New Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer mentioned during his speech at the recent CEATEC event in Japan that Sony intended to bring TV streaming features to its Portable PlayStation. Not many expected that feature to become available so quickly, however.
Today Sony Computer Entertainment released its latest firmware update for the PSP—the third such patch in two months—in Japan, bringing the portable to version 2.50. While the upgrade to version 2.00 brought with it significant features such as an official web browser, wireless photo sharing, wallpaper support and more, 2.50 includes a few interesting upgrades as well, the most noteworthy being support for Sony's "LocationFree" streaming option.
Video content streaming anywhere
Through this feature PSP owners will now be able to stream video content to their PSPs anywhere in the world, as long as they have access to a broadband Internet connection and Wi-Fi. In order to take advantage of this service, PSP owners will need to purchase a separate LocationFree base station, which is available in America here.
The base, which runs upwards of $350, can be connected to the Internet and a person's home PC, or it can also be hooked up to other home entertainment equipment such as DVD or HDD recorders, thereby allowing users to watch just about any video on the road that they would typically watch from the comfort of home. This is very similar to another new device called Slingbox, except that LocationFree costs about $100 more and enables streaming video from your home to your PSP, which might be preferable over a laptop for some people. Once everything is set up, the PSP user simply clicks on the LocationFree icon to start streaming; he/she can then change channels and pause or record on components at home with the onscreen universal remote.
Sony vs. Apple
Interestingly, Sony made this nifty feature available for the PSP just one day after Apple unveiled its Video iPod. Some in the industry have suggested that Apple's new iPod poses a real threat to the PSP as a portable video player, but according to various U.K. news sources citing BBC Television, Sony Computer Entertainment's Chief Executive Producer Phil Harrison said he's not worried about Apple at all; he believes that the PSP is the #1 portable video player currently on the market. Sony may not be worried now, but if the Video iPod does well, Apple may put even more emphasis on the video function.
"Because millions of people around the world will buy this new iPod to play music, it will quickly become the most popular portable video player in history," boasted Apple's head honcho Steve Jobs.
"This isn't a video device," Nate Elliott, digital home analyst at Jupiter Research, suggested to the BBC. "This is video as a feature on an iPod. When Apple are ready to do video, you will see something more complete and more video-focused."
Worse yet for Sony is that there's already a strong rumor going around that this Video iPod could very well be a precursor to an actual video/gaming device from Apple. That should be very interesting if it proves true.
Covering security loopholes
Although it may appear that Sony released this latest firmware to stay a step ahead of Apple in the portable video department, the underlying reason is clearly for security measures. Hackers have been running emulators, pirated games and other software on version 1.50 PSPs. Sony updated to 2.00 to address this, but those clever hackers then discovered a way to revert 2.00 firmware to 1.50. Sony quickly followed that up with 2.01, but that version offered no incentive to upgrade. With 2.50, PSP owners will be more enticed to upgrade and therefore, more users will close that security hole.
Other notable upgrades in 2.50 include the ability to play copyright protected movies saved on a Memory Stick Duo, the ability to set the time and date on the PSP through the Internet, and the ability to save display mode and font size settings in the Internet browser as well as the browser saving form input history.
Caution: Sony says 2.50 is currently for Japanese PSPs only. Although the update would likely work on U.S. PSPs, update at your own risk. An official American version of 2.50 (and other regions) is expected in the near future.