Sony PSP 'Next Generation Portable' Looks Stunning, Plays PS3 Games

Sony's PlayStation Portable 2 exists, and no, it's not called a PSP2. Well not yet, anyway. Sony's codenamed it NGP, as in "Next Generation Portable." Generic, sure, but pretty darned accurate, considering the crazy feature bonanza the company somehow crammed into this thing.

Pulling an NGP from his pocket at a Tokyo presser this morning, Sony president Kaz Hirai said the company's new handheld was derived from five core principles: A "revolutionary" user interface, social connectivity, location-awareness, augmented reality, and PlayStation Suite compatibility. The latter refers to Sony's new cross-platform developer tool that facilitates cross-development of PlayStation games for both PlayStation devices and Android phones.

And then Hirai put hundreds of rumors to rest by demonstrating all the lovely and in several cases unanticipated things Sony's official PlayStation Portable successor will do when it ships this holiday.

In Video: Sony Unveils its Next-Generation Portable "NGP"

Touch Me Two Times

Let's start with the NGP's new OLED screen, clocking in at 5-inches and running at 960 by 544 pixels. Contrast with Apple's iPhone 4, which employs a 3.5-inch 960 by 640 pixel LCD, or the current PSP, with its 4.3-inch 480 by 272 pixel screen. Sony claims you'll be able to view the NGP's screen clearly from any angle.

That's not all, it's also (capacitative) multitouch capable, allowing you to articulate multiple finger input by touching, grabbing, pushing, or pulling the screen.

Flip the NGP around and, lo and behold, there's another 5-inch multitouch surface (not a screen, but a surface that recognizes touch input) displaying a field of PlayStation geometry symbols (very stylish, Sony). Wrap your hands around the NGP and you'll be able to use your fingertips to interact with the device's back plane as well as its front.

Now imagine touching the front and rear panels at the same time to pull off moves in ways no one's experienced before. It sounds kind of wild, but also kind of cool. Sure, the Nintendo 3DS has dual screens, but they're both front-facing, and only one's capable of touch input.

Sticks Not Nubs

Sony admitted the most requested feature for its next handheld was dual joysticks. The NGP has them. And not just thumb nubs flush with the surface of the unit like the textured rubber disc on the PSP, but actual thumb sticks, rising above the front plane.

Sony calls these "micro analog sticks," and claims they'll deliver a Dualshock experience. Well, minus the vibration feedback. Maybe I missed it in the presser clang and clutter, but I don't think the NGP includes haptic technology at this point.

The rest of the input layout should be familiar to anyone who's picked up a PSP: The four geometry buttons on the right, the d-pad at left, the shoulder buttons along the top, and the START, SELECT, and PlayStation (menu) buttons tucked off to the side in corners.

Next: As powerful as a PS3? Really?

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Picture This, Store That

While the NGP doesn't do 3D, it does include dual cameras, one front and one rear. If you squint at the picture above, you can just make out the frontside lens, parked along the right-side geometry buttons circle at 10:00.

Turn the NGP around and you'll discover the second camera, as well as the NGP's conspicuously absent UMD drive. UMD discs are out, flash media sticks and downloads, in, though why Sony's bothering with flash storage at all seems a little off-message. I'm guessing the sticks are Sony's gift to their retail partners, while at the same time continuing to grow their online store.

Speaking of, the NGP is backwards compatible with PSP games, but lacking a UMD drive, your only way to get them will be as PlayStation Store downloads. Consider that fair warning if you'd hoped to cart your UMD library over.

As Powerful as a PS3

When Sony suggested the NGP would be capable of PS3-like visuals, they weren't fooling around. Various game developers took the stage during today's presser to showcase their NGP projects, demonstrating actual PS3 games running on the new handheld hardware. According to Sony, that's because the NGP is basically "like the PS3" in all the ways that matter.

How easy is it to put a PS3 game on the NGP? The company's including an "export" feature in its game development kit, one that's designed to aid developers who want to quickly migrate PS3 games to the handheld with minimal rendering changes. Still sound far-fetched? Believe it. At one point Hideo Kojima was demonstrating Metal Gear Solid 4 running smoothly on the handheld.

What's under the hood delivering all the power? An ARM Cortex-A9 quad core CPU and an SGX543 quad core GPU. Apple's rumored to be employing slower dual core versions of the SGX543 in its forthcoming iPad and iPhone model updates.

Sony calls the SGX543 "roughly 4x as powerful as any portable you've previously seen."

Best of the Rest

Like the PSP, the NGP will include WiFi, but add 3G and GPS (location tracking) technologies as well as a 3-axis electronic compass.

No word on carriers or pricing (or if it'll cost anything at all at all), but Sony described 3G communication activities that sounded awfully Nintendo 3DS-like. Imagine, for instance, a feature (Sony calls it "Near") that tracks and displays where you've traveled, say you're out for a drive through town. "Near" can also detect what other NGP users are playing or up to in your vicinity.

Location-based gaming? Augmented reality? Social networking? How about "all of the above." It's clear, given any of these features, that Sony intends to compete directly with Nintendo this time around, and not just in terms of visual horsepower.

All That's Missing... pricing. Sony's mum so far. I wouldn't be surprised if they came in high, say $300 or even $350, but I'd be pleasantly surprised if they opted to go toe-to-toe with Nintendo and introduce at $250.

And yes, I'm impressed. Exhausted because I didn't sleep tonight, reeling with questions I'll explore in a followup later today, but definitely impressed.

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