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Playstation Portable most likely a hit

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  • Playstation Portable most likely a hit

    Even if you don't particularly like video games, you'd best resign yourself to what appears certain to anyone who's spent a little time with Sony's new PlayStation Portable:

    This is a gadget that's likely to eventually become a worldwide household hit. That holds true especially if your household includes, as mine does, a young man who grew up with the original PlayStation.

    Yet while the PSP is a dazzling game machine, delivering sharp graphics on a 4.3-inch display and weighing just 10 ounces, it is also a multimedia player designed for music and movies.

    And within the sleek, black plastic shell of this 7-inch by 3-inch wonder, there is Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and a USB 2.0 port for mating with computers.

    The only big drawback is Sony's decision to go with a proprietary format for the PSP's main media: a 1.8-gigabyte disc the size of an Olympic medal. It's dubbed UMD for Universal Media Disc.

    That's what the games come on and Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news) (news - web sites). promises to also deliver Hollywood movies on the discs, though it hasn't said when or offered a lineup.

    The PSP went on sale in Japan this month and won't be available in the United States and Europe until next year. It's likely that the U.S. price will be similar to the $190 the device costs in Japan. That feels like a bargain to anyone who remembers paying more than $299 for the original PlayStation in the mid-1990s.

    But then, the PSP has a competitor this time around in Nintendo (news - web sites)'s DS handheld. Perhaps that's why the PSP is stoked with enough technology to be worth twice its price tag it's got a Memory Stick slot for storing music and photos when the 32 megabytes of onboard memory don't suffice. You'll have to buy the Memory Stick, though.

    There's good news, also, for music fans who prize to open MP3 standard for music. Sony formerly pushed its ATRAC proprietary standard. No longer. The PSP is an MP3 adherent, and its sound quality is quite good.

    If you want to play video that doesn't come on a UMD disc, Sony recommends you buy special $10 computer software that will convert it to the MPEG-4 video format that the PSP and Memory Stick support.

    As for recording your own content for playing on the PSP, Sony hasn't said whether it will sell recordable versions of UMD discs.

    PSP games range in price from $24 to $46, but unfortunately there aren't many yet. About a dozen are available so far in Japan, including "Hot Shots Golf" from Sony Computer Entertainment and "Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower" from Capcom Co.

    Sony says some 100 games are in the works, with about 20 titles promised by the end of the year.

    By contrast, about 15 Nintendo DS games are on sale in Japan so far. But Nintendo DS, which costs about $145, can also play all the Game Boy Advance games.

    In the games I played on the PSP, the attention to detail in the graphics was impressive.

    In scenes from "Ridge Racers" made by Namco Ltd., camera flashes blink from roaring crowds and frothy waves break on sandy beaches. I found myself pushing on the joystick button for steering until my thumb got sore, happily tilting the PSP with the twists and turns as roaring race cars zipped through a swerving course, screeching on corners and sending tire-skidding virtual sparks on the screen.

    The display, from Sharp Corp., is surprisingly easy on the eyes. The removable Lithium Ion battery lasts about four to six hours for games on a single charge. And the built-in 802.11b Wi-Fi chip allows up to 16 PSPs to play together.

    PSP also has a microphone slot for future software with voice-recognition and an infrared connection whose uses aren't yet spelled out.

    My son needed just a few minutes of checking out PSP before deciding he's definitely going to buy one.

    Never mind that he isn't exactly sure how he's going to use its non-game functions (He's already got an iPod, a digital camera, a cell phone and a laptop).

    Don't worry, mom, he said, everybody is going to figure it out.
    - The baby will be back -