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
- 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
|(C)2004 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. All rights
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
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)
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
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
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
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.