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Sony PSP Debuts in America

Jason Cross

LAS VEGAS—At the Hard Rock in Las Vegas today, Sony held its official North American debut for its handheld PSP game platform. The system is already wildly popular in Japan, where it went on sale on December 12. Sony has been able to ship about 510,000 units through the end of December, and they've all sold out.

Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) President and CEO Kaz Hirai introduced the system to the U.S., stating that the system will "elevate portable gaming out of the handheld ghetto." The sleek system is certainly attractive, glossy. It's black with silver highlights and a gorgeous big widescreen-format LCD display. The audio and video capabilities were shown off first, with recording artist Xzibit on hand to download one of his songs to Memory Stick and play it on the PSP. One of Hirai's employees, just minutes later, took an MPEG4 video he recorded on his CyberShot camera on Xzibit on stage and played it on the PSP. Just pop the Memory Stick Duo out of the camera and into the PSP.

While the PSP will play ATRAC3 Plus and MP3 audio as well as video off prepackaged UMD discs or MPEG4 off a Memory Stick Duo, its primary function is as a game machine. "Game are and always will be our core competency," Hirai said. Rather than demo games on stage, the audience was given the change to sample games, video, and audio on about two dozen Japanese PSP units.

We played several games and looked at some movie trailers playing off a UMD disc, and listened to a few tunes as well. The noisy venue and cheap headphones made it impossible to get a good idea of the PSP's sound quality, but it seemed quite good at the time. Video quality, however, is excellent. The widescreen LCD display is sharp, bright, and clear, with rich and vivid colors. It easily rivals or surpasses all the handheld video players we've seen. This is ideal for games as well; graphics are razor sharp and "pop" off the screen.

In terms of overall performance, the system seems not quite as powerful as a PlayStation2, but is definitely far more powerful than the original PlayStation. On the small screen, the relative lack of texture detail and lower polygon count of most PSP games isn't really very noticeable. As developers become more familiar with the hardware, the games will no doubt improve drastically in appearance. Still, the launch titles on display looked far better than anything we have seen on a handheld system before.

Missing from the U.S. debut were several key pieces of information. No specific launch date was mentioned, though Sony has said publicly that they intend to bring it to market in this quarter. "If I were a betting man," Hirai said, "I would say March." No details were given on U.S. pricing, either. Given the Japanese price of 19,800 yen, a U.S. price of $199 seems likely, but we could get no confirmation at all. Even the launch lineup is up in the air, and we don't know exactly how many titles will be on shelves the day the PSP goes on sale. Supply problems might hinder the U.S. launch; Sony has pledged to sell 3 million units worldwide by April, but it is uncertain how many will be allocated to the North American launch.

One thing seems certain, though: The PSP is going to be a hit. Everyone who puts their hands on one wants it, and wants it now. Those in attendance who had never seen the Japanese PSP before came away impressed.

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.

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