C'mon. You know you had one.
And while Sony hasn't fared as well with their portable digital media player, the somewhat aptly (though dated) named Walkman (or Walkman Touch now), mostly due to Apple seizing the market well before it was hot, they have continued to innovate. Nobody cared about Sony's Mini-disc format, and only videophiles still care about BetaMax, much like Toshiba's HD DVD format will soon be a distant memory of former format wars. And while the same will likely be said of Sony's UMD format, one must marvel at what they've been able to do with the technology, and wonder why no one did it before. I mean, Nintendo's Game Boy is still the most successful handheld gaming system of all time, and for good reason. ROCK SOLID hardware and good design, great licensed games, and excellent battery life. While Sony's PSP doesn't boast all of that with the same weight, let it not be said that Sony didn't make a really good handheld gaming and entertainment system.
Oh my PSP, how I love thee, let me count the ways...
There are many reasons to love the PSP, but I will highlight a few of my personal favorites here:
- Open Format. Most game systems are region-locked. This is not news to anyone familiar with gaming or the history of its technology, but it's still overly prevalent today, despite fans having clamored for an end to region-locking for the last 20 years. And while early Nintendo DS systems are open, the new 3DS (another innovation) is region-locked. Why, Nintendo, why? Thankfully, Sony saw fit, despite having region-locked all 3 of their major home consoles, to leave the PSP open. This is probably due, in part, to the fact that the device has its own screen and doesn't rely on NTSC and/or PAL video display conventions. It can just do its own thing as well as the hardware makes it capable. And it does it well. It also means that I can enjoy some Japanese games on my US-released PSP, such as the Parodius Collection (very niche, even for shooter/shmup fans like me) or the Soldier Collection (again, somewhat niche).
- Versatility. This system is not only a gaming platform, but it also handles video, audio, and even internet (to some limited extent). Granted, the system's RAM is hardly big enough to fit most websites as it downloads, but for limited browsing or quick web searches where there is free Wi-Fi and no other means, it works. I own several UMD movies that I take with me when I travel for business, and since I can stay in hotels that offer wide-screen TVs with Component video inputs on the back, I can take my movies with me and watch them when I'm away from home for a few days. Yeah, I can take my laptop and do the Netflix thing, and I do, but the video quality of the UMD format is still far superior to most of what I can get on Netflix, and let's face it: most hotel internet is TERRIBLE. That is, of course, until you pay for it. Then it's marginally better. But I get better Netflix streaming by using my iPhone 4 as a Wi-Fi hotspot and getting on the internet that way than I do with hotel internet. Plus with the video out (on my PSP-2001), I can play games full-screen.
- Media "Ingestion". Okay, so this term is a bit fuzzy, but humor me. What I mean is, there are multiple ways you can get content to your PSP. There are UMDs of course, but there is the Memory Stick Pro DUO that you can copy data to, either via plugging your PSP into a USB port on your PC, or transferring data to the flash card via a card reader in your PC, assuming you understand the PSP's file system enough to know where to put stuff. Plus you can download both full and "mini" games from the PlayStation network and store them to your device's memory card. The fact that you can plug the system in via USB and customize things like wallpaper, creating your own "themes" for the device (I'm currently using a theme based on the game "The 3rd Birthday"), as well as loading up music, videos (compatible formats, anyway), and so forth is a wonderful thing.
- Finally, another fuzzy term: "Hackability". Okay, so Sony wasn't counting on this so much, but one of the reasons to love the PSP is that it's so easy to hack! I have custom firmware loaded on my PSP, and I have it updated to where I can play current game UMDs, but still enjoy the benefits of having that custom firmware. I can emulate the original PlayStation on my PSP, so for original PSX games I already own, I can create custom "eboot" files that contain the game itself so I can copy it to my PSP memory card and play them on the go. After finishing XSEED's relatively awesome port of the original Lunar (dubbed "Silver Star Harmony" this time), I loaded up a 3-disc eboot of the PSX update of the original Lunar sequel, Working Designs' port of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. Having owned the game for 10 years now and playing through it once or twice, it found new life on my PSP and I spent hours in the hotel room on a business trip playing through the 2nd and 3rd discs to the primary ending of the game. I'm working on the Epilogue currently. What matters most is, this gives a handheld with already broad possibilities even greater versatility! Not to mention you can emulate other classic gaming systems, despite the legal tarpit that can be...
Of course, all of this would be moot without great games, and thankfully, developers have come to the table with a wide variety. As somewhat of a niche gamer, I often find that the big consoles don't cater to my tastes as much (one of the reasons I don't yet own an XBOX360 or PS3). Developers have done a good job, however, of making the PSP an "every man's system" of sorts, by offering a wide variety of content. I'm not a major RPG gamer, but I enjoy the genre, and there's quite a smattering of different RPGs on the system. There are plenty of action and sports games for the typical gamer as well, but plenty of interesting puzzle and "brain" games as well. Plus there are a lot of good game compilations (both Capcom Collection titles come to mind) and arcade favorites for old-school guys like me to feast on. I have 4 travel cases full of UMDs, 3 that are mostly games, and 1 that is all UMD movies. And while Sony hasn't maximized the format like it should have, it's still relatively viable.
So where does that leave the PSP today, at the cusp of the release of the Sony NGP (Next Generation Portable)? Hopefully, it means Sony will continue to innovate with the NGP, yet give consumers choice. The choice to scrap the UMD format is probably smart, due to the battery life issues it causes, as well as the extra moving parts to maintain. However, I hope the move to a flash-cart type of system doesn't re-introduce region-locking like the 3DS has. I hope Sony leaves the system open enough that it can be reverse engineered like the PSP has for so long, so consumers like myself can take full advantage of the system. I hope it has backwards compatibility so that we can take games we've already purchased (in digital format, anyway) and play them on the new system so we can carry just the one handheld and still have our game library with us. And I hope that they retain the kind of connectivity the PSP has already pioneered, but will push ahead with even more innovating web and sharing experiences so that the system becomes the true paragon of portable media and entertainment. Because despite any misgivings that someone may have with Sony given the PlayStation Network debacle a couple months back, it can't be overstated that Sony's importance in the handheld gaming and entertainment market has been significant, despite playing a distant second to Nintendo. Sony has the opportunity to really forge ahead here with the NGP: let's hope they take full advantage of that momentum.