When you turn the PSP on you're greeted by the XMB or Cross (X) Media Bar GUI. Here you'll find a plethora of icons to investigate, all of which give you a good idea of what the PSP is capable of. If you have a UMD game disc inserted, you'll get a preview of the game when you highlight the UMD icon - this is a pretty cool feature and saves you having to eject the disc to see what game is loaded.
There's been some discussion about the long load times on the PSP, and you obviously do find yourself waiting more than you would on a cartridge based machine. But you're not left waiting for too long, and when the game does start, you'll realise that the wait was worth it. I got a copy of Ridge Racers with my PSP, and any PlayStation fan will know that Ridge Racer titles have accompanied every Sony console so far.
When I fired up Ridge Racers for the first time, I let it run through the introduction movie, and I was amazed at the graphics before me. But when I actually launched a game, I realised that Sony had achieved something very special with the PSP - it had managed to place a PlayStation 2 in the palms of my hands. The graphics on Ridge Racers are fantastic and just wipe the floor with any other handheld game I've seen. There's also an incredible feeling of speed when you're driving and some nice motion blur effects thrown in for good measure. Considering that Ridge Racers is a first-generation title, it's fair to say that the PSP games are just going to get better and better.
The graphics shouldn't get all the credit though, because the sound is equally impressive. The integrated stereo speakers do their best to create an immersive sound stage, but you really need to plug in some headphones to get the true aural effect. The Value Pack also comes with a set of official Sony PSP headphones, complete with inline remote control, so that base is well covered.
But the PSP is so much more than just a gaming machine. From the XMB graphical user interface, you can gain access to a whole host of other features. The most impressive feature has to be the MPEG 4 movie playback. If you have a large enough MemoryStick Duo card, you could copy a whole movies to it and use the PSP to view it. To test this function SanDisk kindly supplied me with a 1GB MemoryStick Duo Pro card. Unfortunately, all video has to be converted before the PSP can play it back, but you can download a free file converter - it's in Japanese, but you should be able to find detailed English instructions with a little help from Google.
The conversion process is remarkably quick, and then it's just a matter of copying the MPEG 4 file over to your MemoryStick Duo card in your PSP. This can be done in two ways, you can either connect the PSP to your PC via USB - it will then be seen as a removable drive - or you can place the card into a card reader and copy the file over. The video playback is excellent, and makes good use of the fabulous screen. Of course the quality of the video is dependant on the original footage, but if you rip your (legally owned) DVDs and convert them, the PSP will make a very high quality mobile movie machine.
Another way to show off the screen is to transfer digital photos to your MemoryStick. The PSP is great for showing slide-shows, and you can view the images in standard 4:3 ratio, with bars down the side, or you can make them fill the whole widescreen. The latter option doesn't stretch the image, instead it crops it to fit the screen shape - you can then move the picture around to decide which bits you're happy to have cropped and which bits you definitely want to see.
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