Sony Corp. on Thursday introduced its PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld video game console to North American customers. The device has been available in Japan since 2004, but today marks its debut in the lucrative and large North American market. Sony estimates that it has shipped about 1 million of the game systems to retailers in expectation of today’s launch.
Many retailers celebrated the launch by opening their doors at midnight or several hours early, depending on what their mall facilities or local regulations permitted. And retailers throughout North America are expecting a steady flow of hardcore gamers and early adopters anxious to get their hands on the system, many of whom have already pre-ordered and pre-paid for their PSPs.
The PSP is more than just a video game system — it’s been described by one Sony executive as an entertainment “Swiss Army Knife,” capable of playing movies, listening to music and viewing digital photos. The device features built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking, the ability to exchange data with a Macintosh or PC using USB 2.0, and a flash memory slot compatible with Sony’s Memory Stick Duo format.
The PSP supports a new optical disc media format created by Sony called Universal Media Disc, or UMD. The discs are not just be used for games but also for movies — in fact, the first million PSPs that go out to consumers in North America will include a UMD version of the movie Spider-Man 2. For now, UMD is a read-only format.
The PSP has already proven successful in Japan, selling more than 1.2 million units since its release on December 12, 2004, and Sony is expecting similar success in North America. The company has stated plans to increase production to keep up with demand by mid-year.
In this market, Sony’s chief competition is Nintendo, a company that has dominated handheld gaming since the introduction of its first Game Boy console in 1989. Nintendo recently released the DS, a dual-screen version of the Game Boy that features a stylus and a touch-sensitive screen. The PSP is also expected to compete for some entertainment dollars with Apple’s iPod, despite the Memory Stick Duo’s relatively limited storage capacity and the PSP’s shorter battery life.
Already, enterprising shareware developers have created software that enable Mac users to synchronize data to their PSPs — iPSP and PSPWare are two such examples. Sony has also suggested it has plans to introduce its own PSP data backup and synchronization software for PCs and Macs at some point in the future.