It goes without saying that after last night, sites like Kotaku have gone absolutely ape crazy with their coverage of the Sony Press Conference of the Next Gen Portable (formerly dubbed as the PSP2 by everyone in the media and consumer market circles, except Sony). And who can blame them?
I've only had my PSP for a short time, but I very much enjoy the look, feel, and features that are available on it. I may have banged it up a bit in my review earlier this January, but I do think it’s an enjoyable system nonetheless. And from what I'm seeing, the handheld console codenamed NGP (Next Gen Portable) looks to be worlds better in terms of looks and features.
So let's get down to it. What do we know?
At A Glance
The initial impression you get when you see the NGP is that it looks very similar to the PSP-3000. However, as many sites have noted, it's actually about half an inch wider than its 3000 model predecessor. This is partially to accommodate the 5 inch screen, which is 1.2 inches larger than the former model.
But the thing that really grabs your attention is the second analog stick. I tend to try to avoid playing third and first person style games because of the lack of a right analog stick. While many developers come up with creative ways to try to combat this issue, it still tends to make a first or third person game clunky in the way of controlling the camera angles. A right stick being included in the new design is likely going to make a very large number of gamers, myself included, very happy.
As you take a closer look, you start to notice the more subtle features. There is a camera on the front, as well as the back. The PlayStation, select, and start buttons have been moved, which in my opinion gives it a cleaner look. The USB port on the bottom looks like a larger type USB connector. And the power and volume buttons have been relocated to the top of the device, also providing a cleaner look. It also looks like there are two ports hidden under covers on top of the device for your memory cards.
On top of having an OLED touch screen on the device, Sony has added a touchpad on the back of the unit, well finished with the triangle, circle, square, and X symbols laid across it in a nice pattern. Two indents are present presumably to make the device a bit more ergonomic in terms of gripping it. You can tell that Sony has taken some time to pay attention to detail with this updated design. Although it's no surprise that Sony has gone back to the look and feel over the PSP instead of the rather unsuccessful PSPGo.
The user interface seems more up to date as well, with two huge features that appear to be available that many people were unhappy that the PSP did not support; The availability of a Friends list, and Trophies. It seems that Sony is making an effort to finally fully support these features across all of their platforms and bring the social aspect of gaming to their devices. And I for one am very happy to be seeing the Xross Media Bar (XMB) go away.
The addition of 3G availability poses an interesting question. Since 3G network access requires you to have some sort of a 3G cellular plan, is it possible that this device may include the ability to make phone calls? And more so, with the addition of the front facing camera, will video calls be available as well? Obviously, video chat over Skype or some other medium is very likely, but those services would work just fine over the integrated Wireless B/G/N network.
These features, coupled with a built in GPS system make the Next Gen Portable more of an "It only does everything" device than Sony's previous systems.
Under The Hood
The NGP console will be built on the ARM architecture which is used in many mobile platforms, such as the iPad and iPhone 4. This gives these devices a lot of processing power while maintaining a small form factor and low energy consumption needed for smaller platforms, which makes this a perfect choice for Sony's new product.
The ARM® Cortex™-A9 core, used in the NGP is a four core processor that's significantly more powerful than what you see in the above mentioned Apple products. Capable of CPU speeds of up to 2000MHz, and coupled with the robust SGX543MP4+ by PowerVR, this combination of hardware has a lot of promise in further blurring the lines between the handheld console, and their traditional in-home counterparts.
Also built in to NGP is the Six-Axis motion sensing system, allowing for developers to add-in further interactivity by making gamers tilt their handheld in different directions in order to perform tricks or tasks in-game. This is one feature that I'm somewhat apprehensive about. In practice, it works pretty well with the PlayStation 3, but in that case, the controller isn't attached to your TV. It'll be very interesting to see how developers implement this feature in future games.
Sony has also stated that the NGP will be using a different medium for games. According to their press release, "Taking advantage of the flash memory feature, this innovative card can store the full software titles plus add-on game content or the game save data directly on to the card. By adopting flash memory based card, SCE will be able to provide game cards with higher capacity in the future, allowing developers to store more game data to deliver rich and immersive games."
Now this is just speculation on my part, but at CES in 2009, Sandisk and Sony had announced the development of the "Memory Stick Format Series for Extended High Capacity", or Memory Stick XC. This format has a theoretical capability of up to 2 terabytes of data, which means not only could it effectively replace Blu-Ray as the media of choice for games with faster load times and less sensitive media, but vastly expand the amount of content that can be put into games. So I have to ask, could Memory Stick XC be the new flash based media that Sony is hinting at?
Sony appears to have learned its lesson in gaming and gamers' needs to do more than just play games. If Xbox Live has taught them anything, it's that gamers want an online community, an identity, and a way to be social. And if Apple has taught them anything, it's that people want more from a device than a single solitary purpose. They want a device that they can communicate, work and play on.
But if the past has taught us gamers anything, it's that Sony can promise many things, and they'll only implement halfway. Hopefully, they're willing to put a lot more effort into this Next Generation Portable than they have with the current generation of devices. If they do, they have the potential to win back the top console making position.
There's plenty of time to guess at what we'll hear from Camp Sony in the next few months until E3 2011. At which point, I'm quite sure we will be washed away in a deluge of information on this long awaited successor to the PlayStation Portable.
Sony says that the NGP is due to release in Holiday 2011 in Japan, which makes a spring 2012 release in North America very likely. I for one cannot wait.