Nintendo has announced plans to release a multimedia adapter for its Game Boy Advance SP and Nintendo DS handhelds within the next few months in Japan, extending both systems' functionality to cover MPEG-4 video and MP3 audio playback.
Dubbed "Play-yan", the GBA cartridge-sized adapter plays files stored on SD cards which tuck neatly into one side, and gives the Nintendo handhelds multimedia playback functionality to rival Sony's PlayStation Portable, which launched in Japan on December 12th featuring the same options out of the box - a necessary bit of file structure faffing notwithstanding.
Nintendo expects to release Play-yan in Japan in mid-February and it's likely to cost 5,000 yen (around €35). There's no word on any other territories, and Nintendo is expected to limit distribution to pre-orders on its official website.
According to Japanese reports, Play-yan will run for around four hours while playing back movies, and as few as eight or as many as fifteen hours playing back MP3 audio depending on whether the LCD screen is turned on or off.
The video decoder involved will support resolutions of up to 320x240 and bit rates of up to 1.5Mbps, and it will be possible to store something as big as a two-hour movie on a 256MB SD card. As well as ASF MPEG-4 video, the Play-yan will also support SD-Video format for anybody with equipment that can record direct to SD cards. However, disappointingly, MPEG-4 audio playback will be monaural.
MP3-wise, Play-yan will support VBR (Variable Bit Rate) recordings and plays back anything between 32 and 320Kbps bit rates, which is likely to cover anything in your digital music collection. It will also support ID3 tags for identifying tracks, and Japanese text for track titles and artist names. Advanced playback options like a shuffle feature are being worked on.
Reports state that the Play-yan behaves very much like a GBA game, outputting at the GBA's native resolution when played through a DS, and that playback controls are distributed logically across each console's buttons - with rewind and fast forward controls mapped to the D-pad, and brightness controls on the L and R shoulder buttons. Selecting files to play back will be a case of picking from animated thumbnails on-screen for videos and text listings for music.
Acknowledging the GBA SP's headphone port deficiency somewhat, Nintendo also says the Play-yan will come with it sown mini stereo plug - which also means that you can listen to music that hasn't passed through the SP or DS audio hardware on its way to your ears.
Bizarrely though, Nintendo won't be supplying any means of transferring files to the SD cards, so you will need a separate SD card reader/writer in order to actually record data using your PC.
For the most part though, it's an impressive advance, particularly for the GBA, making far more of its obvious potential than the various Pokemon episode cartridges and other GBA-Video titles ever did. All that said though, it does beg the question: if Nintendo did want to compete with Sony on multimedia playback, why on earth didn't this functionality make it into the Nintendo DS?
As soon as we hear anything else on the Play-yan, particularly its future if any outside Japan, we'll be sure to let you know.