A games platform will always live or die by the software that is available to it, so what is to become of my beloved Playstation Portable. I recently read a statistic that claimed that Sony’s portable multi-media device only had 100 games developed for it this year, whereas it’s closest rival, the Nintendo DS, gets 100 games every few months. The PS3 sold fewer units this holiday season than they did last year and a standalone Blu-Ray player is now only £150. These are worrying times for Sony, as well as for me.
I was not an early adopter of the PSP. Its weak battery life, large size and ridiculous disc based media (the Universal Media Disc or UMD), made it a laughable entry into the portable gaming market. I could never deny that it was an amazing piece of technology, but just not suited to my needs. Watch films, listen to music, access to the internet and play games. It sounds like a dream come true, but when I have other devices that do the same things, only better, why would I need a PSP?
So when, and why, did I have the change of heart?
There will always be a piece of software, the killer application, that will sell systems. Games were coming out for the PSP, but none I was really interested in. Loco Roco looked good but I wasn’t about buy a new system to play it. Most other games coming out were just ports, or upgrades, of old PS2 titles.
It wasn’t until February of 2008 that an original game inspired me to purchase a PSP. Patapon – part rhythm game, part real time strategy and part resource management with intriguing graphics and involving gameplay. I just had to play it.
Not long afterwards, God of War: Chains of Olympus was released for the system. I had never played God of War on the PS2, but with a free demo available on the PC PSP shop, I had nothing to lose. Minutes later I was in the shop making a retail purchase. The game is absolutely incredible in every way. Graphics, sound and playability, all second to none and I can quite honestly say that it will be a long time before I play another game that impresses as much as this on a portable system.
I have now picked up a few classic games like Lumines, Loco Roco and Final Fantasy Tactics. All great games and fantastic additions to anyone’s collection.
I already had a PS3, so connecting the PSP to it remotely seemed like the next logical step. It’s a service that wasn’t made available at launch, but after a few firmware updates, it was all ready to go.
After pairing the PSP and the PS3 together, I was ready to rock. So now when I activate the remote play option on my PSP, it turns on my PS3 via the wireless network (at home or away) and basically streams the audio and video content of my PS3 onto my PSP. I can listen to any music, or watch any films (or television programmes with Play TV) stored on my PS3 hard drive. I can even play some of the games. Pixeljunk are doing a wonderful job with their collection of games, as I can play both Monsters and Eden on my PSP remotely.
It really is a wonderful, and underused feature, and who doesn’t want to add to their ‘Monsters’ trophy collection whilst lying in bed at night, without disturbing the girlfriend!
After the death of the UMD as a movie format, and the reduction in cost of memory cards, it is now a viable option to transfer films from DVD to the PSP. The PSP does utilise one of the best screens on a handheld, and it’d be a shame to never watch any movies on it. It still takes longer than it should, but with free software like PSP Video 9 and DVD Decrypter, it is possible to store quite a few films on a card. It certainly helps save on battery life, not having to spin the disc. I currently have a 4GB card with four full length films, music, podcasts and game demos on it. I’m just waiting for the price to drop on the 16 GB card, then my options will really open up. There’s nothing quite like lying in bed after a hard day and watching half an hour of Aliens to relax me.
Of course, I would never listen to music outside on my PSP. I have my iPod for that, but thanks to a recent update, the PSP now has a sleep timer on it. I can listen to a podcast, or some music, while I’m drifting off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that it will turn itself off, again saving my precious battery for more use tomorrow. Even the Internet Radio function, which streams over 50 radio stations wirelessly, gets more use than I’d ever have thought!
With so much going on, my PSP truly has become a tool that I use daily. Perhaps it’s not the ‘outdoor’ portable powerhouse that was once envisaged, but as an indoor appliance it has become one that I would find hard to live without.
So what is the future of the PSP, now that I am fully in on the act?
Sony stated in January 2008, that Blu-Ray films played on a PS3 would be able to transfer an optimised file of the film onto the PSP. This was awesome news, but has not made its way into reality yet. Perhaps Blu-Ray is not selling as Sony had expected, but it cannot be that hard to implement and would surely help sales of all their products. It is certainly a feature I am waiting for, but will it ever happen?
There is also the very real threat from the iPhone. Games are much cheaper to produce and the install base will not take long to reach the current 40 million worldwide sales of the PSP.
I cannot see myself playing games on the iPhone. For a start, it doesn’t have any buttons, but for the growing number of casual gamers, that is a plus point. The music and movies from iTunes are all within easy reach of even the hardiest technophobes too. It does look like a great casual platform and we all know what happened with the Wii!
It all looks to me like the PSP will be going the way of the Gamecube and the Dreamcast, but how I do like to champion the underdog.
Come on Sony, pull something out of the bag, and lets not make 2009 the year that the PSP dies, which is a very real fear in my heart.