My experience with the PlayStation Store (PC)

This post was originally written on the City In The Clouds blog.

This isn’t a review or an in-depth analysis. I just liked to get that out of the way before dispensing with some brief and concise thoughts and opinions on the availability of the PlayStation Store on the PC. Shall we begin?

Firstly, the availability of the PlayStation Store on the PC is very welcome. I had been growing increasingly frustrated that only PS3 users were able to download PSone games to their PSP. Now that the store is here though, I find my thoughts on it somewhat divided.

Whilst I now don’t feel as much as a second class PSP citizen (due to not owning a PS3), I have to admit that the site runs like Linford Christie… slipping on a banana skin. That’s just not well at all, if you need telling. It is sooo slow, which is unbelievable. Neither am I keen on the design- looks almost crude, if that makes sense.

Buying games is easy enough, if you have already have a PlayStation account. As is the download process to your PSP which is done via a special PSP download client. The other content is free, but sparse. That goes for the store as a whole (in the UK anyway), in that there is not really much there. Simply put more on there and the people will come. The store has great potential, I figure it just needs time for more content, but to be honest this should have been available a lot sooner.

The games are a different matter; I have purchased one PSP game and an original PSone game. My conclusions? Find out next time…

PSP Firmware 3.70 in-depth

Forget firmware 3.60, this is the real deal! You may recall a while back now, I recommended that firmware update 3.51 was pointless. Therefore, I have now upgraded my system from 3.50 to 3.70, and I’m expecting a large number of new features with such a version jump in the firmware. What’s going to make a look at this firmware interesting, is that I’ll be looking at the changes on an original PSP (PSP-1000). Let’s get cracking…

When updating, you’re presented with the following change log:

  • You can now set custom themes in [Theme Settings] under [Settings].
  • Support has been added for assigning buttons in [Remote Play].
  • A scene search feature has been added under [Video].
  • Sequential playback is now supported under [Video].
  • Simultaneous playback of content under [Music] and [Photo] is now supported.

However I want to see exactly how this works, and whether there’s more features (as I never installed 3.60). I’ll start from right-to-left, beginning with [Network]. The 1st thing I notice is a new funky orange and black logo for PlayStation Spot. What is PlayStation Spot? It’s a wifi spot set up by Sony in certain public locations for you to download game demos, trailers etc. Anyhow, on the PSP, clicking on PlayStation Spot creates a new wifi connection: ‘PS Spot’. Apparently, if you are in range of a PlayStation Spot, you will also be able to access the Internet for free and browse the web, and even play multiplayer games in infrastructure mode. So that’s the PSP Spot.

Moving to [Game], I thought I could delete the 3.70 file, and quickly move onto exploring what else is new. However, on hitting [triangle] to bring up the menu…something has changed. On the menu, I can either start the update, delete it, or find out information about it. However, on the ’start’ option, there is a graphical PSP ’start’ button. I’m guessing the aim of this change is to expose extra functionality, and different, perhaps easier ways of doing things. Anyhow, there’s nothing else new under [Game].

Onto [Video], as I hover over a particular video for a while, a little guide pops up in the bottom-right corner of the screen saying ‘[triangle] options’. Which again, is exposing functionality that may not be obvious to a new PSP owner. On hitting [triangle], there is again another graphical PSP ’start’ button next to ‘play’. So, I hit ‘play’ and immediately as the video started another pop up guide says ‘[triangle] control panel’. Looking at the control panel, the PSP system again exposes secondary button options that you can operate without using the control panel such as play/pause, next scene etc…

THE coolest new feature under video is ‘Scene Search’. It is a revelation; simplicity itself to use, and very very useful. It appears as a new icon top-right of the control panel, or alternatively you can hit [square]. What it does is dynamically create scenes into the videos you’re watching which is very, very handy. You can press up or down to select anything from 15 second intervals to 5 minutes (on a short video), and left and right to ’scene search’. I’ll now try the same with a UMD film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, which is a shame because some UMD films don’t have a chapter menu, meaning you have to keep hitting [R] once you’re watching the film. Anyhow, the ’scene search’ still undoubtedly a very nifty feature.

