Multimedia and online features
The PSP is primarily a gaming device, but it's got some notable media functionality as well.
Wi-Fi: The PSP has built-in Wi-Fi capability, allowing it to connect to any wireless Internet service, including those with WEP and WPA encryption (but not WPA2). One annoyance: the 3000 continues to use the slowest 802.11b version of Wi-Fi. An upgrade to 11g or even 11n is overdue.
Video playback: The PSP can play videos from a variety of sources. The easiest--and most ill-advised--is to buy prerecorded UMD video discs. (With an extremely limited selection, and the fact that the PSP is the only place you can watch them, UMD videos are--not surprisingly--pretty hard to find.) A better option is to copy your own videos from a computer onto a Memory Stick Duo card, and pop it in to the PSP. A variety of freeware and commercial software products can readily convert files to PSP-friendly formats and resolutions (MPEG4 or H.264-AVC, up to 720x480).
LocationFree TV: Built into the PSP is the ability to stream live TV from a Sony LocationFree TV device, which is Sony's take on the Slingbox. As long as the PSP is in a Wi-Fi hot spot, it can stream the video and change the channels on a LocationFree box, even if it's halfway around the world.
Audio playback: The PSP doubles as a decent music player, with the ability to play DRM-free MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, and ATRAC3 files, along with support for album art. Shuffle and repeat modes are supported, along with a visualizer function.
Photo display: The PSP can display JPEG, GIF, and TIFF photos stored on the MS Duo card--individually, or as a slide show. However, larger photos may need to be compressed before viewing.
Skype: As mentioned above, the PSP 3000 has a built-in Skype client, which can be used for free Skype-to-Skype calls as well as calls to and from regular phones (if you invest in paid Skype add-ons). While it's not going to be offering any serious competition to the iPhone (or any other dedicated cell phone), the ability to have full Skype access--without the need for a special headset--could definitely be useful for quick calls home during, say, an overseas trip.
PS3 "Remote Play": The PSP can log into a PlayStation 3 on a home network or via the Web, and stream any video, audio, or photos stored on the PS3.
Web browsing: The PSP has a built-in Web browser, but it's the one place--more than games--where you'll really lament the device's lack of a touch screen (or even a numeric keypad). A lot of graphically rich pages will be cramped or broken on the screen, and the limited Flash support isn't particularly robust (no Flash-based video, for instance). That said, using the analog stick to control the cursor is nice. And for a lot of people, it will be a better mobile Internet experience than they're getting on a phone.
RSS reader: Separate from the Web browser is an RSS reader, but it could use an overhaul to make it easier to use and add your own feeds.
Internet radio: The PSP has a dedicated Shoutcast client that offers free streaming Internet radio. It's just a plug-in that works through the browser. It's overdesigned and not as straightforward or easy to use as it should be, but it works.
Search: There's also a dedicated icon for doing a Google search.
Network update: The PSP has upgradeable firmware, and Sony has been diligent about adding additional features, fixes, and updates every few months. The upgrade is as simple as choosing the option from the system menu.
Invest in an add-on cable (about $16 for the composite or component version), and you can output the PSP's audio and video to a TV. The PSP 3000 corrects an annoying limitation of the 2000 model: now, video playback and gameplay will work on pretty much any TV. With the 2000, gameplay was limited to progressive-scan only via component video--pretty much limiting you to HDTV hookups.
One annoyance remains: video content from UMD discs (prerecorded movies) and Memory Stick (home-ripped videos) can be displayed at DVD-level 720x480 resolutions--though quality will vary depending upon how the compression of the video in question. That will fill the screen on a widescreen HDTV. But games are locked into the PSP's native 480x272 display. So, if your TV doesn't have a robust zoom function, you're stuck with a window-boxed experience for some games.
Accessories and add-ons
The PSP's top-mounted USB port is designed with at least two specific accessories in mind: the PSP camera and the GPS attachment. There are also rumors of a keyboard attachment in the pipeline. Although the camera and GPS add-ons are available internationally, neither one has been officially released in North America.
While its robust media and online functionality are impressive, for most buyers, they'll be decidedly secondary to the PSP's raison d'etre: gaming on the go. Yes, Nintendo's DS remains king of the portable gaming scene in terms of units sold, but plenty of people are looking for more sophisticated (read: less kiddie-oriented) games than the DS offers. And for those who can't abide the oh-so-cute antics of a Pokemon,Cooking Mama, Zelda, Mario, or Animal Crossing title, the PSP will be a welcome breath of fresh air. The graphics on the PSP are noticeably better than those on the DS as well--games are essentially at the level you'd expect on the PlayStation 2.
Early on, the PSP was knocked for being little more than the "PS2 portable," because so many of its titles were simply ports of PlayStation 2 games. And, indeed, its hit list is dominated by many PlayStation franchise standbys, including Grand Theft Auto, SOCOM, Tekken, and God of War (pictured). But many of these are phenomenal titles that have been designed for the PSP from the ground up. Genre strong suits include sports, racing, action, and shooter titles, but it's not all sweat and blood, either--plenty of quirky puzzle games (Lumines, Puzzle Quest, and LocoRoco) are available, as well as a host of family-friendly favorites as well (Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank).
It's also worth noting that many of the PSP games include an online multiplayer component. Some games offer ad hoc multiplayer (peer to peer, for playing against other PSPers in the same room), others offer Internet play, or both. Online gameplay is free, and--while the experience varies from title to title and is dependent on network speed--it can be just as fun and fulfilling as playing on a home console.
PlayStation Network and PlayStation Store
Currently, UMD is still the primary vehicle for delivering games and media to the PSP. But Sony has been expanding the options available on the online PlayStation Store as well. The Store allows users to rent and buy movies and TV shows, and it also allows users to buy downloadable games. (All downloadable content is stored on the Memory Stick Duo.)
Prior to the 5.0 firmware update that coincided with the release of the PSP 3000, getting content from the Store to the PSP was an arduous task--you had to first download your choices to the PC or PS3, then transfer them to the handheld. But that's now a thing of the past: the Store is directly accessible from the PSP's main menu, and everything can be downloaded straight to the PSP at the click of a button.
A single PlayStation Network account can be used for accessing the PlayStation Store, and you can have both a PS3 and PSP on a single account. Indeed, the Store is closely tied to the PS3: movies purchased on that system can be offloaded for viewing on the PSP, for instance.
The fact that the Store is now accessible directly through the PSP puts Sony in a better position to compete with Apple's App Store (which has a growing number of games for the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch) and Nintendo's DSi (which can access the online "DSi Shop" for game downloads). While the online store originally hosted just demos and ports of PlayStation One classics, Sony is now offering games that are no longer published on UMD as well as original download-only games that won't be coming to the UMD format at all. Clearly, the company wants to usher PSP users to a download model. And if you've got a large enough Memory Stick, it's a lot more convenient to have several games available at once on your PSP, instead of carrying around a bunch of clumsy UMD discs.
The PSP 3000 has the same 1,200mAh lithium ion battery as the 2000. (It's removeable and replaceable.) We ran a UMD movie on a fully charged PSP 3000 set at full screen brightness and half volume with the Wi-Fi turned on, and got 4.5 hours of playback time before the battery died. That's within Sony's rated times of 4-5 hours for UMD videos and 4-6 hours for games, and we suspect we'd squeeze a bit more life out of it if we ratcheted down the screen brightness or turned off the Wi-Fi.