Sony has announced a free-to-download version 2.0 software upgrade for the Japanese PlayStation Portable that will introduce a web browser and increased versatility in other areas of its multimedia support.
It's due out in Japan next Wednesday, 27th July, and most expect it to be released in North America around the same time. Europe may even see it pre-installed on PSPs. The update will be downloadable through Sony's website (to be installed via USB cable connection) and will be made available on future game discs as well.
The new software introduces a wireless internet browser with unspecified security features (presumably support for cookies - the bits that remember your settings on certain pages) and support for HTML 4.01. Flash is not supported, but the PSP can apparently detect it, so we may see that in future. The web browser will be housed in a net network menu.
But wait, as we're often forced to say during Sony's exhausting presentations, there's a whole lot more.
The version 2.0 update also introduces a desktop wallpaper style feature for the PSP menu, and will allow you to trade your stored pictures wirelessly. This feature will only be available via ad-hoc wireless networks to begin with (i.e. PSP to PSP direct) but it may be expanded to allow the general sharing of pictures someday. Watch out Hillary Clinton, eh?
In terms of multimedia support, there's now full MP4 (AVC) playback (for higher quality video using the h.264 codec, which is gobbledegook to us as well incidentally), ATRAC3plus Support (SonicStage v3.2 PC software required), MP4 AAC and WAVE audio support, and the ability to read TIFF, BMP (Bitmap) and even GIF image files, although whether animated GIF files will be supported is unknown.
Playback of UMD video and music will also gain a skipping feature so you can move to different points, and there will also be an A-B repeat mode, an as-yet unexplained 4:3 video mode (slightly puzzling as everything is in 4:3 really - they may mean Zoom or Stretch?), and an audio adjustment feature to mute or adjust the gain on videos.
Further under the bonnet we see things like WPA support for more secure wireless networks and a new character set (details of which are sketchy), as well as Korean language support.
Sadly, some previously rumoured features like an email program, word processor and, er, calculator, have not been mentioned in connection with the version 2.0 upgrade.
However the volume of interesting features is likely to put it firmly on most people's radars - particularly given that it's free. The big issue for some of the PSP's most ardent (and vocal) users however will be its inclusion of previous updates, including the one that ruined the hard work of the "homebrew" PSP development scene, which had been busy creating various tools, emulators and other trinkets to load from the Memory Stick. They will now have to decide whether to give up and upgrade (unlikely) or persist with their struggle to work round the new restrictions.
We'll let you know as soon as we get concrete news on the status of the upgrade in America and Europe, and will of course give it a whirl ourselves when we fire up our Japanese PSPs next Wednesday. Now, if only there was something else to play...