Sony released a new firmware update for the PlayStation Portable yesterday, fleshing out the device's multimedia functionality a bit further. Home-brew hackers may want to sit this one out--at least until a workaround is discovered sometime in the next week--but the majority of the new features should be welcomed by owners. Sony's first Web-downloadable demo, for the offbeat and infectious Loco Roco, requires that the system carry 2.70 software.
The most highly touted new feature in the firmware is the ability to play Web-based Flash content. The player included in the update is version 6--the current standard is 8--which makes viewable content hit or miss. Our videos and the rotating feature images on the CNET main page, for example, require version 7 at the very minimum. On the PSP, the Flash images and movies change to text and still images, respectively. Some sites seem to mix and match Flash versions, which makes compatibility even more haphazard. We were psyched to see a Strong Bad e-mail start up, only to stop playing when the scene changed. We also noted that the flash player struggled to work with compatible content, as Strong Bad's typed response chugged out in full words rather than the smooth tapestry of letters that normally flows from his laptop. Adding to the Flash woes is the lack of a suitable keyboard emulator on the PSP, rendering most Flash games unplayable.
The other major addition to the PSP is the ability to download RSS audio feeds (such as podcasts). Version 2.6 had added the ability to stream podcasts, but the new firmware allows you to download them in MP3 format so that you get the same functions as with music files--random podcast shuffle! The download process is simple, even for this podcasting newb; you can choose to download a number of recent shows or scan through a recent archive and pick your program. The process is fairly quick--a 30-minute Buzz Out Loud 'cast took a hair less than 3 minutes to download. The PSP actually has something of a podcasting advantage, as it downloads the shows wirelessly while most iPod owners have to tether themselves to a computer. Of course, the iPod does have a slight maximum storage lead at 60GB vs. 2, so don't expect to start hearing the term PSP-casting entering the Internet vernacular any time soon.
There are a few other additions of note in this update. Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) audio files are now playable--assuming they're home-ripped and free of the FairPlay DRM found on ones purchased from Apple's iTunes Music Store--and you can toggle auto or manual connection settings within the Internet browser. You can also toggle the to automatically adjust image quality based on bandwidth. Finally, an option to disable shoulder-button chapter skips during UMD movies has been added--the dying format may be saved just yet!