before modern smartphones entered the market.

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, the final incarnation of the PSP, the PSP Go, was specifically built around digital distribution, having no support for the UMD medium. Despite fears from older PSP owners, Sony insists 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  To this day, the Go remains the only console revision by the big three to be digital only, home or handheld. It's pretty safe to say that most gamers and brick-and-mortar retailers hope it stays that way, for various reasons.

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 Play Station Vita, was released later that year. The Vita allows any PSP games sold on the PSN store to be played, along with PSX 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 any PSP hacks and all the other goodness conferred by this original environment.


Specifications:

Processors

  • One R4000-based MIPS32 "microprocessor assembly" with floating point and vector floating point units.
  • Another R4000-based MIPS32 "media engine" similar to the microprocessor assembly, containing various multimedia hardware (such as decoders).
  • Both cores are rated at 333 mHz, but generally operate at 222 mHz to preserve battery life. A handful of games fully unlock the processor, and a system with custom firmware can permanently set the CPUs to 333 mHz, increasing performance at the cost of battery life.

Memory

  • The original PSP shipped with 32 MB of RAM, which was upped to 64 MB in the 2000 and subsequent models to allow for shortened load times with aggressive caching.
  • Aside from system memory, the PSP contains two sets of dedicated memory, 2 MB for graphics processing and 2 MB for multimedia processing through the media engine.
  • Data can be stored on any number of different versions of Sony's proprietary memory stick technology.

Graphics

  • One custom 166 mHz dedicated graphics co-processor with support for advanced graphical calculations such as vertex blending and tessellation.
  • Featured a 4.3-inch 16:9 TFT LCD screen displaying a 480 x 272 image in 16.8 million colors.
  • This chip can ostensibly generate 33 million flat-shaded polygons per second, but that's a theoretical maximum.
  • The system comes with partial hardware rendering, instead of strictly software rendering that the PS2 had. This got around some compatibility issues, like with texture compression, while still allowing some flexibility with the vector units.

Other

  • Initial models had a 5V 1800mAh battery, which could be upgraded officially to a 5V 2200mAh battery. Typical battery life is 4-6 hours.
  • One ARM9-based WLAN chip capable of connecting via 802.11b.
  • Early models shipped with an IrDA port, apparently just for kicks, because it was not officially supported nor used in any first-, second- or any-party software.
  • Late-model firmware enabled the "ad hoc party" feature, allowing PSPs to create virtual local networks via the internet.
  • The 2000 and 3000 models have an AV output connector.

Games:

  • K-ON! Houkago Live!! (Also has an HD version on the PlayStation 3.)

Alternative Title(s): PSP, PSP Go

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