Friday, December 12, 2014

Third Time's the Charm: The PSP-3000

An unfortunate reality of handheld game systems is that a couple of years after the first model launches, a second will come along to address many of its design issues. Call it a natural byproduct of the advance of technology, or shortsightedness on the part of the engineers, or good old fashioned greed from the manufacturers. Whatever the cause, it's been happening since the Game Boy Pocket came along to replace the old white brick Nintendo threw at us in 1989. 

And so it goes with the PSP-3000, the third revision of Sony's would-be Game Boy killer. With a lighter frame, a more responsive D-pad, and a memory buffer for faster game loads, it's the PSP that will make you feel profoundly foolish for buying the original in 2005. It's actually better for PSP games than *later* models of the system too, thanks to its support for UMD discs and compatibility with the full PSP library. There's been ongoing debate about the quality of the display, but for my money, the 3000 is Sony's best crack at the PSP hardware. Here's why. 


Sexy? Well, if you're into
that kind of thing. 
When it first launched, the PSP was lauded by critics as "sexy" for its sleek black capsule design. (Yes, that's the word they used. Try not to pinch yourselves in the UMD drive door, guys.) However, the PSP-3000 demonstrates just how much work Sony had left to squeeze the system into a truly portable package. The two models look similar at first glance, but you'll notice a huge difference the moment you hold the 3000 in your hands. It's half the weight and nearly half as thick as the original, making the launch model seem almost as fetching as a rusty boat anchor. 


The PSP-3000 was designed with ergonomics in mind... not only is it more comfortable to hold than the original, it's more fun to play thanks to its responsive, finger-friendly buttons. The keys on the face are wider and more accommodating, especially the four action buttons which fit comfortably under the thumb and have just the right amount of give for confident gaming. The D-pad is similarly improved, and responsive enough that you can pull off the complex motions in fighting games with little difficulty. It's not preferable to the fully exposed, pivoting pad on the Vita, but it's a drastic improvement from previous PSPs and a better option than the tiny analog nub in games that support both. That hasn't changed, by the way, and it's still a sorry substitute for an analog thumbstick. 


The choice is clear. And a lot more
colorful, too! 
Here's our first snag. Curiously, the 3000's LCD display has horizontal scanlines, similar to what you might see on an old computer monitor. This may prove distracting for some players, but the scanlines are very faint and won't reveal themselves unless you're very close to the screen. What's obvious from any distance is how much better 2D games look on the new display. Colors are radiant and every pixel is razor sharp, without the constant blurring of the past two PSP models. Classic collections in particular look fantastic on the 3000, making it the model to have if you're a retro fanatic. 3D games don't fare as well, with their rough polygonal edges no longer disguised by ghosting, but they're still quite presentable, looking better than equivalent Nintendo DS titles. 


Where performance is concerned, the PSP-3000 isn't much different from its predecessors. You get a built-in microphone for Skype (heaven help you if this is your only option for chatting online), Bluetooth for PS3 functionality, and a memory buffer to make game loads a bit less laborious. Beyond that, the 3000 is just a more comfortable way to enjoy the games you've been playing for nearly a decade. 

It is worth mentioning that the extra memory comes in handy for homebrew programs, especially emulators which won't run on the first model of the PSP. On the other hand, actually running homebrew on the system is a kludge, forcing you to not only hack the 3000 but run a recovery tool to refresh the firmware every time the system is booted. Fortunately, keeping the PSP in sleep mode lets you avoid that hassle. That wouldn't have been practical with the first model of the system, but better energy efficiency means that you can tuck the 3000 in at night without worrying that its battery will be drained in the morning.


It took Sony a few tries, but the company finally perfected the design of the PSP with the 3000. Its lighter weight makes it a joy to hold, the memory buffer takes some of the sting out of the UMD drive's access time, and support for more games and the readily available Memory Stick Pro Duo makes it more appealing than either the PSP Go or the PS Vita. Sony's latest handheld is your best bet for continued software support and a more advanced gaming experience, but if you're still happy with the classic PSP library (and there's a lot to be happy about!), it doesn't get any better than the 3000. 

I'll be reviewing a handful of the games I recently purchased for my PSP, so stay tuned for that!

CORRECTIONS: Research reveals that the PSP-3000 is actually only 20% thinner than the launch model, but nearly half the weight as previously mentioned. Also, the PSP-3000 does not have Bluetooth; that's a feature exclusive to the PSP Go.


  1. Sounds good to me, Jess! Now I just need to find a pink or purple Japanese PSP-3000 that isn't too pricey :)

    1. You interested at all in the Hannah Montana model of the system that was released in the states? I seriously considered that one before going with the silver model (to differentiate it from my 1000). Apparently it's lilac, with no other indication that it has anything to do with Miley Cyrus.

      I heard someone at CAG found that model at a thrift store for just two dollars! (bites knuckle to keep from screaming) If I find one for a price that low, I will definitely give it to you. ;)

    2. Oh, yes, I'm definitely interested in that model, Jess. Only because it's purple, though! :) That said, isn't it a PSP-1000? The idea of finding it for $2, though. GAH!!

    3. Oh no, it's a 3000 all right. Here's how you tell the difference... 3000s have an oval PlayStation branded home button, while earlier models have a half circle with "home" printed on it. That's the easiest way to distinguish them at a glance.

      I'll keep my eye out for one of these regardless.

    4. Oh, interesting! I had no idea. Anyway, thank you! I wonder which one I'll end up getting first, a PSP-3000 or a Vita-2000 :P

    5. Looks like the PSP-3000 reached you first. :D