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Sony PSP (1000)

Sony aims to take handheld gaming to the next level with the PSP.

Sony PSP

First unveiled at 2004's E3 show and already available in Japan, Sony's long-awaited and heavily hyped PSP, a.k.a. the PlayStation Portable, will finally be released in the United States on March 24. Unlike the Nintendo DS, the PSP is more than a gaming machine--it also plays music and movies. In addition to the handheld console itself, the $249 PSP Value Pack will include a 32MB Memory Stick Duo card, headphones, an in-line remote, a slip-case, and a sampler disc (in the PSP's proprietary Universal Media Disc, or UMD, format) containing movie clips, music, and game demos. The first million units will also include the full Spider-Man 2 movie on a second disc.

Upside: The PSP has rich graphics and sound that raise the bar for handheld gaming. Other impressive features include a 16:9 wide-screen aspect ratio (480x272; 4.3 inches diagonal), a built-in Memory Stick Duo slot, and Wi-Fi. USB 2.0 is onboard, as well as 32MB of memory. The PSP's controller looks and feels similar to the PS2's, so PlayStation fanboys can jump right into the action.

Downside: The large screen is gorgeous, but this "portable" gaming device is a bit bulky--and $100 more than Nintendo's DS. Also, early reports from Japan indicate a fairly short battery life, as well as some quality control issues (dead pixels and dodgy buttons, for instance). Finally, it uses yet another proprietary Sony format, which is similar in size to MiniDisc. At 1.8GB, it has more than enough capacity, but why not just use mini-DVDs or large Memory Sticks instead?

Outlook: With an affordable $249 price tag and an impressive slate of launch titles, the PSP could very well herald a tectonic shift in portable gaming. And with its impressive media capabilities--and rumors of a gaggle of compatible accessories (cameras, keyboards, GPS add-ons, and so forth) in the pipeline--it seems that Apple's iPod is just as much in Sony's crosshairs as Nintendo's DS.

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