Games are going small in a big way, with both Sony and Nintendo announcing powerful new handheld gaming devices on the eve of last week’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo).
Sony fired the first shot in its battle with Nintendo’s popular Game Boy Advance in the portable gaming arena by unveiling specifications for its PlayStation Portable (PSP) unit.
Nintendo managed to steal a bit of Sony’s thunder by announcing its dual-screen portable system, code-named Nintendo DS, would ship in the US by year’s end. Neither company revealed pricing for the upcoming units.
Sony said the PSP would offer top-notch graphics and audio, in a sleek portable black package that measured 17cm x 7.5cm x 2.5cm. The device sports a full-colour 10.75cm, 16:9 wide-screen LCD display; built-in stereo speakers; 32MB of main memory plus 4MB of embedded memory; and a lithium ion battery that should run about 10 hours between charges.
“Now we have the ability to bring 3D console experiences to a mobile platform,” president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, Kaz Hirai, said.
The device’s clear screen and sharp 3D graphics drew audible gasps from the gaming professional audience during onstage demonstrations of upcoming games.
Hirai said that 99 game publishers were already working on titles for the PSP. Gaming giant, Electronic Arts, has also pledged to have four titles ready in time for the launch.
New media appears
Games will appear on Sony’s new Universal Media Disc (UMD) media, a 60mm optical disc technology that’s smaller than a standard CD but can contain up to 1.8GB of data. The company also plans to offer music, movies, and other entertainment content via UMD media in the near future.
The PSP will support Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo storage media.
The PSP will offer a handful of connectivity options, including built-in 802.11b wireless, USB 2.0, and infrared, so Sony can offer downloadable content. Planned peripherals include USB cameras, external battery packs, and Global Positioning System equipment.
Hirai acknowledged Nintendo’s current dominance in the handheld market, but said Sony expected the PSP to become a serious contender in a short amount of time.
“The PlayStation Portable is a brand-new technology and a totally new play experience,” he said. “It enters a crowded market, but one with plenty of growth opportunities.”
Nintendo strikes first
Sony may be the big dog in the console market, but Nintendo is the clear leader in mobile gaming. Company executives said that this wasn’t the first time a competitor had challenged Nintendo in the mobile market, but pointed out that nine of nine had failed to succeed.
“As a 10th serious competitor makes a run at Game Boy, we’re raising the bar before they even get started,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s executive vice-president, pointing to the company’s upcoming dual-screen unit. “This redefines portable entertainment.”
The main innovation of the Nintendo DS was its dual 3-inch displays, which would offer users multiple perspectives, depending upon the game, he said.
In some instances a single image stretches across both screens, while in others the player can view two different perspectives at once.
The DS will also feature touch-screen capabilities, the first-ever handheld to do so, a built-in microphone and a long list of connectivity options, including a proprietary wireless standard that will let up to 16 users connect to wage multiplayer games at a distance of up to 30 feet.
The unit would also feature built-in 802.11b wireless for Internet gaming, he said.
Nintendo won’t use optical media for the DS, instead opting for a new, proprietary solid-state media that the company said would offer up to 1GB of storage. In addition to games, Nintendo plans to offer its own multimedia content on the media. A second slot on the DS will accept today’s Game Boy Advance games, ensuring full backward compatibility.
In terms of sheer graphics power, Nintendo’s offering won’t compete with Sony’s PSP.
“Tech specs don’t matter,” president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, said. “The time when horsepower alone made an important difference is over, and from this time forward we must create unprecedented experiences.”