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The Video Game Handheld War Part 7 September 13, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Histories, Video Game Handheld War.
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The first year of the PSP versus DS battle was now a memory and the DS was far ahead due to a lower price point and more successful titles, however Sony was not out for the count and had a lot more planned for their handheld.  While Sony was happy to continue to support the PSP with regular software updates, Nintendo had learned from the success of the various Game Boy revisions they released over the years and believed that regularly updating their handheld line with new hardware revisions was the best way to go.  While the UMD format was taking off, Nintendo was working on the first major system revision for the DS.

In 2006, Nintendo released the DS Lite.  This was the first major hardware redesign for the Nintendo DS.  Like the Game Boy Pocket or Color before it, while it only launched in one color, the DS Lite shipped in a variety of different colors including black, coral, or white, giving players a small amount of personal customization options like we would see in today’s cell phones.  It was smaller and thinner than the original DS, but the system’s dual screens were larger and sharper than the original DS, and it had an improved battery with new power saving options to extend battery life.  It could still play all DS games and interface with all other DS systems through its internal WiFi.  The best part was even with the reduced size, it still featured a Game Boy Advance slot and a lot of developers were working on special peripherals to make use of it with DS games including a Rumble Pak.  The price was a reasonable $129 US, far less expensive than Sony’s counterpart.

Nintendo players were mixed on the DS Lite’s release.  On the one hand, it was a little upsetting to early DS adopters to see Nintendo release a hardware revision so soon after the platform’s launch.  On the other hand, the smaller DS Lite was attractive to new DS adopters who may have been on the fence about picking up the platform.  The system sold like crazy internationally, with huge system shortages at retail in Japan for months.  It looked like Nintendo was cementing its handheld reputation all over again.

On the other side, with the first hardware revision out for Nintendo, the gaming press asked Sony if they planned to release a new hardware revision for the Sony PSP.  Sony balked at the question, saying that they had no plans to revise the PSP’s hardware and that any further updates to the system would come in the form of free firmware updates, which up to that point had added a bunch of new features to the PSP including an Internet Browser.

Sony may have been holding firm on their support for the PSP but in reality their handheld was struggling.  While it saw a few great exclusive titles for the platform that rivaled the PS2 in graphical quality, instead of choosing to pick up the platform, gamers instead complained that these games were not being released on platforms that people already owned.  After the release of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories was such a critical hit, instead of being excited about the chance for a brand new game that could bring all of Liberty City on a portable system, gamers were furious they would need to buy a PSP to play the next Grand Theft Auto game, and that it didn’t release on the PS2.

The UMD movie format was also starting to reach its peak.  After the initial successful launch, more movie studios threw their weight behind the format and released many popular titles that the PSP’s players would be interested in buying, by 2006 Walmart,  one of the biggest retailers in the US, pulled their support for selling the format.  They claimed that the format’s low sales didn’t justify them stocking the format, although other retailers including Best Buy and Circuit City pledged to continue supporting it.  More titles were being released for the format on a regular basis, including popular movies like The Matrix and cult classics like TRON.  In fact, some studios were experimenting with what could be done with the format and released music albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind on UMD.  Heck, some studios even released Digital Graphic Novels on UMD, including an interactive Silent Hill graphic novel, and a graphic novel version of the original Metal Gear Solid game.

Even with all this behind them, by 2007 the Sony PSP still couldn’t compete against the outstanding sales figures of the Nintendo DS and DS Lite, and Sony started to work on the first major hardware redesign for the Sony PSP.  The plan was to make the system lighter and thinner than the original model PSP, take out what was never used, and bring in what players were asking for since the platform’s launch.  Sony improved the PSP’s CPU to make it able to cut down on game load times, removed the IR port on the top of the PSP, and redesigned the UMD slot to make the system slimmer.  But most important of all, Sony announced that their new model PSP would feature TV Out, the most requested feature players wanted, so PSP owners would finally get to play their PSP games on their SD and HDTVs.  Sadly, most of this functionality could not be brought over to the early PSP adopters, and they would need to upgrade their PSPs to take advantage of the system’s new features.  Dubbed the PSP-2000 in Japan, or PSP-2001 in North America, the new slim PSP was Sony’s best chance to finally overtake Nintendo’s dominance on the handheld market.

How did they do?  That’s a story for next time!

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