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Beats: A New Way to Experience your MP3 Collection

Sony Computer Entertainment Studios London recently unleashed their new rhythm based title “Beats“. What differentiates Beats from other rhythm titles such as Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and Guitar Hero is its ability to play tracks from your personal MP3 music collection.

The game uses a beat tracking technology that maps button combos thus creating a unique gaming experience that revolves around your song selection. Each beat corresponds to a face button on your hand held, your goal is to successfully match the on-screen symbols with your PSP’s face buttons. The game also spreads out the symbols into three different directional sections (left, right and center) on the screen, which gamers must counter with the appropriate directional pad and face button sequences.

As you consecutively rack-up combos, your points multiplier meter, which is situated on the right hand side of the screen, goes up (x8 being your highest multiplier). The game will eventually give you glowing orbs that boost up your “Overdrive” meter (located on the left hand side of the screen). Once the meter has been filled up you can tap your left shoulder button and jump into Overdrive mode, which doubles the default points scheme (x16 being your highest multiplier).

The gameplay varies from song to song. It’s interesting to see how various musical genres are interpreted by the beat tracking technology. In other words, the more music you throw at the game the more fun you will have with it. It’s a unique and challenging way to experience your music.

Beats also offers a music creation game type called “Jamming.” In Jamming, you are given the opportunity to mix your own tracks using various predefined instruments. The game comes bundled with 11 tracks that each have their own sets of instruments. You jam along creating your own beats as you go while taping on the right shoulder button to switch through instruments. The tracks can then be recorded and shared with friends. Beats also includes a wireless multiplayer ad hoc mode which lets you create your own jam session with friends locally.

Beats also lets you customize your game to appeal to your tastes. The game offers over 70 background visualizations that interact with your gameplay. It would have been nice if you would have been able to switch through visualizations on the fly while playing the game, but the game offers enough variety to spruce things up when things get a little monotonous. You can also choose one of nine menu themes that match your song/artistic style. Hopefully Sony will offer up some extra visualizations and themes as downloadable content on the PlayStation Network.

Beats will change the way you listen to your music collection. Perhaps one day we’ll see the same type of beat tracking technology in other rhythm based games, thus giving users the ability to interact with their favorite tunes with ease. Beats can be downloaded either through the PlayStation Store on a Windows based PC (store.playstation.com) or on the PlayStation 3. Oh, and don’t let the mere $5 price tag fool you as Beats will definitely be one of those titles that you’ll keep coming back to. Dare I say Beats is one of the year’s most impressive PSP titles?

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Unlocking Original Dracula X Titles

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

Konami’s “Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles” for the Sony PlayStation Portable is a great compilation disk that features both original Dracula X titles. The only problem is that “Rondo of Blood” and “Symphony of the Night” need to be unlocked as they are not available from the get go. To make things a little easier, I’ve compiled my save from the game which will give you immediate access to both classic games from the title menu. Click here, extract the file and follow the readme instructions provided to install the save game and proceed to playing two of the best Castlevania titles of all time.

Here’s a small blurb about the game:

An update of the classic PC Engine title, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, the PSP title marks the first time the series has been released for the Sony handheld and also the first time the PC Engine game has been released in Europe. The conversion has been updated to make use of the stunning capabilities of the PSP, and features 3D graphics and all-new gameplay. Fans of the original game will also be able to unlock a pixel-perfect versions of the PC Engine game and of the acclaimed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night by achieving specific goals.

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A look at RnSK Softronics’ iPSP 3.0

iPSP

One of the premiere PSP media management solutions has always been RnSK Softronics’ iPSP. The original iPSP (intelligent Picture and Sound Pusher) was actually one of the first third-party application that facilitated media file transfers from your personal computer to your PlayStation Portable (PSP). RnSK’s iPSP was also, at the time, the premiere iLife-to-PSP media management solution for Macintosh users (and eventually Windows users). In essence, it was the fastest and easiest way to send iPhoto and iTunes content to your PSP by minimizing the required effort. iPSP was definitely a cut above the rest when first introduced in 2004.

Recently, the developer released a version upgrade for Mac OS X that takes advantage of Sony’s latest PSP firmware, while also catering to users who’ve stayed away from the occasional firmware updates in order for them to seek the system’s full potential on the homebrew side of things. The new iPSP 3.0 package basically caters to all types of PSP owners.

So what does version 3.0 offer that makes it so special?

Aesthetically, the software has been updated to look and feel like your traditional iLife application. iPSP uses a left-sided media pane which encompasses all of its functions. You choose which process you want to go through and a list of features for that particular function appears in the main window of the application. Some processes require no more than merely dragging and dropping your desired content on the PSP icon situated on the bottom portion of the media pane.