I’ll now cover both [Music] and [Photo] together, as they now share a new, very cool feature. Now, I’ve known for sometime now that if you hit the ‘home’ button, you can jump out of the current track you’re playing, and you can view other songs you might have, and even browse the main XMB menu. However, the moment you tried to access anything else other than music, the music would stop playing. That is still the case, but now if you go into [Photo] the music keeps on playing! I have noticed one thing though, if you want to view a set of photos with the music playing, it is best to use the slideshow mode at its default setting as my system was unable to cache both the thumbnails and pictures if quickly flicking through them. Maybe that’s just because I’m using a PSP-1000? With the added RAM of the PSP-2000, those users may not experience this minor thing. Again, the pop up guide and secondary button options are present throughout.

Onto the big one- [Settings]. I find myself both disappointed and intrigued by what has changed. Under [Theme Settings] there is now ‘themes’ where you can set background, colour and most importantly… icon design! At the moment, there is only ‘original’ theme, which shows a screenshot of the XMB with a mysterious new icon between [Video] and [Game]. It could be something to do with the Japanese TV tuner, and the screenshot has got left in other regional firmware OR it could be something to do with the upcoming TV tuner for the PS3. My guesses though, are only speculative at best. And now for the disappointment- PSP-2000 users get new colour backgrounds, but it seems like we PSP-1000 users do not, which is a shame.

Under [Video Settings] there is the new ‘Sequential Playback’ feature that was mentioned- useful, but nothing spectacular. And that, my friends… is it!

If you spot any mistakes, please let me know, and remember- I have only looked at this update with the PSP-1000.

Paramore at the Manchester Academy

This post was originally written on the City In The Clouds blog.

Tickets- got yours?  ’Cause we certainly have!  We’ll be at the Manchester Academy on the 3rd of September 2007.  If there are any fellow Paramore fans coming as well, let us know by leaving a message to this post, or sending an email here (no psychos please).

Stay tuned for more Paramore goodness…

Paramore tickets

New slim line PSP info-splurge(tm) and critique

This post was originally written on the City In The Clouds blog.

It is slimmer, lighter, loads games faster (due doubling the RAM) and outputs video to TV screens etc..

But what about the owners of existing PSPs though?  Sure, you had the PSone redesign and the PS2 redesign but this is a substantial change.  All’s the PS2 redesign did was slim the unit down, add networking and get rid of the (mostly) unused hard drive expansion bay.

So, what makes the PSP so different?  Well, this time Sony makes software updates as well to its systems.  Take Sony’s upcoming 3.60 firmware upgrade for the PSP- all the features I’ve seen so far are just for the slimmer PSP (mainly due to the new hardware) like UMD-caching, and options for outputting video.  I suppose my argument is what if Sony only creates more firmware updates for the slimmer PSP or possibly even hardware that is only compatible with the new PSP?  Maybe unthinkable, but surely possible.

In the past, hardware revisions weren’t much of a problem, but now major new features are being incorporated into software updates (via firmware).  Is it really fair to (pardon my upcoming language) shaft current hardware owners in this way?  I think Microsoft has done well in this regard with its Xbox 360 revisions.

Related reading (in no particular order):
PSP firmware 3.60 reveals hidden USB Charge feature
Joystiq hands-on with the new PSP
Added RAM makes PSP games load faster
Comparing the new PSP with the old
PSP Slim Lite boxart revealed
PSP redesign revealed; Lighter, slimmer, lasts longer

PSP Camera Comprehensive Review

This post was originally written on the City In The Clouds blog.

Well, I’ve checked, and no-one seems to really have reviewed the UK version in its current configuration AND have consistently ignored something that I will mention later on…

So, it has finally touched down on the shores of the UK (and Europe for that matter).  Retailing at £34.99 (€49.99), the Go!Cam– a Playstation Portable camera adapter, is an interesting proposition for the PSP-owning, tech-savvy and bargain-sniffing consumer.

