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Step Your Game Up.

Short story: the PlayStation Portable could be called a "successful failure". It was a failure in stealing the market from Nintendo for the third time in a row, but a success in that it still sold tens of millions of systems (so far has sold nearly 70% as many systems as the original Play Station), and had a number of hit games.

Long story: in 2004, Sony was riding high off the first two PlayStation systems[1], and decided to get into the handheld market, confident they could repeat their success for a third time. The gaming press was just as confident. It seemed like all the factors were in place for it to happen. Sony's use of discs versus the DS' cartridges, a traditional controller versus an unconventional controller (a touch screen this time instead of a three-pronged gamepad), better third-party support, multimedia capabilities, and far greater processing power (which wasn't the case with the last two systems, but still a touted factor) had all paid off for Sony in the past. It seemed like the PSP could become the leader in the handheld gaming market, dethroning Nintendo.

However, not everything went as planned. There were a few reasons for this:

  • The rechargeable battery's life was much better than other handheld challengers Nintendo had faced, but still paled in comparison to the DS. Playing a movie could cut the battery time to one-third.
  • While disc-based formats proved to be superior to cartridges for home consoles, the format's advantages were less pronounced on a handheld device. The discs still offered higher capacity, but the optical format resulted in comparatively longer loading times, louder system noise, and increased battery usage due to disc spinning and seeking. Without the production volume of DVDs or CDs, the format didn't have the huge cost differential that made discs preferable to carts in the 5th generation. Storage of multiple games was also made less efficient due to each disc being permanently encased in an outer shell. The console and discs support Region Coding, and while only three PSP applications/games made use of region coding (the Asian release of Battlezone, as well as the Comic Book reader and Remote TV Viewer applications) all UMD movies were region coded and couldn't play on PSPs from a different region.
  • Loading times aren't as much of an issue with home consoles, but handheld systems are often played here and there in two-minute windows. Taking even 30 seconds to load is a major downside under those circumstances. In the later models, Sony incorporated a method which considerably shortened loading times (adding extra RAM, and allowing games to selectively load data instead of strictly from the UMD) for compatible games. The console also has a "sleep" function which saves the current memory-state for quick revival later, but this causes even more problems for the already-iffy battery life.
  • The system didn't have a Killer App by the time the DS had Nintendogs, Mario Kart DS, and New Super Mario Bros. The PSP did later get sales boosts from the redesigns and true killer apps like Monster Hunter in Japan, but those were well after the DS took off and after the PSP had lost any lead.
  • Most important of all was the different focus. Sony was convinced there was a "handheld gaming ghetto", which meant that the smaller-scale games on handhelds were supposedly inferior to home console games. The PSP was an unsuccessful attempt to bring home gaming to portables, which left developers scrambling to find a medium between the huge games of home consoles and the "bite-sized" gaming for portables, while Nintendo already had plenty of practice with that golden mean.

Despite these issues, the PSP has been fairly successful financially. As mentioned, it's easily the most successful competitor to Nintendo's handheld dominance and the highest-selling second-place system of any console war. It has seen an Updated Rerelease as the "Slim & Lite", which made it smaller and lighter, as well as adding a brighter screen and a jack which let you display the console's output on a television. A third-generation version added a mic and a new screen that's less reflective and has more colors, but also has more prominent scanlines. Firmware updates since launch have greatly increased the system's capabilities, ranging from being able to play more file formats, to being able to organize media in folders, to PlayStation 3 remote play compatibility. UMD titles have the option of allowing portions of the game to be installed to the memory stick, reducing loading times and extending battery life.

Sony has begun a major shift in their strategies for the PSP recently. The biggest shift is a massive embrace of digital distribution — while the newest incarnation of the DS is capable of downloading small games made specifically for its download service, the PSP is capable of downloading retail titles available for it through Sony's online storefront, as well as smaller games, video, and Downloadable Content for existing games. Furthermore, the newest incarnation of the PSP, the PSP Go, is specifically built around digital distribution, having no support for the UMD medium. Despite fears from older PSP owners, Sony insists that the Go is not meant to replace the PSP, and that Sony plans to sell and maintain both platforms simultaneously (and in fact, when the Go was launched, all future PSP releases were required to have a digital-only version available). Response has been lackluster at best, with reports that some stores wouldn't even stock it[2]

Since the PSP was released in 2004, and Sony historically released new consoles every six years, by 2010 there was a storm of rumor and speculation over what would come next. The announcement didn't hit until January 27, 2011. Sony's new device, Now named the Play Station Vita (formerly NGP), will be released by the end of the year. It comes with dual thumbsticks, 3G and wi-fi connectivity, motion control, front and back cameras, a touch screen, and a second touchpad in equivalent position on the backside of the device. It's also going back to flash-memory cards as its storage medium. More can be read about it at its page.



  • One R4000-based MIPS32 "microprocessor assembly" with floating point and vector floating point units.
  • Another R4000-based MIPS32 "media engine" similar to the microprocessor assembly, containing various multimedia hardware (such as decoders).
  • Both cores are rated at 333 mHz, but for no discernible reason (although guesses were to preserve battery life) only operated at 222 mHz until unlocked by firmware 3.50.


  • The original PSP shipped with 32 MiB of RAM, which was upped to 64 MiB in the 2000 and subsequent models to allow for shortened load times with aggressive caching.
  • Aside from system memory, the PSP contains two sets of dedicated memory, 2 MiB for graphics processing and 2 MiB for multimedia processing through the media engine.
  • Data can be stored on any number of different versions of Sony's proprietary memory stick technology.


  • One custom 166 mHz dedicated graphics co-processor with support for advanced graphical calculations such as vertex blending and tessellation.
  • Featured a 3.4-inch 16:9 TFT LCD screen displaying a 480 x 272 image in 16.8 million colors.
  • This chip can ostensibly generate 33 million flat-shaded polygons per second, but that's a theoretical maximum.
  • The system comes with partial hardware rendering, instead of strictly software rendering that the Play Station 2 had. This got around some compatibility issues, like with texture compression, while still allowing some flexibility with the vector units.

Wireless Connectivity

  • One ARM9-based WLAN chip capable of connecting via 802.11b.
  • Early models shipped with an infrared port, apparently just for kicks, because it was not officially supported nor used in any first-, second- or any-party software.
  • Late-model firmware enabled the "ad hoc party" feature, allowing PSPs to create virtual local networks via the internet.


  1. Both which put Sony on the top of two Console Wars, dethroning Nintendo from home consoles in the 5th console generation and beating Microsoft's newcomer system in the 6th, both systems outsold all their competitors combined by over 2-to-1.
  2. One of the major US video-game-only retailers, Gamestop/EB Games, was extremely unimpressed with the system, noting that consumers would not be able to trade in their games for resale, and while they grudgingly sold it, they did not promote it.