Sony PSP £180
15th Nov 2007 | 00:00
Sony's successful failure is still a decent video player
Check out our review of the PSP's follow-up console:PS Vita review
Movie playback is often considered a secondary function to gaming for Sony's handheld console, but its oft-revered screen was specifically chosen for its video ability.
Add to this the fact that it's the most widely owned portable video player after the iPod and that there's a huge catalogue of movies available on its proprietary UMD disc format, and you've got an important portable video device.
First thing to consider is which model of PSP. The second edition, aka Slim, that started doing the rounds very recently is, well, slimmer, has an improved battery life and can be hooked up to a TV (if you splash out more on a special cable), but it's also almost 50 per cent more expensive - not far behind the 80Gb iPod.
You can, however, net a first-generation PSP like this for as little as £90 now, making it great value.
However, you have to factor in the additional cost of either UMD movies - after a disastrously overpriced first couple of years, most of the back catalogue can now be found for well under a tenner each - or a Memory Stick Pro Duo or six.
Similarly, Memory Stick prices continue to fall off a cliff, with 2Gb now as cheap as £16 online, so this isn't a vast expense, unless you do intend on matching the 30Gb of some of the other players around.
UMDs offer the best possible image quality for the PSP. Despite the 480 x 272 resolution being lower than that of the best-specced players, the super-high bitrate a full 1.8Gb UMD produces images that are largely free of artifacts and colour banding.
Coupled with the excellent-quality screen, you'll find a UMD movie on PSP will look much better than a 720 x 480 movie file on other players. Poor sales of UMDs - largely because of their laughable original pricing - means that they're living on borrowed time in terms of sustained new releases, but there's enough of them in the wild to keep you occupied for a while.
The other option is running movies off a memory stick, which requires either acquiring them encoded in the right format already, or using third-party (such as the free PSP Video 9) applications to convert existing videos.
It's a bit of a pain, but the results are good. Initially, Sony had limited the resolution of videos run from memory stick, but a recent firmware update now enables access to the full 480 x 272. As with the iPod, the sheer number of folk who own a PSP means that, should you choose to throw morality and legality to the wind, you won't have to search far to find a ton of pre-formatted video online.
If you can stomach the proprietary formats and faffing about with removeable media, the PSP's a pleasing device as a video player. It looks and feels good, and sports an elegant menu system. The screen's spectacular given the relatively low resolution, although its glossy cover makes it unusable in direct sunlight.
It also handles music and photos, and includes a web browser. Given its infamously unimpressive games library, it's turned out to be far better media device than it is a handheld console.