Playstation Portable (PSP) 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Presented by  Ola, Ziggy587, alienjesus, Anapan, nickfil, Jagosaurus & racketboy

The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console or handheld that they don’t know much about yet. For those of you that are especially knowledgeable about the featured machine, I encourage you to add any information that you think would be beneficial to the comments section. If you are new to the featured console, and still have questions, you can also use the comments section and I will do my best to help you out.

While the handheld world might not have had as heated loyalties as the home console world, there was perhaps never a more distinct difference in portable gaming personalities between Nintendo’s DS handheld and Sony’s up-and-coming Playstation Portable.  It managed to deliver a handful of interesting gaming experiences for fans of both modern and classic gaming.  The beautiful and revolutionary hardware was revised numerous times and not without its flaws.  However, in this very collaborative guide, we hope to cover what you should expect in both hardware and software while in the world of the PSP.  Enjoy!

Background Information

  • The Playstation Portable was released in Japan in late 2004, North America in the spring of 2005 and PAL regions in Fall of 2005.
  • It was the first handheld in a decade to show significant competition against Nintendo’s handheld powerhouse Gameboy / DS families.
  • The PSP remains as the only portable console to use an optical disc (its Universal Media Disc (UMD)—as its primary storage medium.
  • The PSP performed rather well, especially in Japan. It sold over 80 million units during its ten-year lifetime.

Historical Impact

Ahead of its Time being a Multi-Use Media Device

When I got my PSP, I remember thinking how awesome it was that it was a sort of all-in-one multimedia on-the-go type of thing.

It played PSP games, but also select PS1 games via PSN. And then there were movies on the UMD format. Personally, I didn’t want to start a UMD movie collection, but I know a lot of people really liked this. Then there was the memory card that you could dump music and videos on to. If you had an internet connection, there was even a web browser. So if you had a long car, train or plane ride, the PSP was a perfect machine to bring along. You could use it as an mp3 player, watch movies on it, and play games.

In 2022, it might be easy to overlook how awesome this was. Now that our phones can do all of those things, it’s no big deal. But back when the PSP launched, it was simply amazing that you could do so much on such a little device.

PSP felt like the step in between dedicated media devices and all-in-one machines which would eventually be the smartphones we have today. In 2004 it was ahead of its time in that regard and played heavily into Sony’s plans at that time which would also be somewhat reflected in how the PS3 was billed more so as a multi-media station and not JUST a games device

Strengths

  • Longevity of the Game Library – PSP received new games for quite a while, somewhat helped by the specs being close enough to both the PS2 and Wii that ports weren’t out of the question. Both of those systems being so long lived and popular didn’t hurt the PSP, for sure.
  • Processing Power – the PSP blew the GBA out of the water in capability, and far surpassed what the DS was capable of too. The PSP wasn’t too dissimilar to a 6th gen console like the PS2 or Dreamcast overall, if not quite on the same level.
  • Strong Third-Party Support – Sony and third parties really committed to the machine with most of the PS2’s big name IPs (across most major regions as well) of the time appearing – Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, God of War, Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Tekken. It’s night and day compared to the support the later PS Vita enjoyed.
  • Actual Exclusive Games – unlike the Vita and the newer-generation consoles, the PSP actually had quite a few exclusive games. Exclusives define a gaming device, and the PSP had a lot of them. To date, it’s arguably more fun to collect for than the Vita.
  • Sound Output Quality (With good headphones) – PSP was trying to be a multimedia device. Up until then handheld games were on cartridge and weren’t able to do CD quality audio. Even most phones of the time didn’t have good audio capabilities. However, the PSPs speakers were not anything to get excited about.
  • Excellent Hacking / Emulation Community – much like the Sega Dreamcast after its main retail lifespan, the PSP became a darling for those that wanted to use the hardware in ways that weren’t exactly intended by Sony.
  • Video Output via Component on some later models – Bonus benefit of the PSP2000 and PSP3000 is that they offer video output using a component cable. This isn’t possible on the 1000. Unfortunately, this video output isn’t as practical as you might hope. (See our Video Output section for more details)

