Sony's PSP2 Is a Game-Changer—But You Can't Have It for Months

PSP2

Sony revealed its PSP2 handheld games console this morning, and among the interesting innovations among its technical specs is the real secret to its success--a chipset that beats almost everything else out there this year. The problem is, the company's timing may be way off--the new console won't be available for several months, at the earliest.

The PlayStation Portable 2 has now had its official reveal, and it's packed full of high-tech novelties. There's a 5-inch touchscreen with 960 by 544 pixels (four times the resolution of the PSP) powered by OLED technology, one of the hottest, most eye-pleasing display systems out there. There's a rear-face touchpad which matches the front screen in size and positioning, twin analog control sticks that match the PS3's and beat the current PSP's single "nub," twin cameras, GPS, 3G connectivity, and the same gyro and motion sensors as in the PlayStation Move peripheral.

But the real secret inside the PSP2 is the chipset. The unit's main powerhouse is an ARM-based CPU--like many other portable devices, leveraging ARM's power-sipping skills--but it's based on an ARM Cortex A9 model, better than the more usual A8 chips. Sony's utilizing a quad-core architecture, and this gives the PSP2 an enormous amount of raw processing power that easily beats the current generation of smartphones, tablets, and other systems that use single or double-core ARM chips. The four cores also enable some multitasking skills, and indeed Sony's suggested you'll be able to activate the PSP2's wireless social sharing powers at the same time as playing a game.

And then there's the other chip, the GPU--absolutely key for driving a games console. Sony's chosen a PowerVR SGX543MP4+ unit for the job. It's another quad-core system, and PowerVR list its specs (when clocked at 200MHz core frequency, a stat we don't yet know for the PSP2) as delivering "133 million polygons per second, and fill rates in excess of 4 Gpixels/sec." That places this chip's powers slightly better than the first-gen Xbox desktop console, and four times better than the original PSP.

Combined, these two chips with eight cores turn the PSP2 into the most powerful handheld games console there's ever been. Sony's touting its skills as on a par with the almost supercomputer powers of the PS3. A PS3 in your pocket, with 3G connection, could easily transform the entire handheld games market.

If it had to transform its fortunes in the portable games market, this is exactly what Sony needed to do--lead by example, with a rocket-powered beast of a new PSP. One that easily trounces the powers being offered by the hottest smartphones and tablets of this year--because its these devices that are threatening the core market for handheld games, with their multi-purpose abilities, carrier-subsidized pricing and app stores offering access to thousands upon thousands of games that vary from inexpensive casual fun ones to full-experience games developed by the same game houses that write code for Sony and its peers.

It all looks good then for Sony, which seems to have made a clever technical move with the PSP2's hardware and backed it up with neat software that even embraces the current vogue for social sharing.

But here's the problem: The PSP2 isn't due until the "holiday season" this year--if all goes well.

Before then the iPhone 5 will arrive, with expected specs that include a larger screen and its own Apple-branded multi-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU aboard (alongside a better graphics chip). Apple's App Store is still growing fast, and recently passed the 10 billion app download mark. It's enervated the mobile games market like no other system has, attracting the attention of big-name games writers and even boosting the games market on Apple's Mac platform. The iPad 2 is also imminent, following on the heels of the iPad 1, which basically invented the new tablet PC category, bringing a whole new large-screen mobile games experience with it. The iPad 2 is expected to have a better screen than the first-gen device, and to come with a two-core (at least) ARM A9-based CPU. Some commenters are expecting Apple to jam four times as many RAM bytes onto this chip as in the current Apple A4 silicon...and this will boost the units graphics processing powers.

Then there's the wave of Android-powered tablet PCs and smartphones--many of which approach the PSP2 in terms of size--which seem to be getting ever more powerful. By the end of the year it's possible we'll see quad-core Android devices, either in smartphones or tablets, and they may challenge the PSP2's power specs too. There's even the Nintendo 3DS, coming in just a few months, and though in terms of computing power it can't rival the PSP2, it has those 3-D display tricks that will entice many gamers.

Basically the PSP2 can beat the current generation of its peer devices, but it will arrive just about the time, or even after the time, that Sony's competitors are releasing devices that are as powerful--or possibly even more so. It's too late. And if Sony gets its pricing wrong (a big risk, given the amount of novel tech inside the device and remembering Sony's historic high pricing habits), it'll also price itself out of the market. The one saving grace may be the Android games market Sony's building up--to support its new mobile game hardware (which includes the upcoming PlayStation Phone, an Android-powered device). This could keep Sony relevant, even if its hardware sales don't prove all that good.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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3 Comments

  • etismynamw

    The person who wrote this does not understand the difference between handheld console market and smartphone/tablet market.

