How the PlayStation Portable Works

Photo courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.

The Sony PlayStation 2 has become a mainstay in the living rooms of video game players around the world. With the PSP (PlayStation Portable), Sony took its first step into the portable, handheld video game arena.

With devices like the Nokia N-Gage, the Nintendo Game Boy Advance and Nintendo's newest handheld, the DS, on the market, the PSP faces stiff competition. But with its widescreen display, powerful graphics and ability to do more than play games, the PSP still stands out in the crowd. In this article, we'll learn what sets the PSP apart when it comes to gaming on the go.


PSP Innovations

PSP, Sony Memory Stick Duo and UMD optical disc
PSP, Sony Memory Stick Duo and UMD optical disc
Photo courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.

Sony practically invented the world of portable electronics when it released the Sony Walkman audio cassette player in 1979. When it came time to design a portable gaming system, Sony wasn't content to replicate what had come before: Typical handheld game systems are a few generations behind the cutting edge of home console gaming -- the Nintendo DS is about as powerful as a Nintendo 64, which came out in 1996. But the PSP has the same amount of CPU power as the full-size PlayStation 2.

The first thing most people notice about the PSP is the widescreen monitor that takes up practically the entire width of the device. The screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio and features a 480x272-pixel TFT-LCD screen (thin-film transistor liquid-crystal display -- also known as an active-matrix LCD).


Sony has also designed an all-new format for the medium that carries games, movies and other information for use on the PSP. Universal Media Discs (UMD) are 60-mm optical discs that hold up to 1.8 gigabytes (GB) of information. Sony reports that the UMD cartridge was designed to be manufactured quickly and for lower costs than earlier, lower-capacity portable media.

Earlier game systems, both portable and console-based, have split different functions into separate processors, such as a processor for graphics and a processor for mathematical calculations. The PSP takes this concept to another level: It features a main central processing unit (CPU), a media processor, a 3-D graphics processor, a security processor to prevent piracy and a final processor to manage power and conserve battery life.

Sony PlayStation 2
Sony PlayStation 2

In one area, the PSP does not diverge from what has come before. The portable system features the buttons that are familiar to PlayStation players, and all the controls are mounted to the ergonomically designed body of the unit.

PSP Features and Specifications

Photo courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.

Here's a rundown of the PlayStation Portable's technical specifications:

  • Widescreen, backlit 4.3-inch (10.9 centimeters) TFT LCD monitor with 16:9 aspect ratio and 480x272 resolution
  • MIPS R4000-based 333-MHz CPU
  • Graphics sub-system running at 166 MHz on a 512-bit bus with 2 MB of DRAM, rendering 664 million pixels per second and 35 million polygons per second
  • Graphics engine supporting directional 16- or 32-bit color, lighting, clipping, environment projection and texture mapping, fogging, alpha blending, depth and stencil tests, vertex blending for morphing-style effects, and dithering (Source: Hot Chips conference at Stanford University)
  • Media processor using another 2 MB of DRAM
  • 3-D graphics processing using NURBS (Nonuniform Rational B-Splines) as well as conventional polygon rendering
  • USB 2.0 port, Memory Stick port, Universal Media Disc slot, stereo headphone jack and WiFi wireless LAN port
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries
  • Weight: 280 grams (9.9 ounces)
  • Dimensions: 17 x 7.4 x 2.3 cm (6.7 x 2.9 x 0.9 inches)


PSP Games

UMD game cartridge
UMD game cartridge
Photo courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.

At the system's initial launch in Japan in December 2004, six games were available for the portable device: Ridge Racers, Armored Core - Formula Front, Minna no Golf Portable, Lumines, Mah-Jong Fight Club and Vampire Chronicle - The Chaos Tower. At the Tokyo Game Show, several other games were previewed, including another chapter in the Metal Gear franchise and more racing from the Need for Speed line.

An additional 24 titles were released in time for the 2005 U.S. debut, includeding World Tour Soccer, Wipeout Pure, Twisted Metal: Head-On, Spider-Man 2, NBA and Ape Escape.


There are over 75 games currently available or coming soon to the PSP, including entries from favorite franchises Grand Theft Auto and Twisted Metal. Included among several Electronic Artsreleases are PSP versions from the EA Sports line-up. The PSP will not be able to play PlayStation or PlayStation 2 games.

The wireless LAN connection enables users to download Web-based games and content.

PSP Competitors

Photo courtesy

Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Advance SP

The Game Boy gaming system from Nintendo comes in two flavors, with the SP version adding rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, a front-lit screen and a new design that features a flip-up panel. Both versions play older Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges. The PSP can't play PlayStation or PlayStation 2 games.

The Game Boy Advance has a few accessories designed to integrate the system into Nintendo's product line and add some creative options for game designers. Special cables allow two Game Boys to link together, and a separate cable can create a connection to a Nintendo GameCube. The PSP utilizes a USB 2.0 port for connections to PlayStations, PCs and other devices.


Nokia N-Gage

Finnish mobile telecommunications giant Nokia dove headfirst into the portable gaming arena with the N-Gage, a device that specializes in multi-player gaming. The N-Gage allows users to face off against other N-Gage owners via wireless Bluetooth technology or through Nokia's N-Gage Arena network. The N-Gage is more than a gaming system, though. It can also act as an MP3 player, a cell phone or a wireless Web browser.

Photo courtesy

Although Sony plans to add functions that take advantage of wireless technology, the PSP is not the full-fledged, portable multimedia platform that the N-Gage is. The PSP is a system dedicated to gaming.

Nintendo DS

Sony's biggest competition is likely to come from Nintendo's newest portable system, the Nintendo DS. Sporting a retail price of $149.99, the DS features two screens, one of which is a touch-sensitive pad like you'd find on a laptop. The screens can also be used for innovative game design, showing different information on each of the screens.

Nintendo DS
Nintendo DS
Photo courtesy Nintendo of America, Inc.

The DS ships with a program for chatting and sharing simple drawings with other users via wireless connections, and many of the DS games have a multiplayer component using WiFi. A separate slot allows the DS to play Game Boy Advance cartridges.

The Nintendo DS is a featherweight when it comes to raw computing power. The PSP is a vastly more powerful gaming machine. The PSP also has that impressive wide screen, which boasts a higher resolution than the screens on the Nintendo DS.

For more information on the PlayStation Portable, other gaming systems and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

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  • DigitalBackSpin: PSP Information
  • The Register: Sony Playstation Portable pics pop up on web
  • Sony PlayStation Press Release: PSP
  • IGN: PSP
  • Pocket Calculator: Walkman History 101
  • Nintendo Game Boy Advance
  • Nokia N-Gage
  • Cray, Inc.
  • The Register: Sony talks up PlayStation Portable's chips
  • The Guru of 3D: Sony details PlayStation Portable's chips
  • GamesIndustry: Sony reveals PSP translation software, wireless multiplayer