Weaknesses

  • Load Times & Battery Drain when using UMD Media – The concept of a portable with disc media was a neat concept – especially with the storage promises. But this added to longer load times, loading noise, and drained the battery quicker compared to its competitor, the DS. You’d see some improvement if you had the game on the memory card, however. The load times weren’t horrible compared to the first couple generations of optical media-based consoles, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
  • Poor Thumbstick – The ‘nub’ is not great, and the console tried to replicate a lot of PS2 era games whilst missing both a second analogue stick and 2 of the shoulder buttons, which feels quite short sighted when console quality was the aim.
  • Build Quality / Long-Term Hardware Reliability – The system has a lot of delicate parts for a handheld of the era and fans sometimes have gone through multiple units over the years. Under heavy use, it is not uncommon for screens and batteries needing replacement, and the thumbsticks needing replacement is practically a given at this point. The large for the time screen is prone to being scratched too as it has no time of cover or clamshell design like the GBA SP or DS. Many people mention that anyone they knew who had one back in the day had something broken with theirs (whether it was a button, the disc-reading mechanism, or what have you). Those that bought new retail units, use it more infrequently and/or only under careful adult use have had better success with their PSP remaining in good condition.
  • Battery Longevity – Although, I’ve always noted the battery life. Not so much the runtime, but the shelf life. For Nintendo handhelds and wireless controllers, if I charge them up they seem to last a really long time, Even if I leave them off for many months, they retain their battery life. Sony batteries on the other hand, such as the PSP or my PS3 controllers, the batteries don’t last on the shelf. If I charge them up, if I don’t use them for month they will still die. I always found that kind of annoying.
  • Proprietary Memory Cards – You can easily work around it now but at the time you were required to buy expensive Sony Memory Sticks. Sony was trying to push it as a mainstream memory card format, but Sony were the only ones to support it on their devices. So pretty much just the PSP and Sony cameras at the time used them. Sony would have loved for other companies to adopt the format, but SD just ruled. It’s certainly not the first time Sony has done this. Definitely not as bad as the Vita cards ended up being but in the early years of the PSP memory card issues were comparable.
  • Spring-loaded disc tray on Original PSP Model – It was a bit of a meme, at the time, but the original PSP had a reputation for launching your games across the room when you opened it due to the spring loaded disc tray. The 2000 onwards has a tray you open manually
  • PSPGo being Digital-Only – A digital only console which removed the disc drive. No program was ever implemented to migrate your physical collection.
  • UMD is an oxymoron of sorts – While the name does refer to the fact that all visual and digital media, not just games, would be present on Sony’s proprietary disks for the time, much like their memory card shortcomings, the UMD would forever be a format locked to the PSP. There was never a tertiary solution like the Vita TV. Not quite as universal as it was billed to be.

Photo courtesy of couplemodeon on Instagram

Clarifications & Misconceptions

Overall Hardware Dissatisfaction & Hacking to Play on Vita With the hardware weaknesses above, there are a lot of reasons to be turned off by the PSP’s hardware. However, a modded Playstation Vita running Adrenaline is a great way to play through PSP games now.

The graphic options, save states, battery life, and second analog stick are just so much of an upgrade. It should be noted though that Vita was originally billed as backwards compatible with PSP software. While this is true in a digital sense, you can’t and were never able to just stick a UMD into a Vita, making that a bit of a marketing misnomer for the time.

Game Library

With the PSP being fairly new to the “retro” camp, we haven’t built out full lineup of game recommendation guides, but this should give you a pretty solid start.

