The Next Big (Little) Thing: The Story of the PSP2 (so far)

(This, and every other image of the PSP2 included in this post, is not representative of the final design of the device.)

Once again, we stand on the precipice of a major Sony press event with a mountain of evidence suggesting that the announcement of a new, PlayStation-branded gaming console is mere hours away. Much like the leaks surrounding the PS3 Slim in the weeks preceding its revelation, the rumors buzzing about the PSP2 -- not to be confused with the Xperia Play smartphone (though we wouldn't blame you if you did) -- are wide-ranging and, oftentimes, pretty darn conclusive.

We've collected all the major points of the PSP2's nebulous history and arranged them in as comprehensive and critical a manner as we can muster below. Of course, we can't speak with absolute authority about the accuracy of any of the suggestions therein -- Sony will perform that arduous task for us at 1 AM ET tonight, during its Tokyo-based press conference -- but, with luck and determination, we should be able to separate the credible wheat from the impossible chaff.

The Origins

Pinpointing the very first reports about the PSP2 is a tricky process -- after all, many of them actually referred to features which would later be incorporated into the PSP Go. It likely started (as most things on the internet do) with wild, photoshopped mock-ups from enthusiastic fans of the original PSP. Or, perhaps, enthusiastic fans of digital toilet paper.

In November 2008 -- still some six months before the PSP Go was announced -- the first report of what could be the next, next Sony handheld surfaced. British microprocessor manufacturer Imagination Technologies announced a partnership with an anonymous "major international consumer electronics company." Citing similarly anonymous sources, EE Times reported that the company was Sony -- and the partnership would result in the incorporation of Imagination's PowerVR SGX graphics processor into the PSP2.

By itself, this unsourced report wouldn't be a lot to go on; though that wouldn't be the last we heard about Imagination. More on that later.

After letting these rumors simmer for close to a month, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe president David Reeves stifled the buzz. In an interview with MCV, Reeves claimed "there are currently no plans for a PSP2," adding, "I go to Tokyo quite a lot and no one has referred to it – I think they have their hands full at the moment."

In the following days, sources informed Eurogamer of what projects might just be occupying the company's hands. First, the development of a "PSP-4000," a remodeled version of the handheld that would be released in late 2009. That prophesy would come true with the October 2009 release of the PSP Go -- the other half of the report was the development of a "true successor" to the handheld, which would be released at a much later date.

Sony marketing director John Koller would quickly squash these rumors as well, telling Silicon Valley Insider that "no plans for a PSP2 are underway." He attributed the rumors to a misrepresentation of Sony's strategy of moving away from UMDs and into digital content. Our stony, bitter hearts could easily chalk Koller and Reeves' dismissals as corporate legerdemain -- though, we've found that it's typically not a great idea to talk about your next, next piece of major technology when you haven't yet announced your next piece of technology. We can't really fault them for sticking to this ironclad stratagem, if that is indeed what they were doing.

The most solid confirmation of the PSP2's existence came not from surreptitious Sony insiders or leaked company memos, but rather, from the software developers and publishers to whom the device had been distributed.

Mortal Kombat developer Netherrealm Studios certainly had the most gusto about discussing the heretofore unannounced device, with executive producer Shaun Himmerick telling Industry gamers last September "we have a PSP2 in the house and we're looking at the engine, like what can it support." He later added, "PSP2 looks like it's a pretty powerful machine," but didn't go into any further specifics about the device -- we assume that his matter-of-fact manner of speaking about the rumored peripheral sent the interviewer into some kind of shock.

EA senior vice president Patrick Soderlund also outed the device in an interview with CVG. When asked if his company had "exposure" to the handheld, he responded, "Well, obviously as a developer we have had that, but I'm not allowed to talk about it." Dude, you just did! That's what you just did.

The Hardware Specifications

Though the evidence of the development and distribution of the PSP2 listed above is fairly conclusive, things get a bit thornier when attempting to suss out the hardware specifications of the device. There's no dearth of rumor and speculation about what the PSP2 can do -- though it stands to reason that it can't do everything the internet says it can. (Like, yeah, we'd love to have a portable gaming system that also does our laundry, but that seems a little out of the realm of possibilities.)

While talking with an unnamed developer in April 2009, Pocket Gamer revealed the first rumored features of the handheld: A slide-out touch screen and dual analog stick controls. However, it's worth noting that the same developer also mentioned a UMD-less media storage solution and a pre-Christmas launch window -- making it sound like he'd confused and combined features of both the unannounced PSP Go and PSP2.

