First came Tapwave’s Zodiac, a handheld trying to be a portable gaming unit. Now Sony intends to market a portable gaming unit that tries to be a handheld.
The new device, dubbed the Playstation Portable or PSP, is a one-piece landscape design similar to the Zodiac, with a directional pad on the right of the screen and four buttons to the left. The basic standard specifications include a docking connector, non-removable Lithium-Ion battery, stereo headphone jack, and infrared port. It isn’t until you get beneath the hood that things get interesting. While these specifications are believed to be reasonably accurate, some changes may occur before the final release.
The main core processor is a 32-bit MIPS-based R4000 model, scaling between 1 and 333 MHz, with 8 MB of on-chip system memory at the same clock speed as the processor. The secondary processor, used mostly for media, is nearly identical except that it has only 2 MB of on-chip memory. The PSP also features dual graphics controllers, scaling from 1 to 166 MHz, featuring 2 MB of memory, a 256-bit bus, and support for advanced 3D rendering.
The PSP’s screen is a 480 x 272 pixel LCD, 4.5 inches in diameter, which uses the 16:9 letterbox ratio. Included in its multimedia capabilities is support for playing MPEG4 video files, Dolby 7.1 audio, 3D audio, and music in ATRAC3, AAC, and MP3 formats.
Mass Storage is provided by Sony’s proprietary new Universal Media Disc. These are DVD-style, dual layer 6 centimeter (2.36 inch) optical discs, encased in a protective plastic cartridge to prevent scuffing and scratching. Each one can hold up to 1.8 gigabytes of data, or 2 hours of high-quality video, or 4 hours of “standard quality” video. The discs are proprietary and non-recordable, so it appears the users will largely be at the mercy of Sony to provide games and video. Furthermore, the discs are region-coded, preventing use of international “grey market” discs, and each disc has a unique ID number.
Rewritable Storage is available in the form of a Memory Stick slot. Presumably, this would be the medium for MP3s and saved game data. Some reports state that the PSP will have a USB 2.0 port, but this is not confirmed and in any event it is unknown what the port will be usable for.
Wireless connectivity is included in the form of built-in 802.11b WiFi wireless networking. It isn’t known whether this will allow the PSP any kind of limited internet access, or whether it will be restricted to multiplayer gaming, but it still greatly outpaces the short-range wireless multiplayer capabilities deployed on competitors’ devices.
During a news conference, Sony executive deputy president Ken Kutaragi stated that Sony eventually intends to add telecommunication features to the PSP. What form this would take is unknown, but would likely be an updated future model featuring integrated cellular connectivity.
Though I sincerely doubt that the PSP can find a market in the U.S., it demonstrates several interesting new technologies, including the use of compact, high capacity optical media on mobile devices. Given the expense of flash memory, cheap and vast optical media are the obvious next step in increasing capacity, and if the problems of damage, size, and power can be solved, then optical discs could become a major part of mobile computing. I don’t think Sony’s UMDs are it, but they’re a step in the right direction.