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A Sony portable gaming device had been rumoured ever since the original PlayStation proved such a great success, but it took the runaway success of Apple’s digital music player to set the stage for the PlayStation Portable.

In just a couple of years, the man and woman-in-the-street had stopped using ‘Walkman’ as the generic term for a personal stereo, and were instead using ‘iPod’. In Japan, Sony’s MiniDisc format was being destroyed by the iPod’s unstoppable march, and in the West the iPod’s market share reached frankly ridiculous levels. Throughout 2004, around 90 percent of all HD-based digital music players sold in the US were iPods.

With the iPod so rampant, how could Sony reclaim their crown as kings of the portable media device?

Several attempts by Sony to launch direct rivals to the iPod ended in failure, at first because they only supported clunky file formats or relied on buggy and slow software to transfer music, but even when Sony did much to fix those problems, Sony products continued to gather dust on the shelves of electronic stores. Customers were getting out of the habit of buying Sony, and it was clear that the once-great ‘Walkman’ brand wasn’t going to save it.

But Sony still had one card up its sleeve. If the iPod brand was big, the PlayStation brand was even bigger. By 2004, almost 200 million PlayStation and PlayStation 2 consoles had been sold around the world.

Sony’s attempt to merge the PlayStation and a portable media device was first announced at Sony’s pre-E3 press conference in 2003 and the unit itself was first given a hands-on demonstration a year later at E4 2004.

The device led to some confusion at first, as Sony wondered whether to pitch the PSP as a media player that also plays games, or as a handheld gaming device with added multimedia functions.

By late 2004, though, when the the PSP was launched in Japan, there was no such confusion. The PSP was about games.

The Games

As with the original PlayStation, the must-have game at the Japanese launch was Namco’s drift-happy racing game Ridge Racer. By the time the Western launches rolled around, a PSP update to Sony’s futuristic racer Wipeout, called Wipeout Pure, was also released.

My personal favourite of all the early PSP games, though, was Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s brilliant puzzler Lumines.

Major events

2003
13 May: Sony PSP announced
4 November: Prototype PSP design revealed at Sony’s Transform 60 conference

2004
May: First hands-on demonstration of the PSP
12 December: Japanese launch

2005
24 March: North American launch
1 September: European launch

Emulators

Mac OS X

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iOS

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OUYA/Android

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Features

16:9 (widescreen) 480×272,10.9cm TFT LCD
Dual core 32-bit MIPS32R2 processor
32MB RAM, 4MB embedded DRAM
166MHz graphics processor
Proprietary UMD optical disk drive
Built-in 802.11b Wi-Fi networking
Memory Stick Duo support