In November of last year, VG247 obtained two purported images of a prototype PSP2 unit from a developer -- IGN, citing its own industry sources, seconded the authenticity of the photos. The images (which depict a development kit, and therefore do not reflect the device's "final form factor,") do indeed show off a pair of analog sticks, as well as increasingly common handheld features such as a microphone and front and rear-mounted cameras -- however, its touch interface was surprisingly represented by a laptop-esque trackpad housed on the back of the device.

Some sort of touch interface seems like a lock for the handheld; not only is it the only feature consistently mentioned in every PSP2 rumor and report, but Sony also filed a number of patents last November for various implementations of touchscreen technology. In fact, one of the many patents included in the filings was for a touch interface that could affect an entirely different display -- lending even more credibility to the rear trackpad speculation.

IGN followed-up on the leaked images with a report from yet another developer, who (once again) confirmed that the photos were real. They added a few more details about the hardware -- namely, that the device's sliding, slightly larger screen is touch-enabled, and that the device would be sans-UMD. However, they also discussed the console's innards, stating it would be "just over half as powerful as the PS3," and would produce, "graphics comparable to early PlayStation 3 titles."

According to the report, the goal for the handheld is to allow developers to create a seamless gaming experience for folks who want to start their game on the PS3, and carry that game with them in their pocket via the PSP2 -- a feat that the PSP can already achieve in limited circumstances (specifically, PSOne Classics and Minis)

The hardware that might turn the dream into reality may have been outed by Eurogamer in July 2009. Citing anonymous sources, the site claimed that Imagination Technologies (the microprocessor manufacturer who started the very first PSP2 buzz) was working on a new PowerVR chip for the handheld, similar to the PowerVR SGX that is currently incorporated into Apple's iOS devices.

The source claims that the chip, codenamed "Hydra," would be capable of producing 133 million polygons per second and a fillrate of 4G per second. To put it in simpler terms, Digital Foundry claimed this technology would result in visuals roughly equivalent to the original Xbox. The Hydra, according to the report, would serve as the PSP2's GPU and CPU, boosting the device's power efficiency and giving developers a little more elbow room to work with.

The last bit of speculation about the device's capabilities surfaced only recently. A report from Nikkei claims the handheld will come equipped with an OLED screen, and will support 3G data for online multiplayer and PSN downloads. The report claims that Japanese 3G service for the device will be provided by NTT DoCoMo; an agreement first hinted at last July in a Wall Street Journal article. No price or subscription details about accessing the 3G network through the device were mentioned in either report.

From The Horse's Mouth

Aside from the few times when they quickly swatted down the idea of a PSP successor, Sony has remained fairly mum on the handheld -- though last December, Sony Computer Entertainment president Kazuo Hirai did touch lightly on the subject. In an interview with the New York Times, Hirai addressed the challenges associated with differentiating between a gaming smartphone and a portable gaming console -- though he never explicitly named the PSP2 or Xperia Play, as Sony has still yet to announce either.

When pressed about whether the new handheld would incorporate touch controls, Hirai explained, "there are [games] where you can play perfectly well with a touch panel. But you can definitely play immersive games better with physical buttons and pads. I think there could be games where you're able to use both in combination." That seems to add even more fuel to the trackpad fire, as a touch interface on the back of the console would ostensibly allow the player to access buttons and the touch panel using only their two human hands.

Tonight at 1 AM EST, the PSP2 is expected to be revealed during a Sony press conference -- hopefully clearing up which of the information presented above is accurate, and which is pure, raw bunko. The timing of this announcement seems a little odd, considering the Xperia Play "PlayStation Phone" -- a device that's been grinding away in the rumor mill long, long before people started talking about a PSP2 -- hasn't yet been formerly acknowledged by the company. However, considering the 3DS' lead in controlling the news cycle for the next generation of portable gaming hardware, it makes sense that Sony would want to start getting the word out without further delay.

Judging by the evidence above, we'd say the odds of seeing a touch interface on the back of the console is fairly certain, as is the integration of 3G support. It also seems likely that Imagination Technologies' ... technology is powering the device -- but again, we can't say for sure until firsthand info surfaces during the press conference's proceedings.

One thing's for certain, though: If you've got a crush on a classmate, a humiliating medical condition or any other kind of deep, dark secret you don't want aired out to the general populace, we could think of like, a million other games companies to whom you should entrust said info before entrusting it to Sony.

Like, a million.