Price: £130 for the PSP Slim & Lite. You might be able to pick up the older, heavier version being sold off somewhere for a bit less but you'd probably be better going for the newer version anyway - it has quicker load times and can output to a TV.
Essentials: Memory Stick Pro Duo (required to save game progress and to store music and video) - £30 for 4GB or £20 for 2GB.
Alternatively, if you want to store several movies at once, can't be bothered to ever swap cards and have too much money, you could always go for 8GB at around £70.
- Mini USB cable (for transferring files to and from PC or PS3) - £3.
- Carry case - £10.
- Screen visor - £5.
I do wonder which features people are buying the thing for, however. On paper the functionality is fantastic but the reality is that the PSP is a bit big for everyday use as an MP3 player, movies have to be bought on UMD disk or somehow transferred to memory card in a suitable format, the internet browser is slow and requires a wi-fi hotspot and, as for photos, is anyone really going to bother?
So who's buying the console?
Gadget fans mainly, I suspect. The PSP looks great, has a superb screen, does all kinds of things and let's you play Grand Theft Auto on the bus (if there's not too much glare and you're not concerned about getting mugged).
I mainly play mine on holiday. It lets me take home console style games with me wherever I go. Far easier than lugging round a PS2 and TV. Of course, this means the PSP isn't much use when I'm actually at home - the style of game it tends to host is readily available for me to play on a big telly with a proper controller. Sure, it's handy just being able to pick it up and play when the kids give me a moment of peace but Grand Theft Auto doesn't work as well in five minute bursts as many of the offerings on the DS.
Short sessions aren't impossible, though. Like the DS, the PSP has a sleep function allowing games to be paused in a battery-saving mode which lasts several days. In normal use, the batteries last between four and eight hours, depending what you're doing.
Probably the biggest disappointment with the PSP is the movie playback feature. The picture quality is excellent but getting hold of something to watch is a problem. Buying a film on UMD rather than DVD means being restricted to always playing it on a PSP. True, the new Slim & Lite model allows output to a TV (with the right cable) but building a UMD collection seems as sensible as starting a music library on mini-disk. Putting movies on memory stick, however, is a real faff. Converting a commercial DVD would require the use of dubious decryption software and then some conversion software, such as PSP Video 9, to put the video files into a suitable format and resolution. Recording stuff off the telly onto DVD and then converting that is easier but time-consuming. Downloading films is less hassle but costs more than you might expect.
If you want to watch films on the move, you'd be as well to buy a portable DVD player.
Long-term, plenty of interaction between the PSP and PS3 is promised, with the PS3 streaming video over the internet to the PSP and the like. That might be good but would require proximity to a wi-fi hotspot. At the moment it's possible to download PSOne games for £3.50 each onto the PS3 or a PC and then transfer them to play on the PSP. There's only a small selection so far, however.
Original PSP with its rather chunky charger and a Joytech visor which screws into a couple of handy holes for attaching peripherals on the top edge of the PSP.
Where the Nintendo DS has something for everyone in terms of software, the PSP is aimed much more at experienced gamers. The best PSP games include:
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories - A proper, 3D Grand Theft Auto on a portable console! And, look over there, it's the Holy Grail as well!
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories - Oh, and another one...
Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow - Third-person spy action which uses lots of buttons.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness - Clever, witty turn-based strategy.
Crush - Puzzle platformer where solving problems involves switching between 2D and 3D.
Other good games include: Final Fantasy: Tactics, Silent Hill: Origins, Daxter, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command, LocoRoco, Capcom Puzzle World, a vast selection of racing games and various retro collections (notably Sega Mega Drive Collection).
Notice, however, that most of these games are inferior re-hashes of PS2 franchises or have been ported to the PS2 themselves. Many of them suffer from the fact that the PSP has fewer buttons than a PS2 controller and a single analogue 'nub' rather than two analogue control sticks. First-person shooters really struggle on the PSP, for instance. On the PS2, the left stick would be used to move and the right to look around. On the PSP, the face buttons tend to be used for looking, which is clunky and inaccurate. Also, the PSP is much less comfortable to hold over an extended period than a PS2 controller.
The PSP looks cool, has many impressive features and plenty of decent software. It provides so many possibilities in the palm of your hand. Unfortunately, it seems that all of those possibilities involve some form of compromise. At any given moment, you'll find yourself wishing it was really an iPod, DVD player, PS2 controller or DS in your grasp.
Conclusion: A great machine that's still looking for identity and purpose.
- Does everything - MP3 player, movie player, internet browser, PS2 quality games.
- Large, high quality screen.
- Plenty of good, cheap games.
- Doesn't do anything as well as a dedicated machine would.
- Awkward controls.
- Lack of really startling software.
- Getting movies onto memory stick is a pain and legally dubious (and you have to buy a memory stick!)
- Not very rugged.
- Playing one in a public place feels akin to writing 'Mug me!' on your back.