    This article features lots of errors that cannot be ignored:
    1)"newer, better" smart phones do NOT equal to better, more advanced games developed. In fact, the top spec smartphone will not taste the true potential until the spec becomes more commonly used.
    Multi-core CPU for example, even in today's PC market, are not utilizes well in most of the games, most of the games nowadays are still optimized with Duel Core only.
    Just see the example of PS3 and xbox 360 being outperformed by most of the mid-ranged PCs but that did not affect the sales at all.

    2) Even if the specs of the NGS are being overthrown when it is released, there is a very good reason why it would not perform worst than them. The phone apps will be running background and unless the user turns off multi-tasking, the phone will be running slower.

    3) Again, kind of linked to point 1 and point 2, Battery life. The NGS battery is expected to perform around the same as the old PSP, around 4 to 6 hours. The more resource intensive the game is, the more battery life it would consume. I highly doubt a person would be satisfied with this battery performance on their phone. (notice, this is even assuming the Wi-Fi and 3G are both turned off. Therefore a phone would even need to have their phone network switched off and closing as much background app to achieve that duration)

    4) Handheld consoles are developed to be play game. This is inevitable that most of the games would be casual games on the smartphone console (Also the fact that the games need to be optimized well so that the common smart phone specs can run it properly as well) If any of the readers have tried street fighter 4 with a gaming pad and compared it with the experience of playing it on the iphone, you would certainly know what I am talking about.
    (Notice, I said most. There are a few that are more "hardcore" games such as N.O.V.A.)
    Or if you thought the SF4 was ok, then you are forgetting the L1 R1 buttons.

    5) Similar to above points again, games. People buy gaming console for games. 3DS has Nintendo's favorite, such as Mario, Zelda. NGS has Uncharted, Killzone. These are iconic to the gaming world. Sure iphone/android also has Angry Birds and some Gameloft's games, however, these games' gameplay experience is vastly different to NGS's (especially when Duel joystick is now presence)
    There is no "triple A games" on the mobile phone industries that would convince one to buy a "better, newer" smartphone.
    Even if angry bird's target audience is close to 3DS's, the 3DS has a much larger library of similar games available.
    This is also why there are so much more long established 3rd Parties supporting the handheld console market.

    6) Pricing is not a failure. In fact, it is one of the most popular pricing strategies in technology department. Charging high for the enthusiastic gamers and reducing the price gradually to grab more market shares. It is much easier to start off with a high price and cutting it than starting with low price and increasing it.
    This is a very basic concept from marketing. Also worth noting is that Nintendo can price low is because it needs to match the parent's ideal price for a gaming console for their children.

    7) Even if it did not gain any profit, it would not mean it is a loss for Sony. See PlayStation 3 history, they are not achieving any profit at all (they were selling at a loss with EACH PS3 sole) plus they also had the free network service, PSN. Both are extremely expensive to operate. The company still earns money from publishing games and otherwise.

    There are MORE errors in this article but clearly you get the point now.

  • etismynamw

    I totally don't agree with the statement.
    I am disappointed to read such an article on a site that looks into business.

    The mobile game industry is very different to portable game.
    The psp2 has the duel joystick, the large screen and also the l1r1 buttons, not to mention the console is going to be run on purely on gaming whereas the mobile gaming will have to be casual because it will eat up the battery life, quick and the games are to be needed to fit the different specs across the whole mobile industry, like you said, most are still running on single or duel core only, it would at least take another year for quad core to become more available across. The games will not be running at full potential on the duel core anytime soon in my opinion. Furthermore, they have to run the other apps in the mobile system.

    If the two are to compete, 3ds will be the one to be struggling because theory games are more casual and slaying the power is not totally outstanding, the 3d is also a gimmick given it kills battery life quick and doesn't achieve much to the gaming experience.

    But it still won't be a matter to 3ds, handheld consoles receive lots of 3rd party support, and they are where the games are from and what games really want. We have Mario, killzone, zelda, uncharted, pokemon, little big planet...
    Why would we switch to mobile gaming that does not even have a good joystick to begin with. I have tried greet fighter on the ipod and certainly without joystick, it was bad

  • vinay yerramilli

    Very cool! But that is a lot of power hungry chips...they better have a solid battery life innovation to back it up.