Sony PSP Launch Day – The Shot Heard Around the…err…Block…

Sony PSP Launch Day – The Shot Heard Around the…err…Block…
Written by Mark Smith

Originally Published on March 24, 2005

Nothing can quite live up to the hype of the launch of a new game system, especially when you have those four magic letters (S.O.N.Y.) as part of the media frenzy. In the past I’ve written first-hand accounts of the now-all-too-familiar experience of waiting in line for that magical passage of time when cash registers around the country accept the UPC code for the latest next-gen system.

Unlike those past articles and the waiting in line that preceded them, this launch is far less memorable for numerous reasons. The journey began around 6pm when I started calling the various stores around town (at least the ones who were launching at midnight) to check on the final quantities and if lines were forming. It wasn’t until 10:30pm when the electronics associate at Wal-Mart finally confirmed a lone person waiting “in line”. With 70 units in their known inventory I was confident securing a PSP would be no problem. Getting one that worked, would be the greater challenge, but I get ahead of myself.

So around 11:20pm myself and another GCM reviewer casually sauntered into Wal-Mart and sure enough, despite all the preparedness of a major system launch (extra staff, roped off waiting area, etc.) there were only three people waiting. As the 40 minutes ticked off only another four people showed up. At the stroke of midnight nine people were there to claim one of 70 possible units. And this was a Wal-Mart Super Center. The other Wal-Mart fared a bit better selling 30 units, but they are also located on the fringe of Purdue University.

Bottom line, we could have walked into the store at midnight and gotten out just as fast or even later that same day as I was about to soon find out…

You may have heard about the horror stories from Japan with their 6% defective rate on PSP’s at launch. Well it’s only worse in the States. Between the dead pixels and the embedded particles in the screens, I have never seen a system launch with this number of returns.

My first system had three dead pixels. I exchanged it for a new one only to find that under the screen there were embedded dust particles, or perhaps just chips in the glass (or plastic) that were causing the light to refract in all sorts of prismatic colors. It wasn’t as bad as the dead pixel model but for $250 I am demanding PERFECTION. Back to Wal-Mart for my third system – good thing they are right across the street – and finally, miracles of miracles, I get a flawless unit, but not before learning a few interesting facts.

At the store where I purchased my PSP, five of the 22 systems sold had been returned or exchanged and the other Wal-Mart that sold 30 at launch and another six since then had eight returned as defective. That’s a 23.6% defect rate for those of you who left your pocket calculators at home.

Now before you go saying I am the exception to the rule, Roger, my other editor who bought one (right after me) had five dead pixels on his unit; that’s two units out of 70 sold back to back in one store in one mid-sized town in one state. The mathematical possibilities are staggering.

While I cannot vouch for the life-expectancy of this unit once you do find a good one, I would highly recommend avoiding purchasing a PSP online, especially via eBay or some other auction site where your options for refunds and exchanges are limited or non-existent. Buy it in a store, preferably one close to your house, and keep your receipt. Better yet, ask to plug the sucker in before you leave the store and inspect the screen for any imperfections. The default white screen that comes up the first time you turn the system on is perfect for revealing dead pixels or foreign matter trapped beneath the glass.

The good news, there is NO SHORTAGE of PSP’s as initially expected. The demand and perceived popularity (or lack thereof) is surprising, not only to myself but a lot of retailers who were planning major launch events only to have a handful of people show up. Therefore, nobody should be price gouging on eBay, and there should be ample supply for you to keep exchanging your PSP as long as necessary.

I have to commend Sony for making sure all stores had at least some units. Nobody around here is actually “sold out” of PSP’s, which is a complete 180 from the debacle back in 2000 when the PS2 launched or more recently, this past holiday season when PS2’s were so scarce they were going for $500 on eBay.

But at the same time I have to admonish them for one of the buggiest system launches in history. Even the Xbox with its defective Thompson DVD drives and power cords took more than a year to reveal themselves. At least with the PSP you have instant and visual indications of flawed systems that you can see the moment you turn it on.

Of course no other handheld system in history has sported a screen of this size and clarity, so any imperfections are instantly noticeable, but come on, we’re talking SONY here. I would hope they were assembling these units in a “clean room”. And a few dead pixels might be acceptable to the Sony QA department but anyone shelling out $250 for a system should demand perfection.

The PSP Launch will certainly not live long in my mind. I’ve waited in longer lines to use a public toilet, often with more satisfying results. And while I won’t hold my first two faulty systems against Sony in my forthcoming PSP system review, the phrase “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) has never been more appropriate.

Look for our full system review (now that I have one that works) and launch game coverage coming soon…

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