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Is the PSP Right for You?

This article is outdated. It is preserved here for historical purposes.

Both Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable handheld video game systems have their advantages and drawbacks. Below, I summarize some of the arguments of Nintendo DS fanboys and PSP fanboys and provide some reasons to choose one system over the other. Read it and see whether the PSP is right for you.

Refuting Nintendo DS fanboy arguments

Others have refuted the following arguments that Nintendo DS fanboys used to use:

Ninja-disc
Overblown. Even playing WarioWare: Twisted doesn't require such gyration of the system that would make the PSP's disc slot open unless the PSP has been subject to a lot of abuse.

Refuting PSP fanboy arguments

PSP has a better looking screen.
Yes, the visuals are generally better on the PSP. However, the Sega Game Gear had better visuals than the original Game Boy but still failed in the marketplace because it lacked in other departments. Nintendo DS folds to become its own case, which protects the screens from the inevitable scratches, especially if small children live in your house. Add $15 or so to the price of a PSP for a Logitech case. The PSP also wasn't designed with a touch screen, making mouse-style games (such as first-person shooters, tactical simulations, and some puzzles) less feasible. Finally, larger screens are more likely to have more dead pixels.
PSP has more involved, more immersive games like those of the PS2.
Some of the games from the PSP's first couple months in North America have loading times more reminiscent of console games, with at least one high-profile racing game taking two minutes from power-on to gameplay and another taking 70 seconds to load a track that takes 150 seconds to play. (NekoIncardine suggests avoiding Wipeout Pure and Midnight Club 3.) True, newer titles will likely be engineered better, with ten second loading times, but they'll also be more likely to force a firmware update (see below). Still, most of the situations where one would use a handheld game system are for short 10 minute plays. The Nintendo DS library as of mid-2005 excels at this; the PSP's current lineup doesn't. If you really have an hour to burn but no access to a game console or a PC, then you're probably riding in a motor vehicle or airplane, and if your trip will last more than about four hours, battery life may become an issue. Though Pelican makes a power adapter for the 12VDC that a car provides, only the most expensive seats on a bus or plane are next to a power source.
PSP has sleep mode, which makes loading more bearable.
But as soon as you switch games or even finish a level, NOW LOADING. This allegedly happens in order to conserve battery power, as the disc doesn't need to spin up during gameplay in order to stream data from the disc. Besides, Nintendo DS games have an automatic sleep mode as well, and many GBA games can be sent into sleep mode from the pause screen.
PSP has Bandai's Lumines: Puzzle Fusion.
Puzzle games are where the Nintendo DS's compatibility with Game Boy Advance games shines. GBA has Puyo Pop, Luminesweeper, and Tetanus On Drugs, and Nintendo DS has Polarium and Meteos. If you want less blocks and more variety in your puzzles, try the WarioWare series or Project Rub (called Feel The Magic: XY/XX in North America), which are both easily better than Smart Bomb for PSP. Sony Computer Entertainment could have added support for older games on a PSP through a Walkman-sized PSone unit that uses the PSP as a screen and controller, but it chose not to.
PSP has Lumines, which has great music.
True, Luminesweeper for Game Boy Advance is as of October 2005 incomplete, having only one mode and (in the GBAMP version) no music, but you have a portable CD player or a handheld music player, don't you? And yes, Luminesweeper is a homebrew clone of a commercial product, but Linux started out as a homebrew clone of the UNIX operating system.
PSP can play emulators and other homebrew programs.
True, most existing PSP units as of have firmware version 2.0 or earlier, which can be downgraded to the homebrew-friendly version 1.50. However, Sony has since released versions 2.01, 2.50, and 2.60, which block the exploit that the downgrader uses to install 1.50 firmware. inspect a PSP's UPC label to determine its firmware version, but the model letter for PSP units shipped with firmware version 2.01 isn't known yet, and many stores won't let you specify a firmware version when ordering a PSP. True, many new Nintendo DS systems are shipping with the "red" firmware that blocks the PassMe adapter commonly used for running homebrew in DS mode, but this is heavily cracked, and there are still several other avenues that haven't been explored in depth that Nintendo will never be able to block. And if you use the same PSP for both emulators and PSP native games, watch out: many newer PSP games are capable of updating the firmware to the latest version published by Sony, and they require you to do this before they will run.
PSP 1.50 can play games for NES (aka Famicom) and TurboGrafx-16 (aka PC Engine) systems.
So can the Game Boy Advance, which has PocketNES and PCE Advance. Use them with GBA flash card such as those sold on Kick Trading. PocketNES also works with the inexpensive GBA Movie Player.
PSP 1.50 can play Game Boy games.
Game Boy Advance SP can play actual Game Boy and Game Boy Color Game Paks, with better accuracy than almost any emulator. In addition, Game Boy Advance has the Goomba emulator for monochrome GB games, which works with either a GBA flash card or a GBA Movie Player.
PSP 1.50 can play Super NES games.
So can the Nintendo DS, if you have a GBA flash card and a $20 adapter called PassMe. To learn more about homebrew emulators for the Nintendo DS, visit the Pocket Heaven board.
PSP 1.50 can play SCUMM games.
ScummVM has been ported to the Nintendo DS too, and it works with a PassMe plus a GBA Movie Player.
PSP can play full-length movies by major studios.
So can a $130 portable DVD Video player. Add a Nintendo DS at $130 and you're only $10 over the price of a PSP in the United States. Besides, the selection of UMD Video titles isn't anywhere near the selection of DVD Video titles. I went to four different stores in the first week of August 2005 and could not find one G-rated UMD Video title; by mid-September, Disney/Pixar's Toy Story was released, making a total of one G-rated UMD Video title available at the store I visited. One G title in six months (along with a relative dearth of E-rated games) is not a good omen if you're looking to buy a handheld system for your minor son or daughter. In addition, though PSP games are not region-coded, UMD Video is region-coded even more finely than DVD Video; for instance, UMD Video discs purchased locally won't work with an imported PSP even between Europe and Japan (which are in the same DVD Video region but not the same UMD Video region). Yes, a portable DVD Video player is bigger than a PSP, but if you'll be in a position to sit through a movie, you're probably carrying a bag of some sort. Toss your DVD Video player and discs in that.
PSP can play MPEG-4 video files stored on Memory Stick PRO Duo media.
With a GBA Movie Player accessory, Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS can play video files stored on CompactFlash media, which is generally 10 to 20 percent cheaper per megabyte than MemoryStick PRO Duo media. The GBA MP also acts as a mini-flash card for running homebrew .mb ROMs or smaller NES games. Sure, translating your movie files into the proprietary format used by the GBA MP isn't as convenient, but you can import the Play-Yan adapter, which lets you play MP3 audio and MPEG-4 video stored on SD cards on a Nintendo DS, Game Boy Micro, or GBA SP. If you don't feel like importing a Japanese product, Nintendo has confirmed that it will release the Play-Yan in at least one English-speaking locale in winter 2006. Besides, from what legal source do you plan on getting the source material to encode into MPEG-4? It's a crime to transcode most DVDs in the United States and other countries that have adopted the anticircumvention provisions of the WIPO Copyright Treaty.
PSP can play music.
So can an iPod Shuffle player. So can a GBA SP, Game Boy Micro, or Nintendo DS with the Play-Yan adapter or the GBA Movie Player. Or if you have a flash card for your GBA or Nintendo DS, you can use GSM Player.
PSP is smaller than a Nintendo DS.
Game Boy Micro is out now, and it's smaller than a PSP.