PSP Hardware Revisions

My intention with this section is to give a quick run-down of the different Sony handhelds with bullet points to consider when deciding which one to go with for your PSP needs. If you think I missed something crucial, please feel free to mention it in the comments below…

PSP-1000

  • Physically bigger unit. Slower performance at times.
  • Has the same CPU, but has half the RAM of later models.
  • The lower amount of RAM can be especially detrimental for certain emulators/homebrew running on the system.
  • Generally considered the most lackluster screen of the bunch
  • Solid construction, but can feel bulky
  • Shop for PSP-1000 on eBay
  • Shop for PSP-1000 on Amazon

PSP- 2000

PSP-3000

  • New screen tech, but not without its issues…
  • Was marketed in PAL regions as “PSP Slim & Lite”or “PSP Brite”
  • The new LCD screen was touted as having an increased color range, five times the contrast ratio, and anti-reflective technology to reduce outdoor glare (among other spec bumps)
  • However, with this new screen, gamers noticed interlacing problems when objects were in motion. This issue was never resolved.
  • Supports video output (See our Video Output section for more details)
  • Shop for PSP-3000 on eBay
  • Shop for PSP-3000 on Amazon

PSP Go / PSP-N1000

  • Complete redesign of the handheld
  • Has slide-out controls with re-arranged placements, It also ends up having less grip-able area.
  • No optical disc drive but you could hack the system and copy games to it.
  • Has what is considered the best screen of all the other PSP models. However, it is smaller and a bit more weirdly shaped compared to the others.
  • The unit is 43% lighter and 56% smaller than the original PSP-1000, and 16% lighter and 35% smaller than the PSP-3000.
  • Does not have a removable battery (same for Street, below)
  • Supports video output (See our Video Output section for more details)
  • This model adds support for Bluetooth connectivity, which enables the playing of games using a Sixaxis or DualShock 3 controller. PS3 needed to “natively” pair controllers. (You can do it without a PS3 via motioninjoy, but using the PS3 is infinitely easier)
  • The ability to have both video output and the syncing of a PS3 controller makes it essentially an officially-supported, consolized PSP. However, modding and emulation possibilities do diminish its appeal a bit these days.
  • Shop for PSP Go on eBay
  • Shop for PSP Go on Amazon

PSP Street / PSP-E1000

  • Odd PAL-only revision that was a bit of an anti-PSP go
  • UMD is back but no WiFi so not even local multiplayer worked, reminds me a lot of the Wii Mini.
  • Also, without having WiFi, Playstation Store downloadable games need to be first downloaded on a PC and then transferred to the E1000 via a USB cable and Sony’s MediaGo software.
  • Does not have a removable battery (same for PSP Go, below)
  • The most barebones version of your hardware released late on to grab a few last-minute sales
  • Shop for PSP Street on eBay

Playstation Vita as an Option

  • With the hardware weaknesses mentioned above, there are a lot of reasons to be turned off by the PSP’s hardware.
  • However, a modded Playstation Vita running Adrenaline is a great way to play PSP games now.
  • The graphic options, save states, battery life, and second analog stick are just so much of an upgrade.
  • Shop for Playstation Vita on eBay
  • Shop for Playstation Vita on Amazon

Additional Model Comparison Links:

PSP Go Model

PSP Accessories

Battery Upgrades & Replacements

Official Upgrading Possibilities:

  • The PSP 1000, 2000, and 3000 all have removable batteries. However, the PSP Go and PSP Street do not.
  • The 1000 comes with 1800mAh, 2000 and 3000 come with 1200mAh. All three are upgradable to a 2200mAh battery (this was officially released by Sony as an extended-life battery).
  • For the Go and Street models, it is important to note because not only can you not upgrade to a higher capacity, but when the battery eventually fails it may be hard or impossible to replace.

Notes on Aftermarket Battery Upgrades

  • Buying Pre-Made PSP Batteries: Generally, any good solution for the battery is going to be the above. Anything that is a “new PSP battery” now is probably new old stock and has lost much of its charge capability.  If anyone has recent experience with this, please feel free to comment below.
  • Battery “Check-Ins” Over Time: Also, check your batteries if you haven’t looked in a while. Some batteries from this era are starting to bulge. Keep an eye on them. Best to store your battery in a separate plastic bag outside of the system when you aren’t using it.
  • Making Your Own Custom Battery Upgrade: While upgrading a Nintendo DS battery can be fairly simple: finding a suitable Lithium polymer (lip) battery, stripping the ends of the wires, and soldering it in.  It is apparently a bit more complex with the PSP. The PSP has a battery component in it, and something that regulates power (I think?). So if you want to replace the battery in modern times, you need to open it up and pull the regulator out. And attach that regulator to the new lipo battery.
  • Modded for Mega-Batteries: I’ve seen some videos floating around online of people who pull the UMD disk drive out completely (and run games from a memory card), and jam a HUGE battery into the unit. Tons of battery hours on that thing, but I’m not sure how that is on heat…”

