1/31/06 UPDATE: It is now possible to run homebrew games and apps on PSPs of all versions. No luck for ISO loaders though.
With only 4% of Internet users acknowledging the existence of RSS feeds, it’s pretty wild that Sony decided to add Podcasting support as a firmware update (2.6) for their portable entertainment device, the Sony PSP. Perhaps this is Sony’s way to wrestle with Apple on becoming a distribution channel for bringing podcasts to the mainstream masses. Nevertheless, it makes sense going in this direction since the motivation to listen to free audio content would drive consumers to intrinsically understand the web technologies involved (i.e. RSS).
Simply speaking, RSS feeds allow for all kinds of content to be delivered to you as long as you subscribe to it. In the case of podcasting, you’d be subscribing to audio feeds (mostly MP3s) which get downloaded automatically as soon as it’s published by the podcast owner. For portable devices such as the Sony PSP, PDAs or even cell phones, browsing regular web pages can be a tedious process given the mediocre connection speed, rendering time and screen size of your portable device. As such, the ability to read RSS feeds (and podcasts) make even more sense since it immediately delivers to you what you’re interested in, without the need of looking at a single web page.
Now, the big question is: Should PSP owners upgrade?
Keeping the PSP firmware to 1.5 allows us to run all our favorite homebrew programs, including ISO loaders which let you play backed up images of UMD games off your memorystick. I see this as the strongest proponent for sticking with version 1.5. However, with the trend of newer UMD games requiring at least 2.0 firmware (e.g. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo), gamers are now at the turning point where it might make more sense to forgo playing with UMD game images for more everyday usability of their PSP. While it would be ideal for the homebrew scene to develop for version 2.6, the cat and mouse game Sony has been playing with their regular firmware updates currently puts them in a good secured spot.
Looking at the big picture, Sony’s been pretty smart in adding more features to the PSP to entice users to relinquish control of their portable device over to the media giant. Features provided in the new firmware version are just too tempting to pass up for some of us, and if you need more convincing before making the leap of faith (going to 2.6), try reading Russell Beattie’s review of PSP’s Podcasting support. For me, I still have one gripe before making the switch: Where’s the darn keyboard!?!
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UPDATE: Businessweek has a good article on PSP hackers vs. Sony
UPDATE 2: For those with chart-fetishes, PSP-Vault now has a fantastic Firmware Compatibility Chart, complete with media formats and downgrading opportunities. This should help answer a lot of your PSP-related questions.