Like previous versions, iPSP lets you transfer full iTunes playlists to your PSP. All the user needs to do is create a specific playlist within iTunes, drop our desired songs (unprotected of course) in the playlist and iPSP will then automatically recognize that playlist and you’ll be able to drag it onto your PlayStation Portable. The same functionality applies to iPhoto; you simply locate the desired library and drag it onto your handheld.

iPSP also features enhanced video compression technology in comparison to its previous incarnation. The application supports creating conversions of the two main PSP compatible formats, which are MPEG-4 and AVC. iPSP will enable you to convert MPEG (.MPG), Windows Video (.AVI), Quicktime (.MOV), Windows Media (.WMV), DVD Object files (.VOB), DVD Video folders (VIDEO_TS), Digital Video files (.DV) and High Definition Video (.m2t), among other formats, to a PSP-ready standard. iPSP supports auto full screen for Widescreen video input, interactive Preview image selection and Custom titles.

PSP homebrew enthusiasts will be happy to learn that iPSP 3.0 even makes things simpler for them. The update now features a dedicated homebrew tab. The new homebrew features not only make it easier to transfer “eBoot” files to you PSP, but it also enables you to customize the homebrew application’s art and icons using simple drag and drop techniques. Having compatibility issues with your homebrew files? iPSP 3.0 makes it a breeze to convert your “eLoader” file to to a format that’s compatible with your PSP homebrew-friendly firmware, which is currently only compatible with PSP firmware 1.5 to 2.6.

The software is also includes disc image management solution. iPSP makes it easy for users to convert disc images for use on their specific PSP firmware. Supported PSPs will now be able to play their games directly from the unit’s Memory Stick. An excellent option for users who want to minimizing their handheld’s power consumption.

One of the neat features of iPSP is its automatic backup of your PSP game saves. Plug in your PSP, and the application does everything for you. You can then go back to previous save points and re-upload them to your PSP at any time. No more worries about overwriting a specific save point.

There’s no word yet on when Windows users will get the 3.0 upgrade (the Windows iteration currently sits at version 2.0.8). But hopefully RnSK Softronics will release a version for Microsoft zealots that will encompass some, if not all, of these updates for the platform.

A trial version of iPSP 3.0 is available for download through its official website at http://ipsp.kaisakura.com/. The latest version requires that users have Mac OS X Tiger installed as their base operating system. The previous version (v. 2.5.9) for OS X is also available for download off the site.

RnSK Softronics’ iPSP is also pretty affordable for what it does. You can purchase a the software for a little over $22CDN from the developer’s official site (http://ipsp.kaisakura.com/). Owners of the previous version of iPSP can upgrade to 3.0 for $9.95USD. Users of competing PSP management products who send in a copy of their product’s receipt can also take advantage of RnSK Softronics $9.95USD competitive upgrade.

iPSP is definitely one of the premiere PSP management solution for Mac OS X users, a definitive 5 out of 5 star application.

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Book Review: PSP Hacks

PSP Hacks

Want a little more use out of your PlayStation Portable (PSP), but don’t know how? Well O’Reilly has a solution for you thanks to writer C.K Sample III’s PSP Hacks: Tips and Tools for Your Mobile Gaming and Entertainment Handheld. The book features over 50 tips, tricks and hacks from various subject ranging from taking apart your PSP to hacking the colour of your handheld’s activity LED.

The book is actually a great companion for PSP owners as it features more in-depth information about the product itself than what’s offered in the owner’s manual that comes bundled with the handheld. Most, if not all, of the basic how to procedures are covered in the book.

PSP Hacks is separated into six chapters with several tips, tricks and hacks for each of them.

The first chapter is -The Basics- and includes insightful items on basic PSP procedures such as managing your handheld’s saved games to keeping the device sparkling clean.

The second chapter, -PSP Gear-, is dedicated to creating custom hardware for your portable gaming console. You learn how to create your own protective case, recycle well-known items for UMD disk storage and construct a wireless antenna, among other things.

The third chapter, -Multimedia-, features various tips on expanding your PSP’s multimedia capabilities. Readers will not only get tips on how to add audio, video and pictures on their PlayStation Portable, but they’ll also learn how to use the handheld as an ebook and comic book reader, as well as how to use the device for map viewing.

The fourth chapter, titled -Games-, is devoted to the gaming aspect of the PSP. The hacks in this chapter more or less covers the multiplayer aspect of the handheld by offering such tips as how to play games over the Internet and how to experience multiplayer gameplay using a single UMD disk. The chapter also explains how gamers can use homebrew software on the handheld.

