PSP Firmware – doin’ it right ways?

When I got my PSP, the prevoius owner had it at Firmware 3.5, AKA the Magic Number. If I recall correctly, that was the latest firmware to have a simple .exe downgrader for those interested in homebrew. This is why fate coxed me into immediately upgrading the system before learning this fact, thus sticking me with firmware 3.71, AKA you need Pandora’s Battery. I vowed to leave the firmware alone at this point, hoping that in a year or so someone would finally get around to hacking the newer firmwares.

Then Sony came out with Firmware 3.8 this week, and I immediately broke my promise. This update actually has some new features, and I am hear to report as best I can.

The main draw is a new feature for Internet Radio. This is a pretty great idea; as more and more music players feature radio support, this allows the PSP to stay a little more relevant as a music device (though it still can’t beat a dedicated player until it boasts playlist support). The radio feature has pros and cons. The obvious con is that this is internet radio, meaning you can’t listen in if you aren’t near an access point. Shitty, but it isn’t like the console has a radio tuner built in. Also, it can be a bit slow to load depending on how strong your connection is.

The rest is pretty solid. There are two “stations” you can use to serve the music, and despite Sony’s history as consumer hating, DRM abusing members of the RIAA, the stations have their tunes provided via Shoutcast and Icecast. Raise your hand if you expected this instead of the sparse lists of bland stations that you might find in something like Windows Media Player. I see the room is empty. One point for Sony.

Each station actually loads up as a web app, looking like the picture you see here. Once you pick a genre, you can tune to various stations within it until you find one you like. Once you do, that will be the default station for the genre. The apps also provide visual cues as to how clear the station will come in, and they also feature some cute distortion effects that make it seem like you are moving between the bands on an actual radio. If this feature wasn’t tied to a wireless access point, I would be in heaven with this update, but as it stands I see it having limited use. Still, it is a great new feature that I will have to experiment with (for example, can I add other stations that I know of? I would be very pleased to get access to Classical KUSC).

The other big feature of this update is better support for Remote Play from a Playstation 3. What makes this such big news is not the number of PS3 titles you can now play, but from the news that you can use Remote Play to play PS1 games. While this might cannibalize Sony’s attempt to sell downloadable PS1 classics, it is nice for to see the consumer win for a change. The only problem I see with this is the fact that the PSP is missing two shoulder buttons, though it there is some way around this I have yet to think of, then this is one more tempting reason to eventually invest in a PS3. Playing my favorite PS1 games on the go via the magic of the internets is a connectivity feature I never would have dreamed of back when Nintendo was trying to get me to drink the Gamecube/GBA Kool-Aid. Now I hope they do something clever with the DS and the Wii. Two popular systems with enough horsepower for something, each with their own innovative control twist. Am I missing something here?

Back to the PSP. If Sony can continue to offer smart, unexpected new functoinality to their consoles, it will go a long way towards pleasing the userbase, and may even persuade some brand new purchases. Could Sony be wisening up for a change? I shudder at the thought.

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