It’s nearly time to bid farewell to Sony’s PlayStation Portable, the little handheld that couldn’t-quite in terms of outpacing Nintendo’s DS, a portable that outpaced every other as well as nearly every games console (it’s currently just a few million shy of overtaking Sony’s PlayStation 2 with over 150 million units sold worldwide).
But at just over 75 million units sold, the PSP was still a success by most measures, and in the seven years since its Japanese debut in December 2004, it’s accumulated a catalogue of memorable games (some exclusive, others arguably superior console ports): God of War: Chains of Olympus, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Daxter, Jeanne D’Arc and so on.
The PS Vita supports PSP games by way of software emulation, but since the Vita lacks a UMD disc-drive, the only way to get PSP games onto the system is by repurchasing them from Sony’s PlayStation Store and downloading them to a Vita memory card.
The upside is, PSP games tend to look better on the Vita than they did running at native resolution on the PSP’s 3.8-inch, 480 x 272 pixel LCD screen. That’s because the Vita employs two optional techniques when upscaling PSP games to its 5-inch, 960 x 544 pixel OLED screen: bilinear filtering, and something Sony calls “color space.”
When LCD technology arrived, it came with a hidden price: static pixel resolution. Every LCD-based screen has a native resolution — output something at a resolution lower than the LCD’s native resolution, and the image has to be upscaled, stretching or “interpolating” the pixels. The result tends to be a blurry, slightly mangled image, most noticeable around the edges of objects, say a 2D text box or a 3D character’s body outline. The greater the resolution difference, the greater the visual degradation.
PSP games run at 480 x 272 pixel resolution, but have to be upscaled to the Vita’s 960 x 544 pixels. What’s more, the Vita has an OLED screen, meaning the way it handles colors is actually different from the PSP’s LCD-based color technology. To remedy the interpolation and color issues with PSP games, the Vita allows you to enable “bilinear filtering” and make color output more like it would be on an LCD screen.
Bilinear filtering is a fairly common technique used to smooth textures when they’re displayed larger or smaller than their actual size. I’ve seen it enabled in a few games on the Vita, like Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, and to my eye, Square Enix’s tactical RPG actually looks better, while benefitting from the Vita’s spacious screen real estate. The blur I was expecting is barely discernible, and the game has a cleaner overall look — still detailed, but with its edges smoothed over.
The benefits of “color space” are less apparent so far — Sony admits the impact of this feature may be hard to determine in some games, and that looks to be the case in Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions — but if you’re after LCD fidelity, at least the option’s available.
There’s actually one more downside to Vita-PSP gameplay at the outset: Sony isn’t offering the full catalogue of PlayStation Store PSP games for download…well, not yet. They’ve just put up the launch list on the PlayStation blog, and while they’re only offering 275 PSP games at launch, they promise “more PSP titles will be made available for PS Vita play in the coming weeks.”