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
So, what do you get for your £34.99?  Well, the Go!Cam is essentially a 1.3 megapixel camera with a wide-angle lens that plugs into the PSP’s USB port at the top.  The camera can be swivelled 180 degrees, either pointing at you (handy for self-portraits) or away, for point and click action at anything you fancy.  There’s also a microphone built into the knob that you use to swivel the camera.  There’s a link to the editing software, and a small plastic carrying case is included.  That’s all you need to know, really.

In use
All you need is your trusty PSP (with version 2.70 firmware or later), a decent-sized Memory Stick Duo (I’d recommend at least 1Gb), and your new Go!Cam.  Using the Go!Cam is simply a matter of selecting the ‘Camera’ option under ‘Photo’ on the main menu.  Do you need to plug in the camera before turning on the PSP?  Nope, I have tested this and the camera works fine in either circumstance.

The Go!Cam

Of course, only being a 1.3 megapixel camera is a major factor in the quality of the final image but the camera’s bargain price point reflects this.  Photos are saved in the JPG format and videos are saved in the AVI format.  The images, especially in low light can be quite grainy and the PSP has to be kept reasonably still, otherwise you’ll get blurred pictures.  Fast-moving objects could be a problem.

The ‘Go!Edit’ software…
Words cannot describe how much I hate this infernal piece of software.  When the Go!Cam was released in Japan, it was known as ‘Chotto Shot’ and came with editing software ‘Chotto Edit’ which came on a UMD disk.  The Go!Edit software for European consumers does not come with the the PSP camera.  Instead, you are given a link to (so I see the ‘Your PSP’ website lives on in some form), and once on your memory stick, takes up 80Mb!

What is so bad about this piece of software?  The ‘effects’ are rubbish and pointless (for both photos and videos) and videos are only limited to 15 seconds.  What most people have failed to realise is that if you shoot a video directly from the main menu instead of using the Go!Edit software, you can shoot footage for as long as you have memory left on your Memory Stick Duo.  Once you’ve run out of memory, the PSP informs you and stops the filming.

White PSP and Go!Cam

Another advantage of NOT using the Go!Edit software is that both photos and videos are available under ‘Digital Camera Images’ and ‘Digital Camera Recordings’ where you’d expect to find them on the menu.  Whilst using the Go!Edit software, I could not find where the videos were stored using the PSP’s menu.  Avoid the Go!Edit software at all costs- it’s just not worth it!

So, good enough?
As other reviews and previews have mentioned, you can get most of this functionality on a typical camera phone these days.  However the unique feature that the Go!Cam presents is instant viewing of photos and videos taken, viewable on the PSP’s big, gorgeous widescreen display.  Now, go show me a camera phone with a screen that big, and of such quality.

A fairly nifty feature, is being able to take photos with a ’sketch’ effect that is created on-the-fly.  This is easily one of the better features.  Some photos I have taken with this effect are available here.

White PSP with Go!Cam

To conclude…
Obviously the Go!Cam is not going to be your primary camera, or possibly even your second camera BUT it is serious fun.  I don’t know of any other camera or video recorder with a screen this big, for this price.  I’d say the Go!Cam is worth it just for the novelty of being able to take pics and shoot the odd video on your PSP.  Just avoid the the Go!Edit software!

Rating: 4 STARS

Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties

This post was originally written on the City In The Clouds blog.

Wow, another expansion pack!  Looking back through the Age series, there has generally only been one expansion pack per game.  Age of Empires III gets its second expansion pack!  I suppose the most interesting thing to note is that Ensemble Studios is NOT the main developer.  Instead the task has been given to Big Huge Games, the development studio responsible for Rise of Nations.  Why?  As many have suspected Ensemble Studios have got their hands full developing Halo Wars for the Xbox 360.

More details as I find them.

Press Release
GameSpot Interview
Screenshot #1
Screenshot #2