New consoles are always expensive, but I don’t remember even seeing an uproar on the scale that the PSP is getting for its $250 price tag in the US. For some reason people seem completely averse to paying that amount of money for a portable, no matter how much technology it’s carrying inside that little plastic shell. Admittedly your average $300 home console is more powerful than the PSP at launch, but it also doesn’t have size and weight as a real issue (miniaturisation doesn’t come cheap), usually can’t use an existing storage format, and doesn’t have to pack its own display. When people stick their new console into their $2,000 HDTV they tend not to factor that into the price.
From what I’ve seen of it the PSP is comparable to the PS2 with regard to power, and you can get one of the new PStwos for $99. If you’ve seen one of those you’ll probably agree that it’s pretty amazing how small they managed to make the hardware, but for the PSP they got something similar into around a quarter of the size. It’s also the only machine to use the UMD as storage which had to be developed from scratch, and so it needs to cover the cost of R&D on that. The mechanisms on it are probably only modified MiniDisc hardware (another proprietary Sony format), but adapting a high-speed optical drive for a new format is more complicated than Nintendo’s steady-state cartridges that all their handhelds have used.
Of course, there’s “that” screen. Seriously, the PSP display is one of the nicest ones I’ve ever seen. It puts any other portable console that I’ve seen to shame and it’s better than many portable DVD players that cost a similar price. The colour and clarity is better than I’ve seen on a lot of expensive laptops, and for something of the PSP’s size it’s absolutely massive. If nothing else, Sony has set the standard there.
Why is it that people will think nothing of spending $300 on an iPod and yet $250 for something which does a lot more is too much? Admittedly it doesn’t play MP3s as well as the iPod or with as much storage, but it plays high quality videos very well (the PSP and the Revenge of the Sith trailer were made for each other) and from what I’ve heard, UMD movies look even better, pan-and-scan aside. You can view your photos on it at a size and quality far preferable to that of the iPod Photo, and of course you can play PSP games. It suffers somewhat from “jack of all trades” syndrome in that it does everything adequately and nothing spectacularly, but it’s incredibly impressive what they’ve crammed into it. Bear in mind that the firmware can be upgraded to give features beyond the initial capabilities (web browsing via wi-fi is supposedly on the way) and it gives the PSP the potential to give even more for what I feel is a very reasonable price.
Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m used to paying the equivalent of $500+ for a console depending on the exchange rates, but I can’t help but laugh at people calling it too expensive in the same way that I want to punch them when I hear Americans complaining about the “ridiculous” $2/gallon fuel prices (we pay over $6/gallon) as they trundle along in their 9mpg SUV. But that’s another story.