Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Massive hype, no disappointment: PSP Mania Begins

The huge media circus surrounding the launch of Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) has been followed by record sales in Japan, USA and Europe with PSP's running out of stores within hours of launch.

The reviews and analysis of Sony's new wonder are also very good. Everyone seems to agree that the device is well worth the $300 or so it is selling for, and the games that have accompanied its launch have been well received by reviewers. But the real value of the PSP is as a multi-purpose device. In that regard, it's an amazing piece of technology.

You can play games, watch movies, listen to music and view .photos. Add to that a WiFi capability to wirelessly play games with friends, exchange files with your PC or camera, plus additional storage ability with the Sony Memory Stick port. So much technology, crammed into such a small unit.

The processing power of two MIPS processors both running at 333MHz, and a very wide and crystal clear screen, plus excellent sound and graphic capabilities make the PSP a far cry from the beginning of handheld gaming a decade ago, and although Nintendo's GameBoy Advance and the recent GameBoy Dual Screen (DS) are providing impressive sound and graphics, there is a lack of the total consumer-electronics approach that Sony has adopted.

In fact, just as Sony's PlayStation signaled the beginning of a decline in Nintendo's home console business, the PSP will probably have that kind of affect on the GameBoy series. Already, in Japan, the PSP is selling double the quantity of the GameBoy DS. In Europe, the huge hype surrounding the PSP launch this week has made the GameBoy DS introduction last month seem small in comparison.

One of the obvious parallels can be seen in Sony’s choice of storage media for the games, using a new mini-CD format called the UMD, unlike the cartridge format used by Nintendo’s GameBoy. The UMD is cheaper to produce and could have the same effect the CD driven PlayStation had on the cartridge-based Ninentendo 64.

So, is this the next big thing since the Sony Walkman in the eighties? It's debatable that the Apple iPod is actually the gadget with the biggest influence so far this decade. Devices that cause 'cultural revolutions' worldwide will keep on coming, and the Sony PSP could be a candidate to join that elite list of devices, but it remains to be seen how well it will be received following this initial rush.

For now, Sony has not announced an official launch date for the Middle East, but you can expect to see over-priced units popping up in electronics stores. It will be difficult though to find them, and maybe you're better off ordering one from abroad or just asking a traveling friend to get you one from Europe.

Finding games and accessories in the Middle East will be equally difficult for a while, so make sure you get a couple of them from abroad too.

If you do indeed manage to get hold of a PSP, consider yourself lucky, let the rest of us know what it's like and enjoy.


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