: PSP Launch Wrapup

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PSP Launch Wrapup

Happy days, dear friends!

Sony's PSP (PlayStation Portable) handheld has finally launched in North America and people are singing its praises far and wide.

For approximately $250, the PSP Value Pack includes the PSP system, a rechargable battery, a 32MB Memory Stick PRO DUO, headphones with remote, a padded carrying case, a wrist strap, a cleaning cloth, and two UMD discs (a demo sampler and the full-length Spider-Man 2 movie). In addition to games and movies, the system can play MP3 music files and MPEG4 video clips from UMD discs or from a Memory Stick. Any PC or Mac can be used to transfer files to a Memory Stick, so long as a USB cable with a mini-B connector or a Magic Gate capable Memory Stick reader is used.

Games are now retailing for between $39.99 and $49.99. In all, there are 17 titles currently available. These are Ape Escape: On The Loose, Darkstalkers Chronicle, Dynasty Warriors, Gretzky NHL, Lumines, Metal Gear ACID, NBA, Need For Speed Underground Rivals, NFL Street 2 Unleashed, Ridge Racer, Spider-Man 2, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix, Twisted Metal: Head On, Untold Legends, WipeOut Pure, and World Tour Soccer.

Over the next few weeks, that number will grow to 24, with the release of Archer Maclean's Mercury, ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails, FIFA Soccer, Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, MLB, MVP Baseball, and Smart Bomb. Other big name titles, such as Hot Shots Golf and Grand Theft Auto, are scheduled to hit shelves by June.

So how did the launch go? Sony had officially stated that it would ship ONE MILLION units to North America for the launch. Many people wondered if that would be enough, or if shortages would be commonplace. From what we've seen, the situation has been a little of both. We've heard from people in Los Angeles and New York that have said their local game stores and mass-retailers are sold out. We've also heard from people in San Francisco, Detroit, and Seattle who have said that most stores have at least two or three, and some have upwards of 20. The bottom line here is that if you want a PSP bad enough, you should be able to find one locally without getting gouged or stooping to Ebay. A fair number of emails we've received have said that stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart have plenty of systems and games in stock.

Of course, there are many naysayers who are already saying that the launch was a failure because the PSP didn't totally sell-out. The Nintendo DS sold out and the PSP didn't. Now who's laughing? True, but let's be clear here--the Nintendo DS shipped with 400,000 units and didn't get a restock for a month. Sony shipped 1,000,000 PSP units for the March 24th launch and plans to make two follow-up shipments in April. We spoke to managers at nearly a dozen EB Games and GameStop stores, as well as with a pair of managers that work for the Best Buy chain, and they all said the same thing, "We're not sold out, but they keep selling as fast as we can bring them out from the back room."

We've been told that most people buying a PSP are buying it with at least one or two game purchases. According to early sales data from EB Games and GameStop, the four most popular games right now are Untold Legends, Spider-Man 2, WipeOut Pure, Twisted Metal, and Ridge Racer. The store managers we spoke with also said that 256MB and 512MB Memory Sticks were flying off shelves, likely to people who intend to use the PSP as a media player.

As for problems and complaints, the two most common barbs we've been hearing are with regards to dead/stuck pixels and battery life. Sony has told retailers not to take back units that have dead or stuck pixels, since that is a common problem inherent to LCD screens. However, many retailers are swapping out systems as a courtesy. Additionally, most retailers offer replacement plans for a fee that will allow you to replace your system no questions asked for a period of one or two years. Considering Sony's track record for first-run hardware, we highly recommend people invest in a replacement plan. Yes, it is money thrown down the drain, but it's also peace of mind if 9 months down the line the disc tray jams or the screen develops entire lines of dead pixels.

We've also been hearing complaints from owners of Twisted Metal: Head On, who have said that the online mode is unreliable and full of lag. "I get dropped in the middle of matches," said one reader. "My connection strength is 84% and I can only pull up the lobby menu," said another. When we asked Sony's media relations people about it, they confirmed that they were aware of the network issues with Twisted Metal and should have them ironed out in a day or two.

In a battery-related development this week, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan revealed that all games currently released and under development for the PSP have been restricted to using the CPU at 66% of its rated clock speed--222 MHz instead of 333 MHz--in an effort to cut down on battery drain. Company spokespeople have said that future games can begin using the full 333 MHz speed once higher-capacity batteries go on sale. No word yet on when that will be, but it's nice to know that (A) the games haven't hit the ceiling of the hardware, and (B) that Sony is working on a battery with more longevity.

All in all, we'd call the PSP launch an unmitigated success. Sony shipped A TON of units and a nice lineup of software, and although the company can't claim a "sell out," they can claim nearly a million satisfied people who were able to purchase PSPs without dealing with long lines, pre-orders, and forced bundles.

To read more about the PSP and its games, check out our extensive previews and reviews sections.

3/25/2005 Frank Provo

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