Editor's note (June 2, 2009): Sony has announced a new, smaller PSP model called the PSP Go. However, the PSP-3000 reviewed here will continue to be sold alongside the more expensive PSP Go once it becomes available in October 2009.
While some still consider it a second banana to Nintendo's nearly ubiquitous DS Lite, the Sony PSP has sold more than 50 million units since it appeared on the scene in 2005. Sony released a second-generation version--the PSP 2000--in 2007, giving it a slimmer and lighter chassis, some speed tweaks, and the ability to output straight to a TV screen.
For 2008, the PSP got another minor makeover: the PSP 3000 boasts a built-in microphone (to increase the usability of its onboard Skype functionality) and better video output support (you can now play games on non-HD TV hookups). It also has an "improved" screen that's said to reduce glare, offer better color reproduction, and diminished ghosting. However, these "improvements" actually resulted in visible artifacts on the handheld's screen. The flaws aren't visible in most circumstances, and it's not a dealbreaker--but the fact that it's a step backwards is annoying nonetheless.
The PSP 3000 is currently available in several configurations:
Sony PSP 3000 Ratchet and Clank Entertainment Pack (silver): This limited-edition $200 bundle includes a silver PSP 3000, UMD game, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets UMD movie, 1GB Memory Stick Duo card, and a voucher for (a downloadable game available at the online PlayStation Store).
Sony PSP 3000 Ratchet and Clank Entertainment Pack (black): This is the same as above, but in black instead of silver.
Sony PSP 3000 Rock Band Unplugged Bundle (black): This limited-edition $200 bundle includes a black PSP 3000, Rock Band Unplugged UMD game, 4GB Memory Stick Duo card, and a voucher for "School of Rock" (a downloadable movie available at the online PlayStation Store).
Sony PSP 3000 Hannah Montana Bundle (lilac): This limited-edition $200 bundle includes a lilac (purple) PSP 3000, Hannah Montana: Rock Out the Show UMD game, 2GB Memory Stick Duo card, an episode of the Hannah Montana TV series on UMD, and some Hannah Montana stickers.
Sony PSP 3000 Gran Turismo Pack (silver): This limited-edition $200 bundle includes a silver PSP 3000; the game Gran Turismo on UMD; a voucher for a white Chervolet Corvette ZR1 (a downloadable add-on to the Gran Turismo game); a voucher for a downloadable movie from the PlayStation Store; a Sony MusicPass voucher good for 10 downloadable songs from Sony Music; and a 2GB Memory Stick Duo card (available mid-October 2009).
Sony PSP 3000 Core Pack: This "no frills" version includes just a black PSP 3000 for $169.
Note that additional colors and bundles will likely be offered on a periodic basis.
With only a $30 premium, the bundles are a good choice for users who don't already have a Memory Stick Duo card on hand. You'll also want to be sure to pick up a case to protect the PSP's large, exposed screen. (Check out CNET's full list of recommended PSP accessories.)
The PSP 3000 has the same slim dimensions (2.81 inches high by 6.63 inches wide by 0.63 inch deep) and lighter weight (just over 7 ounces--or 200 grams--with the battery, game disc, and Memory Stick on board) as its predecessor.
The 4.3-inch LCD wide screen remains, and it's been tweaked. Sony says the new screen now delivers better color reproduction, reduced glare, and reduced "ghosting" on high-motion scenes. When compared with the 2000, the PSP 3000 does, indeed, deliver better color vibrancy (you can toggle between "wide" and "standard" color in the options to see the difference). As for glare reduction: we didn't find there to be a huge difference. Don't expect to play in direct sunlight, for instance. But you might have better luck with fewer distractions from indoor light sources.
But in its effort to deal with the ghosting issue, Sony's cure may have been worse than the disease. By increasing the screen's refresh rate, the new PSP seems to introduce a variety of video artifacts onto the screen. They appear as scanlines or jaggies, as if the image is interlaced. They're more apparent in high-motion scenes in games and videos--but that's most of the content on the PSP. (A good illustration of the differences in the screen can be seen at Kotaku.)
