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Sony denies delay to PSP launch

Analyst stirs the hornet's nest with warning of delay, but are the claims justified?

SCEA has issued a statement reaffirming that the company is on track to launch the PSP on schedule, responding to comments from analyst P.J. McNealy who argued that technical and business problems could cause the launch of the device to slip.

McNealy issued a memo to that effect yesterday, arguing that the March 2005 launch date for the platform in North America looked likely to slip on the grounds of both third-party publisher issues, and problems within Sony itself.

He believes that the apparent late arrival of PSP development kits could cause major problems for the platform; "from a developer's perspective, they would ideally already have had an SDK for a March 2005 launch, as the later the arrival of an SDK into July or August, the odds of having a game ready drop," his memo claims.

He goes on to argue that the launch could also be delayed by "internal issues for Sony with the PSP that are not only technical, but also business-model related," citing the need for support for the device from both Sony Pictures and Sony Music as well as from the Sony Computer Entertainment division.

McNealy points out that the multimedia nature of the PSP means that development kits for the platform need to be made available to movie, music and TV media companies as well as to game developers, which adds further complication to the situation.

However, Sony Computer Entertainment America responded to the memo by saying that " we are on track with the launch timeline disclosed at E3 2004" - which calls for a launch in Japan before the end of this year, and US and European launches in Q1 2005 - and indeed, certain aspects of McNealy's note don't hold up well to further scrutiny.

For a start, while many studios don't have final PSP development kits as yet, they have been working with emulation toolkits and - in some cases - early development hardware for some time, and quite a number of games for the platform are already well-progressed.

Although obviously developers would prefer to be working with final development systems, conversations with those working on technology and titles for the new handheld suggest that the emulation systems are perfectly capable as a development platform - at least in the early to mid-stages of the cycle.

The argument that movie studios need development kits also assumes a number of things; firstly, that they actually need SDKs to build their content onto the UMD discs (they'll certainly need some information and hardware, but this is likely to be much simpler than the game software development kits), and secondly, that they don't already have those products. The procedure for porting a title from DVD onto UMD is also an extremely simple one compared to game development, and shouldn't take more than a few days - so the timescales are far less pressing.

As for the music studios, it seems increasingly unlikely that they'll be asked to put their content onto the UMD disc format. Our money would be on Sony pushing the PSP's music functionality as a part of its Connect Music Store - an existing service, similar to Apple's iTunes, which would allow users to purchase music tracks and save them onto the Memory Stick storage in the PSP for use as a portable player.