PSP impresses: Playstation Portable

It's black and shiny with clear acrylic buttons; it plays games, music, and movies. It's Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) - confirmed to launch in Australia on September 1.

The PSP's 10.9cm, widescreen display is absolutely beautiful, with bright and vibrant colour but its brilliantly shiny surface is prone to fingerprints (Sony bundles a soft chamois-like cloth for cleaning). The reflective surface can also affect viewing: any ambient light from behind caused distracting reflections, forcing me to fidget for the best angle.

However, I was impressed by the stereo separation and rich sound delivered from the tiny speakers.

The PSP is also good for viewing still photos (one at a time or in a slideshow), but you'll need a way to get JPEG images onto the 32MB Memory Stick Duo card included as part of the slightly pricey $429.95 Value Pack.

You also receive a rechargeable battery (rated to last about four hours), white earbuds, a control device for navigating music and movie menus, a carrying case and a demo disc (with games, music, and movie clips). Those who register their purchase online early can also order a free copy of the movie Spider-Man 2 ready to watch on the PSP.

After testing the PSP with Wipeout Pure, Gretsky Hockey, NBA, World Tour Soccer and Twisted Metal Head On, I can say that game play was crisp and smooth, with no mid-play frame-rate pauses. The built-in analog stick will make some games much more playable than they would be with the directional pad alone.

Games and movies use the PSP's proprietary Universal Media Disc (UMD). The 60mm optical media offers 1.8GB of capacity and comes mounted inside a plastic cartridge. It's largely silent during game play, but can get noisy between levels.

For the moment, the PSP's wireless connection is designed only for multiplayer games and for downloading firmware updates. Officially, that is, as unofficial hacks have emerged allowing the PSP to play PC video files (www.pspvideo9.com), access Internet Relay Chat (www.pspirc.com) and browse special Web sites via a basic browser built into Wipeout Pure.

Setting up the PSP to work with my home network took roughly two minutes, most of which was spent naming the connection with the PSP's awful text-entry interface - akin to sending a non pre-emptive mobile phone text message. Ugh. It's likely Sony will make some significant announcements at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E³). Expect info about PSP add-ons such as keyboard, mobile phone, GPS and camera attachments.

VERDICT: The PSP looks set to become the gold standard for portable entertainment. Of course, its overall success will depend on the quality of games you can buy for it, but if the rest of 2005's PSP line-up (which includes Grand Theft Auto) is as good as this initial batch of games, the PSP looks like a serious challenge to Nintendo's handheld dominance.

SONY PLAYSTATION PORTABLE

Price $429.95 (value pack) Vendor Sony Computer Entertainment URL www.yourpsp.com.au SPECIFICATIONS 10.9cm 480x272 pixel widescreen display (16.7 million colours); PSP CPU; 32MB main memory; 4MB embedded DRAM; 802.11b Wi-Fi; USB 2.0; UMD drive; Memory Stick Duo slot; Infrared; built-in Lithium-ion battery; stereo speakers; D-pad; analog stick; Headphone/Microphone/Control connector; 280g; Approx. 170x74x23mm (LxWxD)

FEATURES 8 VALUE 6 OVERALL 7

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Andrew Brandt

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