The PSP is "ancient", so why is it still SO popular and loved?
June 4, 2019
The Sony Playstation Portable, or PSP as it’s more commonly known, is 15 years old as of 2019. So why do I still love it? Why do so many gamers still love it? More importantly, why do we still USE it, and if you don’t have one, why should you consider hopping over to Amazon or Ebay and picking one up? Well sit back, relax, and let’s revisit all the things that still make this relatively “ancient” portable console so great. Let’s get acquainted…or reacquainted…with the much beloved Sony PSP.
Brass tacks first. I won’t waste a lot of time with detailed specs or historical minutia, so here’s the critical rundown. There were several model revisions released between 2004 and 2014. I’ll spit out the model numbers quickly and tell you which one the bulk of you will likely pick up should you wind up wanting one when we’re done here. These are in order as follows, all in one breath:
PSP Go (aka PSP-N1000)
And the PSP Street (aka PSP-E1000)
Before we go further, the vast majority of you will want the PSP-3000, and a good one will set you back roughly between 70 and 100 freedom credits or the equivalently valued body part if you’re in a pinch. You can probably find one cheaper if you’re willing to tinker with it and clean it up, and a fair bit over 100 bucks if you want to collect a perfect example with the original box and accessories. Speaking of accessories, they’re really cheap, so don’t worry. The only thing you’ll need besides a means of charging is a memory card solution. I say “solution” because the PSP used Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo. However here’s a pro tip, while you’re on eBay, buy a Micro SD to Memory Stick Duo adapter. They cost less than a fast food value meal. Way less. About $3, if that. Then pop in one or two equally cheap Micro SD cards and you’re golden. The PSP will easily support 128 gigs of storage, with reports much higher over 256 gigs…but you’re mileage may vary. Just give it a shot. It might work. Format the Micro SD cards to FAT32 and then format it again once it’s in the PSP to whatever the PSP forces.
So why the PSP-3000 (mine is a 3001e for what it’s worth) and why the generous storage solution? Ah, now we get to the good stuff. The meat and potatoes of why the PSP is still so popular among gamers and collectors.
Of all the model revisions, the PSP-3000 is the most well rounded in terms of specs, features, and form factor. In brief, the screen on the first model, the PSP-1000, is a dim blurry mess, so go for at least a PSP-2000. Among other basic upgrades along with size reduction, and weight reduction, the PSP-2000 added a MUCH better, sharper, and brighter screen and “video output” capability allowing you to hook up your PSP to an external television. The PSP-3000 enjoys these upgrades along with an even brighter screen. While the PSP Go and PSP Street finagle some features such as form factor, Bluetooth, etc…the PSP-3000 retains all of the most important features you’ll most definitely want overall.
Now on to the second biggest reason to love the PSP…the elephant in the room…homebrew and emulation. For obvious reasons I will not launch into a tutorial on how to manipulate firmware. As you can tell by the last sentence, I’m intentionally avoiding the “H” word. All I will say is that the solution has been well documented since even the dawn of YouTube. My tutorial would be the 5 millionth posted online. I’m convinced that the internet in total is comprised of 90% adult content, 8% cat memes, and 3% PSP homebrew tutorials. That extra 1% spills over into the real world manifesting as glitches such as déjà vu and Chic-Fil-A being closed on Sundays.
All you need to know is that you can play every beloved 8-bit game from any console pretty much ever and most 16-bit titles will run smoothly. In fact, about 90% of Sega Genesis games will run at full speed with no frame drops. Tougher titles for the SNES, like Donkey Kong Country or any game that uses the Super FX chip will see slowdowns, some considerable. Yoshi’s Island is playable if you’re willing to adjust frame-skip or live with a little choppiness. Gameboy games are a joy and Gameboy Advance games run a treat.
So in addition to emulation, you can store your favorite PSP games on the memory stick instead of carrying around a bunch of UMD game disks. Quick side note, some custom firmware even allows you to fiddle with the CPU speed both in the menu system and in games. So games that were designed to run at the stock 222mhz can, for lack of a better description, be overclocked to run at 333mhz, helping smooth out frame rates and load times here and there within reasonable expectation. Similarly, less intensive titles can theoretically be under clocked, saving a little battery life. So that’s nice.
OK, at this point I know what some of you are thinking. You can emulate PSP games on your tablet and smartphone…along with all of the mentioned 8-bit and 16-bit games, even games from the 64-bit era. While that is certainly true, and I myself adore my own little ultra-portable gaming setup, there are considerable drawbacks. First and foremost, since we’re talking about handheld gaming (your computer will EASILY run PSP titles), you still need an incredibly powerful AKA expensive smartphone or tablet to run PSP emulation smoothly. The latest $1,200 flagship smartphones can still struggle with God of War whereas an $80 PSP will run it flawlessly on its own native hardware. Which brings me to the coup de grace…physical controls.
Almost any physical controls will destroy rubbing a screen. That said, some physical controls still compromise in one aspect or another. For instance, while pairing an Xbox One S or Sony Six Axis controller to your tablet or smartphone offers almost snobbishly perfect controls, the controller itself is still bulky to carry around. The mini controller I keep with me in my pocket at all times is ideal for go-anywhere portability, but severely lacks in ergonomics for bigger hands. As do controls for the 3DS and PS Vita, at least to my hands. The PSP’s controls however are darn near the most perfect controls in a handheld since the original Gameboy. The face and shoulder buttons are sized right and perfectly positioned. The thumb “nub” is surprisingly tactile for being so flush to the surface. Portable gaming with the PSP is still, at least to me, the benchmark that has yet to be surpassed, at least when it comes to controls, let alone its vast library of great games and retro emulation prowess. Yes the PS Vita is more graphically impressive and has dual thumb sticks, but the layout and size of the buttons gives me hand cramps almost immediately. This condition alone keeps me from bothering with the comparatively convoluted homebrew unlocking procedure.
So for portable gaming, the screen, physical controls, game library, and vast emulation compatibility make the PSP, all things considered, hard to beat even in 2019, if not almost impossible. Look, let me put it this way, any portable gaming solution you choose will come with compromises and the PSP is no different. Chinese devices are a crap shoot in all regards, tablets and $1,200 smartphones still require toting a controller along, and more recent, more powerful devices like the PS Vita and others can sacrifice comfort and mod-ability. The PSP just simply makes the least compromises when it comes to portable gaming.
To start wrapping this up, I’ll share a dream of mine I’ve had for years. The PSP is just as big as modern smartphones, if not a hair smaller in some cases. If the PSP came with a touch screen and a cellular antenna to make phone calls, it would be the most perfect portable gaming device ever conceived. Several years ago Sony even created a smartphone with slide out PSP controls called the Sony Experia. It was not a PSP. It could not play PSP games, but the concept was ideal. My biggest gaming wish in this world is that a flagship manufacturer like Samsung, Google, or even Sony would produce a modern device like the old Experia. A top spec flagship smartphone with physical controls in a layout like the PSP or even slide out controls. Gamers already buy phones, so why not capture a gargantuan segment of the gamer market and sell them such a device? Such a device would literally be…a game changer.
So in conclusion, yeah, you should buy a PSP. You should go from this content to eBay or Amazon and put it in your shopping cart. It is an absolute joy to game on and to own. If you’re a gamer, do yourself the favor of owning a PSP if you haven’t already. If you own a PSP, grab it out of the drawer, charge it up, and fall in love with it all over again.
Take care everybody. Lean into your geek thing and know that you are worthy of love and happiness despite the internal or external voices lying to you otherwise.
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