The silver version of the PSP 3000 has a matte finish, as compared with the shiny piano black finish of the black one. As a result, the silver body is immune to fingerprints and smudges that so easily show up on the black one. Unfortunately, the screen is identical on both--smooth and shiny--and it remains a magnet for fingerprints. As mentioned above, the lack of a clamshell design (as seen on the Nintendo DS and DSi) makes investing in a case as much a necessity for the PSP as it is for an iPod or iPhone.
Aside from a few very minor cosmetic differences, button layout on the PSP 3000 is basically identical to the previous PSP as well. The screen is bordered by controls on its left, right, and bottom side, plus two shoulder buttons along the top edge. The button layout is based on the classic PlayStation controller layout--the four-way directional pad on the left, square, triangle, cross, and circle keys on the right--so anyone who's used a Sony console over the last decade should be able to pick up and play. The bottom left of the front face also houses an analog thumbstick, for more precise movement. (A second thumbstick on the right, mimicking the design of the PlayStation controller, would've been a welcome addition.) More mundane media controls line the bottom of the screen: select, start, volume, brightness, and a "home" button. (Some of them are shaped a bit differently than the previous model, and the "home" button now brandishes the PlayStation emblem.)
New to the PSP 3000 is the built-in microphone, located just below the screen. It can be used for online communication, be it within a game or for the PSP's built-in Skype application. The advantage of having the mic integrated into the body is that you can use it with any standard pair of headphones. By contrast, the PSP 2000 required a special headset for communicating online.
The PSP is designed to play games and movies off something called UMDs--Universal Media Discs. We're not sure where Sony got the "universal" part of the name, because the PSP is the only device that plays them. They're sort of a cross between a mini-CD and an old MiniDisc, and they only hold about 2.2GB of data. They load into a snap-open door on the PSP's backside. Sony seems to be moving the PSP to more of a downloadable model for games and video (see the PlayStation Store section, below), so we wouldn't be surprised to see the UMD become more of a legacy medium for the PSP.
The Memory Stick Duo slot remains on the left edge. Like the UMD bay, it's a pry-open cover that slides on rubbery plastic rails. If you're not buying a PSP bundle that includes an MS Duo card (or don't have a spare one from a Sony camera), you'll want to invest in a decently sized one (2GB or better). They're widely available for less than $30 or so, but it's annoying--again--that Sony's gone with its own proprietary format instead of the more widely used (and cheaper) SD standard.
Rounding out the connections: the headphone/AV jack is on the bottom edge. It'll take any standard 3.5mm headphones, as well as special PSP-only AV-out cables for connecting to a TV (see "video output," below). The USB port remains centered on the top edge of the PSP. Sony doesn't include a cable, but it's a standard mini-USB connector, so it's likely that you already have one lying around. The USB connector is flanked by two screw holes that allow for accessories to be firmly attached to its frame. But most people will use the USB port for quick connections to the PC to transfer digital media--photos, music, and video, as well as games and demos available through the online PlayStation Store.
The PSP's interface is known as the Cross Media Bar, or XMB. The original PSP was the first Sony product to use it, and it's since been incorporated into the PlayStation 3 and many other Sony TVs and AV receivers. It's a pretty slick menu system that's generally pretty easy to maneuver through using the D-pad and control buttons. As you get into some of the applications, however, that simplicity can get lost. We wished the Web browser, for instance, was as well-designed as the overall XMB menu system.
If you don't want to use headphones, the PSP has external stereo speakers. They produce decent volume for games and UMD movies, but we've always found the volume on videos that we copy over to the Memory Stick to be a bit less potent.
The PSP includes a 5-volt AC power adapter. It can also be charged via USB, albeit at a slower "trickle" rate. Those interested in USB charging (from a spare iPod adapter or their PC, for instance) would be better advised to get something like the Mad Catz USB Data/Charge Cable, which is readily available for less than $10.