The PSP's free firmware updates have been as regular as a porridge addict since the platform first launched back in December of 2004, and now, some two years later, we've reached the landmark v3.01, which replaced last week's v3.00 after a minor security fix addition.
V3.01 is of particular significance, number-wise, because it represents the first update that complements the long-awaited arrival of Sony's PlayStation 3 home console. It's also a significant arrival for those PSP owners actively involved in PSP Homebrew – in that they may want to avoid it like the plague, since it closes security gaps that previously enabled Homebrew use.
So, beyond the peril it poses to Homebrew users, and bearing in mind that these firmware updates are free, what exactly are you getting for your money with this latest instalment?
PlayStation 3 meets PSP
Perhaps the most notable addition delivered by v3.01 arrives in the form of PlayStation Network functionality (presently in Japan and North American regions only, thanks to the PS3's delayed March 2007 launch in Europe), which enables the purchase and downloading of PSOne and PSP format games via the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Store.
Currently the initial PSOne line-up is somewhat limited – Sony has pledged to increase the selection "in the coming weeks" – with the games on offer including Tekken 2, Arc the Lad, Hot Shot Golf 2, Silent Bomber, and Resident Evil: Director's Cut.
The individual downloads will be priced between $5.99 and $10.99 USD, and should consume approximately 140MB to 550MB of Memory Stick Duo capacity when transferred over to your PSP.
Remote Play is another related and substantial firmware addition. This enables owners of both consoles to have their PlayStation 3's system screen displayed on the PSP for the wireless control of playback and use of content. Note though that the transferred PS3-to-PSP control does not stretch to actual gameplay — which could come as a bit of a disappointment to some.
Lights, camera, RSS action
As a merely aesthetic addition to the PSP's music playback function, Sony has included the colourful and energetic five-piece Visual Player. This offers newly implemented Visual Player effects that can be enjoyed by selecting any uploaded song through the PSP system's Music folder.
The patterns you're offered are similar to those we've come to know on the PSOne and PlayStation 2, and, while attractive, they'll likely only offer long-term appeal to PSP users who've been particularly craving the mesmerising distraction of throbbing particle effects and pseudo graphic equalisers to accompany their mobile tunes.
A potentially more useful feature offered up with firmware v3.01 is the Camera function, although again you'll have to wait for new hardware, since this will work in tandem with the upcoming PSP Camera peripheral.
The PSP Camera is a nifty little hardware add-on that attaches firmly to the PSP through the USB port and turns your console into an instant digital photo and movie camera. The v3.01 Camera interface gives you the necessary control for when and if you decide to invest in the camera; Sony has not yet confirmed the price and official release date.
Elswhere, the system's RSS Channel folder has also received an update called Set Timer, which enables busy on-the-go users to select the exact time their PSP will automatically connect online and download content from the selected channel of choice.
Finally, there's a convenient UMD Auto Start feature, which implements automatic playback on an inserted UMD disc whenever the PSP is powered on. The Auto Start option is listed in System Settings and can be turned off easily whenever it's not desired.
Help is at hand
Got all that? If you're confused by all the options the ever-expanding firmware is throwing at you, then this upgrade's final feature will surely help: v3.01 offers up a handy Online Instruction Manual feature, which should prove helpful if ever caught in a PSP bind. (That said, there's really nothing that can't be found through Google these days, and you should also check out Pocket Gamer's PSP How To guides).
So there you have it, the very latest PSP system update for your download enjoyment. Remember folks, the newest game releases will not load unless v3.01 is installed on your hardware. This shouldn't be a problem in practice though, because the games themselves will also have the update available for installation.
The v3.01 system update can be swiftly downloaded directly to your waiting PlayStation Portable hardware (via a USB 2.0 cable or the PSP's wireless WLAN function) through the official YourPSP website. (Note: Our 'Buy It!' button refers to the PSP itself.)