Photo courtesy of jumpman1229 on reddit

Video Output

A bonus benefit of the PSP-2000 and PSP-3000 is that they offer video output using a component cable. This isn’t possible on the 1000. Unfortunately, this video output isn’t as practical as you might hope.

For starters, there is some pickiness on video output

  • PSP-2000 and PSP-3000 can do Component output for Games and Movies
  • Only PSP-3000 could do games through Composite & S-Video
  • PSP-3000 is confirmed to be able to output both 480i and 480p.  PSP-2000 may be limited to 480p (can anyone confirm?)
  • Downloaded PS1 games are output at 240p.  It also has an extra filter that makes things look a bit blurry.  There is not a way to disable this filter.

Any limitations to Component output may limit what displays you can use.

The problem with outputting to a large screen natively is  it very small on the screen (480 × 272). You can blow it up, but then it doesn’t look very good. I’ve used recommended settings with the Framemeister, but I didn’t at all like how it looks.  You could see this Reddit post using an OSSC, however. PS1 games and movies are apparently fullscreen. The other thing I don’t like is that the AV cable comes out the bottom of the PSP and I find it a little uncomfortable.

Hacking / Ripping Games

While the Dreamcast and the Xbox may have led the way for consoles to get hacked by the mainstream, the PSP was the pioneering mainstream handheld to be utilized fully by the hacking community.

A hacked PSP allows you to copy/paste your disc games to your pc via USB, run games off your memory stick, and emulate other consoles. It is dead simple to hack at this point and I highly recommend it!

Not only does it allow you to play backups of PSP and PS1 games, it also allows you to load homebrew apps including emulators. This makes the PSP a very attractive portable device.

How to Rip a Game from the Disc Drive (using a modded PSP):

  1. On the home screen press select and change your USB device to UMD
  2. Connect your console to a pc and enable a USB connection on the system.
  3. Copy and paste the iso. That’s it.

Just remember to swap back the USB mode to memory stick so you can load from it.

You can also rip them straight to the memory card the through the VSH menu (select button when on the XMB.) Again, you need a PSP running CFW for that too.

More solid hacking guide on Reddit

Importing

Importing was never tough during the PSP days. The mid-to-late 2000s saw the rise in sites like Play Asia offering quick click-and-buy import options. Combining that with the PSP being region-free out of the box and importing games was extremely simple.

A bit of a contrast to the strict region locking of the PS1 and 2 but the PS3 would also follow suit and be region-free as well.

Emulation on PSP

We won’t get into a lot of the details in this initial guide installment, but the PSP has long been home to a lot of great emulators.

For now, you have two routes and resources you can explore:

Emulating the PSP on Other Platforms

PSP emulation through PPSSPP is pretty solid on Windows (and Android if you have a device with good specs). For a full guide on the topic, check our our piece on PSP Emulation for PC and Android using PPSSPP

Homebrew / Community

The PSP homebrew scene had a pretty solid foundation with plenty of highlights. It has been said that the PSP piracy scene kinda crippled the homebrew and prevented it from being as strong as some other platforms.

For a nice overview check out these two links:

Still Have Question? Or Have Tips To Share?

We don’t expect this to be a comprehensive guide, but if there are any beginner-level questions we left unanswered or you have additional tips and advice to share that beginners would find useful, please share them in the comments below!

I hope you found this guide useful!


One Comment

Marcus says:

Is there a way to successfully get translation patches working on the PSP? Any chance you could provide a guide or links for that?

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