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Sony PSP developer interview (Part 1) - Hardware specs finalised
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Articles / Sony

WatchImpress has conducted a fantastic interview with Izumi Kawanishi, one of the lead developers of the Playstation Portable, covering everything from hardware specifications to the finer details of the PSP's design. We've got the trained monkeys in over-drive, furiously banging out an English edition of this latest news on the PSP. Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3!

Mr Izumi Kawanishi

  • Head, Network System Development Section, Research and Development Division, Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Key figure in development of hardware for Playstation 2, Playstation Portable and other systems at Sony Computer Entertainment

Little more than a year and a half has passed since Mr Ken Kutaragi, President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, stood on stage at E3 2003, held up a UMD (Universal Media Disk) and announced the development of the PSP (Playstation Portable). In that time, Sony Computer Entertainment has strived to bring to market an advanced portable game device with functionality far exceeding that of any existing device.

Pricing and sales information for the PSP have yet been released, making it a machine of some mystery. Sony has stated that they will release this information during 2004. On this occasion, we talked with Mr Izumi Kawanishi (Head, Network System Development Section, Research and Development Division) about everything from specifications to the finer details of the PSP's design.

(C)2004 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

Q: Approximately when did you start development of the PSP?

Kawanishi: From about the time of the E3 2003 announcement. We had plans for a portable game device for a long time before that, though. We had already discussed the idea a number of times and decided on the basic concept. However, the actual start of development was from last year.

Q: In the beginning, the image that Ken Kutaragi presented at E3 was one of a small-size Playstation but, at the announcement the other day, it looked like much more advanced operations will be possible. What sequence of events took place to cause this change in direction?

Kawanishi: Let me see. At an early stage, the specifications were based on those of the Playstation 2. However, even if you say, "let's make a portable Playstation 2!", it's not something that is possible.

On the other hand, if you say, "maybe a specification based on the Playstation will be OK," you will not be able to satisfy the development side. Users are already accustomed to Playstation 2-like graphics and, if the PSP were to produce Playstation-like graphics, you would be returning to the time before the Playstation 2 and I don't think it would be possible to satisfy users. We didn't want to compromise in that area.

Q: The smart design is typical of SCE but was there anything in the design you were particular about? Was Teiyu Goto responsible for the design this time too?

Kawanishi: This time, a designer other than Mr Goto but from the same group was in charge. As for design particulars, one point was that we wanted to keep it to this size. We also wanted to make the shape as flat as possible. What else....maybe the thickness? Yes, we were pretty particular about the thickness of the device.

Q: Until now, the Playstation platform has distinguished the controller buttons by different colours but this time they are all white. Why didn't you use different colours to distinguish them?

Kawanishi: We took into consideration the colour of the overall unit and the balance of the design.

Q: Then, why did it take until last year for the project to receive the go-ahead?

Kawanishi: Starting with the development of the Playstation technology, we have continued to develop game devices for home use and, therefore, had the desire to produce a portable game device for quite a long time. However, until now, we weren't able to produce a portable game device with the advanced specifications we wanted ... one with a specification that we were sufficiently satisfied with.

Then, last year, it finally began to look like we could fit everything into a portable game device with high quality so we decided to take on the challenge. Up until now, there hasn't been a portable game device with 3D functionality so this is the first, I think. In addition, although there have been a number of portable game devices in the past, a portable device of the PSP's quality is also a first. Those two areas are big points, I think.

Basically, in a market with a lot of customers who are already enjoying the PS2, we didn't want to release a product that was inferior to that.

Q: The PSP is a portable game device but, when you started development, in what sort of environments did you envisage it would used?

Kawanishi: Well, to some degree, you can assume that it will be stored beside an existing game system and TV but, as it is a portable game device that you can carry around in your hand, I think the user will decide how and when to use it depending on the situation. The variations and possibilities are unlimited; the concept is that you can take it with you and play it anywhere. Therefore, where and when it is used is something that we want to allow each individual user to consider and not something that we should decide.

Although sales are yet to begin, what is your thinking with regard to colour variations?

Kawanishi: At the start of sales, black will be the only colour but, after that, we will keep that (colour variations) under consideration.

In making the PSP, what sort of things presented difficulties?

Kawanishi: Well, getting everything into this small unit was a challenge. Mechanically speaking, there is an LCD, motherboard and also the UMD drive inside; getting all of those things into such a thin unit was the most difficult. As for the frontal area, we put in the biggest LCD we could along with the controller so that was pretty tough too.

In terms of the internal semiconductor electronics - this was the most challenging thing - the work to fit all the functions of various devices on to one chip in such a short period of time was difficult. We call it "System On Chip (SOC)" and we have been able to achieve it this time. In terms of days, it took us 1 year..or a bit less (laughs).

Q: Apart from the digital direction pad, there is also an analog pad - was that something you felt you had to include?

Kawanishi: As the PS2 has an analog stick, there is a lot of software that has been designed with the view that there will be an analog stick. We didn't want to lower the specifcations from that point.

Q: The response (of the controls) is quite good, isn't it?

Kawanishi: That's because we have managed to achieve the same level of sensitivity (resolution) as the Playstation 2 controller.

Q: The Playstation 2 has two analog sticks but, as might be expected, you weren't able to include two in the PSP?

Kawanishi: That's right. Sorry... (laughs)

Q: Does that mean two controllers aren't required?

Kawanishi: If you wanted to include two, it wouldn't be impossible. However, it would be troubling if the face was littered with buttons and users did not know which one to press.

Q: Will it be possible to link the PSP and the Playstation 2?

Kawanishi: Sending and receiving of data via a USB connection, wireless LAN or Memory Stick will all be possible. Because two-way communication is possible with USB, you will be able to display information (identical or different) on the screens of both the Playstation 2 and the PSP at the same time. It is also technically possible to use the PSP as a Playstation 2 controller (Editor: It is not clear whether this is currently possible).

(C)2004 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

Q: Speaking of USB, with the Playstation 2 it is possible to connect the EyeToy USB camera and play games. If a driver was included in PSP software, would it also be possible to do this on the PSP?

Kawanishi: Although they both use USB, the Playstation 2 and PSP are slightly differerent. The PSP uses a smaller USB connector so direct connection is not possible. You could use a converter to connect them but I think, if we were going to do it, we would make a connector specifically for the job. With USB, there are many possibilities to use devices such as GPS and cameras. I think using these devices would be very interesting from a gaming point-of-view.

Q: We know the hardware specifications are fixed but will development of the firmware continue until the last minute?

Kawanishi: Yes, that's right.

Q: The PSP is also compatible with video content but is support for region coding and parental lock functionality installed? As we would expect, is it based on the DVD-Video standard?

Kawanishi: There is the problem of how far do you go but we thought it was sensible to implement the concept of regions, as it is already accepted by the market. For the UMD-Video standard, we intend to set the region in a similar way.

Q: On the PSP, the XMB (Cross Media Bar) will start up if you press the HOME button. Will firmware and XMB updates be possible?

Kawanishi: Updates are technically possible using Memory Stick or network transfer. I think firmware and software updates will be done using those methods.


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Sony PSP Developer Interview

Part 1
- Hardware design finalised

Part 2
- PSP LCD size and beauty were critical
- Battery life under final adjustment

Part 3
- PSP UMD game boot-up time of same order as PS2
- PC management of MemoryStick saved data possible
- Network connections? - no problem