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Sony PSP kicks in slimmer form

Posted: 06 Dec 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PlayStation Portable? Gameboy? handheld games market?

Handheld gaming has taken a significant upswing over the years. Technology has developed such that we can now get more than monochrome color and processors that can run at faster than a snail pace. The battle, too, for handheld gaming set market supremacy has intensified with as makers outdo each other offer more features including increased memory capacity and multimedia applications.

Total sale numbers for the handheld systems puts Nintendo's DS firmly in the lead, but there are a few months where exceptions happen and the Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) overtakes the monthly sales lead. With the GameBoy, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advanced, GameBoy SP, and now the DS, Nintendo has been developing handheld systems since 1989, and have been quite successful. According to NPD, the DS is outselling the PSP by more than 40 percent, with a total sales of 13.2 million compared to 8.6 million.

Sony entered the handheld gaming market in 2004 with the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Compared to the Nintendo products available at that time, it followed Sony's gaming strategy of providing technical performance. The screen measures 4.3 inches and has a 16 x 9 aspect ratio with a resolution of 480 x 272 displaying 24bit color. It also offers multimedia playback, and was often packaged with the Sony Pictures movie SpiderMan to show off the capabilities.

Unlike Nintendo, Sony games and movies are offered on a disk capable of storing up to 1.8Gbyte of information, in Universal Media Disc (UMD) format. In September 2007, Sony released the next version of the PSP, or more appropriately a new revision on the PSP. The PSP Slim and Lite offers the same functionality as the original, and then some, but in a smaller overall form factor, as shown in the Table below. The width has been reduced by about 19 percent while the weight has been reduced approximately 33 percent.

The infrared communication was the only function that was removed in the next version of the PSP. This is not a considerable drawback for the system, as it this communication method does not apply to other application, aside from Homebrew applications, which Sony seems to be trying to prevent, as evidenced by their constant firmware updates.

Added features
The new PSP now features a TV output, supported by the Sharp LR388A1 TV out driver. The first PSP enabled UMD video playback only on the system itself, hindering sales of movies on this format. Consumers have been hesitant to pay DVD prices for movies that are limited to viewing only on the PSP. With a TV output, displaying at 480p, the Slim and Lite has the potential to reinvigorate the low sales numbers. Unfortunately, it may be too little too late as many retailers, such as WalMart, have all but removed UMD videos from store shelves. The other interesting aspect is that, while the PSP Slim and Lite can display onto TVs, it does not come with the cable that makes it available out of the box. A separate cable must be purchased, removing the impact of the upgrade.

PSP Slim and Lite offers the same functionality as the original but in a smaller overall form factor.

The other addition was an increase in the internal memory. The first-generation PSP contained 32Mbyte of memory while the Slim and Lite version has doubled that to 64Mbyte. This was increased to reduce the amount of load time during operation, both for games and web surfing. The video memory, however, has remained unchanged at 4Mbyte.

Inside PSP
Interestingly, the components used inside both systems are similar. Often when a company re-releases a product they change a few of the chips for lower-cost solutions to reduce the bill of materials. But in this case, other than removing the infrared communication, changing the battery from 1,800mAhr to 1,200mAhr, and changing the motor controller from Freescale to Fujitsu, most everything else, from a cost-cutting point of view, stayed the same.

A 333MHz, 32bit CPU, code named "Allegrex", operates the PSP, packaged with Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. part markings. We have not had an opportunity to decap the device, but can assume that it is created by Sony. This processor controls the main functionality of the system, from the main interface to running games.

The new PSP now features TV output and increased internal memory.

A secondary processor, operating at 166MHz, is used to display video and sound. Not only can the PSP show UMD formatted movies, but can also display MPEG-4, H.264 and AVI. For sound, the PSP supports ATRAC, MP3, wave, and WMA. The Wolfson WM1800 produces sound. Videos and music can be stored on the internal memory or via an expandable memory stick PRO duo, which has now reached 16Gbyte with 32Gbyte version expected in 2009.

Connection guaranteed
Wi-Fi connectivity is also available, primarily for multiplayer gaming and Internet surfing. The Marvell 88W8686, which is present in many of the leading consumer products, such as the Apple iPhone, is also used in the PSP Slim and Lite. This design win is yet another testament to the product that Marvell has developed, and leads to the IP interest in the device as it has achieved so many sockets in successfully selling systems.

A second connection, via USB 2.0, is also present. Interestingly, the PSP can now be charged via the USB connection, which will reduce the number of chargers travelers will have to carry.

All in all, if you have a PSP already, the Slim and Lite version does not offer sufficient savings, in my opinion, to warrant a repurchase. The system follows Sony's main marketing plan to offer the highest level of technology to users, in this case for handheld devices, and they succeed on that front. But limited support for their UMD format and focusing on the key demographic of more serious gamers held them at a second place compared to the Nintendo DS.

- Gregory Quirk
Semiconductor Insights

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