In the process of staightening up some clutter in the living room, I packed several small boxes with my family’s VHS collection and brought it to the basement. I didn’t even bother dusting them off. Not even two weeks later, I find myself digging through them in a search of a copy of The Thief and the Cobbler that I didn’t even know was there (and if you have ever derived the emotion that humans call joy from watching beautiful animation, you should go watch some clips). As I foraged further, I found myself unconsciously making a stack to”keep.” The bargain hunter instinct that lies at the reptilian side of my brain had awakened, not above the familiar and faintly moldy smell of a quarter bin or the sticky, unorganized Game Boy carts lying in a cardboard box at a GameStop; but at home with items that I already owned. I carried the stack back to the bedroom and the last functioning VCR in the house, where my wife and I watched washed-out episodes of The Muppet Show and only slightly distorted Godzilla movies.
So it seemed like kismet this morning when I awoke to a new firmware for Sony’s PlayStation Portable, version 5.00. Not because of the updated PlayStation Store (more on that below), but because of a feature I wasn’t even aware was coming. PlayStation 1 games can now be played full-screen and in interlace mode, which means that if you can connect your PSP to a television, you can now play games on it. The previous set-up was less than ideal; because the PSP natively outputs in progressive scan and at a resolution that can’t be easily doubled, you could only play games when connected to an HD set, and in a windowed resolution. The window I can deal with, since the image is still much larger than the PSP screen, but I don’t have ready access to an HD set, which means I’ve used the feature all of three times. This is just the excuse I’ve been looking for to re-download the Japanese PS1 games I’ve bought. Now I can see what happens when I transfer my Symphony of the Night and Policenauts saves over to Metal Gear Solid (mwahaha).
The PlayStation Store update itself is pretty substantial. I was anticipating that Sony might lock out games by region, while secretly hoping that I’d be able to access US and Japanese content at once, but instead found a happy medium. You can still only assign one PlayStation Network ID to a PSP at a time, but I was able to sign in to the Japanese store, download a game (in this case Cotton Original) and start playing, all while waiting on line at Panera. It’s a long-promised convienience that Sony has finally delivered on… just weeks before Nintendo launches a new iteration of the DS that will do the same. The timing could have been better, but Sony’s weak postion at retail allows them to up the ante; they announced at TGS that future first-party releases will not only be availible on UMD and downloadable formats day-and-date, but the downloads will actually be cheaper than thier physical counterparts. Goodbye, needless plastic and packaging!
I must admit I’m a fairweather PSP fan, but I’m amazed at how Sony has managed to reinvent the machine through firmware updates every six months or so. For all its weaknesses, the handheld has remained versatile enough to carve out its own niche in the a market that has been dominated by Nintendo for almost two decades. Their new focus on digital distribution may be the desperate attack of a cornered fox, but it’ll keep their software library alive long after scratched discs and newer, flashier games would have relegated them to dusty basement status. These diamonds no longer need to be concealed in the rough, but allowed to shine.