No More Homebrew

Sony's 2.0 PSP firmware update is coming to the U.S. August 12, but will gamers want to update? The update includes many sought-after features including a full-featured web browser, but it closes up the security holes that allowed homebrew PSP applications to run off of memory sticks.

Sony announced recently that the PSP 2.0 firmware update would be made available to US PSP owners beginning on August 12. The update, previously released in Japan on July 27, adds significant functionality to the unit (including a full-featured web browser) while closing up security holes that allowed the PSP to run unsupported programs, much to the ire of those in the emulation and homebrew enthusiast scenes.

Sony recently warned that the Japanese BIOS update was not intended for American PSPs, and that those with US units who did update their hardware prematurely were in fact voiding their warranty by doing so. On the other side of the Atlantic, SCEE announced that every PSP will come packaged with the 2.0 firmware when the system launches September 1.

Sony has maintained from the system's initial unveiling that the PSP would serve as a true multimedia device, serving as a viable piece of hardware for consuming music, movies, and pictures, in addition to playing games. The US launch including Sony Picture's Spiderman 2 on UMD reinforced this stance. Unfortunately, converting video to a PSP-recognizable format, then getting that video onto a memory stick, proved less than intuitive. The PSP's limited picture and music file type recognition further hampered the system's adoption as a portable multimedia hub.

The 2.0 update goes a long way to rectify the initially unwieldy functionality, and brings the PSP a large step closer to being a viable cross-medium device. PSP owners can now use any image they like as their system wallpaper, instead of cycling through monthly colors. Images stored on memory sticks can also now be transferred wirelessly from one PSP to another. WPA wireless security support is included in the update as well, for those who require more robust wireless protection.

Several more audio/video formats are also supported by the update. TIFF, GIF, PNG, and BMP images are now recognized. AAC music file functionality has been included as well, for those PSP owners who have converted their music collection with iTunes. Lastly, MP4 (AVC) video files can now be played back on PSPs.

Arguably the most significant new feature in the update is the full-featured web browser. Included are many features that no one would have blamed Sony for not introducing until the second or third iteration of the software, including keyboard shortcuts for common text strings such as http:// and .com. Images and pod casts from the web are easily downloaded to memory stick. Complete JavaScript functionality is also present.

The browser represents a significant increase in the consumer value of the PSP, and brings the system one step closer to being a one-stop media consumption device.

Sony Taketh Away

The 2.0 update also closes virtually all of the security holes that PSP hackers had discovered since the system's launch. Some of the more dangerous exploits discovered allowed pirates to run ripped copies of retail PSP games, including Lumines, Mercury, and Coded Arms.

PSP Emulation also sprang up, with PSP-compatible NES, SNES, and GameBoy emulators hitting the scene with almost shocking rapidity. The sudden "back library" of 1000s of ROMs was not the type of increased functionality Sony had intended for their portable system. There are also more harmless PSP homebrew projects, most of which attempt to get anything and everything running on the system, including Linux, just to prove it can be done.

The question for PSP homebrew enthusiasts on August 12 will be whether Sony's official additions of a web browser and increased file type support outweigh the applications being developed for the system without Sony's consent. Future PSP games will require the 2.0 update to run however, thereby forcing the hackers' hand.