Monday, December 25, 2006

Santa brought me a PSP

My main christmas present was a Sony Playstation Portable. A really fascinating machine, I ended up playing for hours with it before I even put the first UMD game disc in. Unlike my previous Gameboy Advance SP, the Sony PSP is more than just a handheld game console. It is also a music player, video player, photo display, internet browser, multi media machine. So is that useful?

I was most fascinated by the PSP WiFi network connection, because I hadn't been aware of it when I bought it. As I have a WiFi router in my house, it was easy enough to set up. Only the 128-bit WEP key was annoying to enter on the PSP's virtual keyboard. And that problem continued, entering URLs or passwords or any other sort of text just takes forever on the PSP. So while technically I *could* have written a blog entry on the PSP, I didn't want to.

The PSP has both a internet browser and a RSS channel feature. I didn't get far with the RSS thingie, as it *doesn't* display RSS text feed, only audio and video podcasts. So I couldn't get for example a CNN news in text, but I could get the hourly CNN news podcast. And I found a World of Warcraft podcast called Taverncast.

The internet browser is pretty much a standard browser, with two important limitations: It supports only a limited functionality for the type of graphics and videos it can display (it *does* support Flash), and the browser window is only 320 pixels broad. Unsurprisingly most websites don't show up very well under these conditions. You can read my blog reasonably well, because I don't use much graphics. But any graphics heavy site usually becomes pretty much unreadable. I found some special "mobile" versions of sites, for display on cellphone browsers, but these apparently are only 120 pixel broad, and don't use all of the screen. Interestingly Google offers all of its services, not only the search engine, but also GMail and even the blogspot blogs, in a special "mobile" format, which displays well enough on the PSP.

What was really useful about the PSP WiFi connection was that I could use it to update the PSP operating system to version 3.03, and will be able to simply download and install all future operating system updates. The other internet browser and RSS functions are a lot less useful, for the simple reason that they require WiFi access. I travelled around enough with my laptop to know that finding a free WiFi hotspot is something which is still pretty rare. And paying something like $10 so I can read my GMail on the PSP isn't something I was planning to do. At home, where I have WiFi, I can more easily access the same content with a real computer. When mobile, where the PSP is easier to carry, I usually don't have WiFi access. That might improve over the years, but up to now this functionality isn't very useful.

So I looked at the other non-game functions of the PSP. The first curious thing is that with all the WiFi functionality, there is no way to transfer files onto your PSP by WiFi, except if you make a podcast of your files and save those. If you want to have your photos, music, or videos on your PSP, you need to connect the PSP to your computer with a standard USB-to-mini-USB cable, which is *not* included in the PSP pack. Fortunately I had one for my digital camera. Speaking of which, of course if you have a Sony digital camera, you can take the memory stick from the camera and put it into the PSP. But why would you want to? If you bought a digital camera with a reasonably large LCD screen, viewing the photos on a PSP isn't much of a improvement. Of course you can use your PSP to carry around the best photos of your loved ones. You can either store the photos in the original size and zoom in, or you first downscale them to 320x240 pixels, and use less storage space. Fortunately I got the PSP Giga Pack, with the 2 GB memory stick. All the multi-media functions of the PSP use a lot of storage, and the standard 32 MB memory stick isn't enough for anything.

I haven't even tried the music player functionality yet. I don't own any sort of MP3-player or IPod, I guess I'm just not a very musical person. And the PSP is a lot bigger and more expensive than the average MP3 players. But I did play around with the PSP video player functionality. That isn't easy, because first you need some software to convert whatever DVDs or videos you have to the MP4 format in 320x240 resolution for the PSP. I bought this one, which works okay, but sometimes has problems with DVD subtitles. Anyway, I took the whole setup through a test drive and converted the first disc of my CSI DVDs to the PSP. Now I got 4 episodes of CSI on my PSP, and the screen size and resolution is good enough for comfortable viewing. Each 45-minute episode takes a quarter of a gigabyte of storage space though, which limits how much video I can carry around with me.

And of course the legal situation is tricky. I'm a very legit guy, I don't download pirated music, warez, or videos. But having legally bought a DVD, I think I should be allowed to transform it to MP4 and watch it on my PSP, as long as I don't share the file with anyone. But do the lawyers agree? I think that whoever owns the movie rights would prefer me to buy both the DVD and the UMD with the same content. The UMD is called Universal Media Disc to hide the fact that it only plays on a PSP, so buying a movie on UMD isn't terribly clever. And the choice of UMDs you have is tiny compared to the choice of DVDs out there. So I think I'll just continue to rip my DVDs to the PSP.

So from all the multi-media capabilities of the PSP, I think the video player is the most useful. Nevertheless it is nice to have all that functionality in one machine. And that is besides playing games with it. I got myself a small library of PSP games: Everybody's Golf, Field Commander, Lego Star Wars II, Metal Gear Acid, Tales of Eternia and Worms Open Warfare. I started playing Metal Gear Acid, but I'll write about it another time. So I'm very happy with the PSP right now. The graphics are far better than the Gameboy Advance SP, and the PSP does so much more. Plus I still plan to buy a PS3 one day, and then apparently there is some functionality where you can connect the two. A very nice christmas present.

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