Further pro-DS arguments

  • Homebrew on Game Boy Advance is much more mature, and loads of original homebrew programs are available at PDRoms.
  • Homebrew on Nintendo DS is progressing at least as fast as homebrew on PSP. More importantly, Nintendo isn't playing the firmware cat-and-mouse games with the homebrew community nearly as intensely as Sony is. Nintendo's behavior of releasing firmware updates 1. only after actual piracy has happened, and 2. only as part of a significant hardware revision, contrasts with Sony's behavior of releasing firmware updates 1. early and often as its own technicians learn of new homebrew boot methods, and 2. that come with a game and are required to play the game.
  • By the time you've saved up enough money for a PSP, the Nintendo DS will likely have Animal Crossing, a new Mario RPG, a new Mario side-scroller, and Advance Wars: Dual Strike.
  • Nintendo DS has been available in Europe for much longer. By delaying the European PSP until September 2005, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe has handed the UK, which represents much of the English-speaking market for handheld video games, over to Nintendo, the first-week PSP sales notwithstanding. A platform that has a larger English-speaking market is more likely to get translations of Japanese games, especially given that Nintendo of Europe has appeared much more tolerant of imports from North America than SCEE.
  • Nintendo DS has demo units in more stores. End users know what they're getting before they blow their hard-earned cash. Even six months after the release of PSP in North America, stores are still waiting on Sony to supply PSP demo units.

Value proposition: What can $250 buy you?

As of September 2005, all prices new mint in box: A GBA SP with a headphone dongle costs $90, and each game costs $15 to $30. A Nintendo DS costs $130, and each game costs $30 to $40. A a PSP costs $250, and each game costs $40 to $50. Optional applications need a memory card or adapter: a GBA memory card costs $70, a PassMe $15, and a 1 GB Memory Stick PRO Duo card $100. An Apex portable DVD player has been spotted for $120 at a Wal-Mart store, and movies run anywhere from $6 to $20. So for $250, you could buy any of the following:

  • A GBA SP and 5 games
  • A Nintendo DS and 3 games
  • A GBA SP, a flash card, and 3 games
  • A GBA SP, a portable DVD player, and two movies
  • A Nintendo DS, a GBA flash card, and a PassMe adapter
  • A Nintendo DS, a PassMe adapter, a GBA Movie Player, an off-brand 256 MB CF card, and a USB CF writer
  • A Nintendo DS, an iPod Shuffle music player (512 MB), and a budget DS game
  • A PSP with no games, no movies, and the pack-in 32 MB memory card

Conclusion

I've identified a few niches where the PSP would have a distinct advantage over a solution involving Nintendo products:

  • You are willing to buy a used unit to get firmware version 2.00 or earlier, you aren't interested in PSP games and movies that require the 2.01 upgrade (or you are willing to pay double to buy a second PSP for PSP games and movies), and you want to play one or more of the following:
    • Classic arcade games in MAME that don't have a GBA or Nintendo DS port,
    • Super NES games that don't have a GBA port and don't yet work on SNES DS,
    • homebrew or pirated Game Boy Color exclusive games, or
    • Game Boy Color exclusive games and Nintendo DS games without having to buy both a GBA SP and a Nintendo DS.
  • You are a frequent passenger on long trips in a car, bus, or plane.
  • You often play both games and movies on the same trip and you prefer to travel light.
  • You believe visuals are more important than battery life or game selection.
  • You want to play future PSP-exclusive titles.

If none of these describe you, stick with Nintendo products.

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