Chapter 5, dubbed -Networking and the Web- encompasses tips on how to exploit the networking capabilities of the device. Here, you’ll get the scoop on various online items that can be useful for PSP owners. Among other things, readers will learn how to create a personal web portal formatted specifically for the PlayStation Portable and how to use the unit to control your home.

The book’s final chapter is named -Eye Candy- and is dedicated to tips and tricks that will help embellish the look of the system. The chapter includes hacks detailing how 1.5 firmware owners can change background images and how to change the colour of various LED’s on the handheld.

Like previous books in the O’Reilly Hacks series, PSP Hacks features three complexity thermometer icons that indicate the ease of the hack. The three levels are; beginner, moderate and expert, which technically means that this book is accessible to all, and bears no prejudice to your expertise level.

Head on over to http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/psphks/chapter/index.html to view five complimentary sample hacks from the book. The suggested retail price for PSP Hacks is $41.99CDN, but you can easily find the book for less than $30CDN through your favourite online retailer. A must have for any PSP owner.

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Griffin iFM and iTrip PSP Reviewed

iTrip PSP

Griffin, known for their iPod accessories, has released their first line of Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) items. The company delivered a version of their popular iTrip FM transmitter for the PSP and unleashed the handheld’s first FM radio receiver: the iFM.

As noted previously, iFM is a radio receiver that lets PSP owners listen to their favorite radio stations. The device also acts as a remote control for the unit’s multimedia capabilities. The iFM radio tuner also comes bundled with a small protective carrying case.

The iFM plugs into your PSP’s headphone port and takes its power consumption directly from the PSP, so there’s no need to carry extra batteries. The accessory’s low power consumption also ensures that you won’t need to worry about the FM receiver draining your PSP’s battery life.

The iFM receiver is small (24mm x 70mm x 13mm) and can fit easily in one’s pocket. The device sports the same black and grey acrylic look used by the PSP. The iFM also has a display that shows the frequency of the current FM transmissions.

The receiver uses a switch for users to change between FM and remote modes. When in FM mode, the navigation wheel is used to seek out transmissions and to control volume levels. On the remote setting, the iFM receiver acts like a standard PSP remote control.

On the down side, there’s no way for users to mix radio and gameplay, which means you can either listen to the radio or listen to what’s playing on your PSP. Also, iFM doesn’t let you save your favorite frequencies, so each time you’ll plug in the receiver, you’ll have to seek out your frequency of choice. It would have been nice to be be able to save those frequencies to a memory stick for future access.

If you want to add an extra media capability to your PSP, then iFM is an accessory for you. But with the growing quantity of quality audio content available for download on the Internet, the need for such a device is debatable. The iFM receiver retails for $59.99CDN.

On the other hand, the iTrip FM transmitter is a very useful device for PSP users that use all of the handheld’s multimedia capabilities. With the iTrip add-on, you can now broadcast your PSP’s audio to any FM radio within proximity.

The iTrip snaps on the bottom of your PSP without adding any major bulk to the unit. The playability of the PSP isn’t compromised when the iTrip is connected, as you can comfortably play your games while transmitting. Like the iFM receiver, the iTrip features a black acrylic look with a grey trim that matches the PSP.

When it comes to the quality of transmission, the short range broadcasts sound great and are easily comparable to other popular transmitters. When playing a UMD movie, the sound quality was similar to that of a drive-in theatre. As for music, it sounded like an FM broadcast, which is somewhat expected. All in all, depending on your stereo setup, you’ll get a better sounding product than what’s coming out of the PSP’s built-in speakers.

According to the manufacturer’s technical specifications, the iTrip’s operating range is between 10 and 30 feet. That’s pretty good for folks who have their stereo set up in the far corner of their living space.

Unlike the iFM, the iTrip doesn’t use the PSP as its power source and requires a set of 2 AA batteries. The iTrip doesn’t seem to steal any additional juice from the PSP, so you might not have to worry about power draining issues.

The iTrip also features an AC adapter input that enables you to charge your PSP while using the add-on. But for one reason or another, Griffin didn’t not include an AC input for the iTrip itself, which means users will have to lug around spare batteries for those long car trips.

The device lets you program three of your preferred frequencies. This way, you can easily switch to another channel if you’re receiving external interference.

The iTrip PSP FM transmitter is a great product for people who wish to expand the PSP’s audio range. Whether you’re in your car or at home, the iTrip transmitter is an easy and effective way to wirelessly listen to your PSP’s content on a more pronounced stereo system. The iTrip PSP will set you back $59.99CDN.

Overall, Griffin’s initial PSP add-ons are useful, but a few tweaks here and there would make both products must-haves for PSP owners. And perhaps one day there will be a product that combines both technologies in one package. To purchase the products, or to receive additional information, visit Griffin’s official site at http://www.griffintechnology.com.

 

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