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Price May Keep the PSP From Being a Phenomenon

18 Mar, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I’m a hero at home. I was one of the chosen few to receive a PSP, the hot new portable game and movie player from Sony that some say will revolutionize the whole handheld phenomenon. And since the player’s arrival coincided with my middle son’s 7th birthday, guess what Conner got to bring to school today for show and tell.

The buzz for PSP has been steadily building even before its Dec. 12 launch in Japan, where it has gone on to sell a most impressive 1.2 million units. Indeed, citing “unprecedented demand,” Sony recently announced it would postpone launching PSP in Europe to make sure it had enough PSP units to meet its promise of 1 million players available for the March 24 domestic launch.

The PSP certainly is cool — incredible graphics; the ability to not just play games but also watch movies on a bright, crisp, wide screen; music playback; and wireless Internet capability for online gaming. And several studios already have announced plans to release movies on the Universal Media Disc (UMD) format that feeds PSP, including Disney, Lions Gate and, of course, Sony’s home entertainment division.

But I don’t think PSP will put Nintendo’s hugely popular GameBoy franchise out of business, as some pundits have suggested. For starters, PSP is too fragile — one drop and that screen is toast — and too pricey ($249 for a basic player; $449 for a “value pack” with player and five games) to become the dominant handheld.

Conner got his PSP because it was free. I never would have bought him one, cool as it is. Indeed, I might have bought one for myself — and still might, if the little feller won’t give me turns — but certainly not for a 7 year old. Or a 9 year old (my oldest son, Justin). PSP is more like a laptop — teens and young adults, OK, but certainly not for kids. The little ones get my old work computers, and Nintendo’s now-$75 GameBoy SP is fine for them.

I don’t think I’m alone. PSP is a high-tech gadget for the elite, not the masses. It may well become the dominant handheld, but not now. It’s the Mercedes of handhelds, and we’re still a nation of Fords and Hondas.

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