Nintendo has announced a multimedia adaptor for its GBA SP and DS handheld platforms which will allow the devices to playback MPEG-4 video and MP3 audio. The new device, or Play-yan as Nintendo has named it, will launch in Japan in mid-February 2005 and is expected to retail for about USD 48.
According to the first official Japanese reports, the device will be able to playback movies for up to 4 hours and mp3's for 8-15 hours depending on whether the screen is kept on or not.
Video quality is expected to be very decent with resolutions of up to 320x240 and bit rates of up to 1.5 Mbps supported. Each 256 MB SD card will be able to store up to 2 hours of movies while the device will have its own headphone output in order to overcome some Nintendo hardware shortcomings. Movie and audio controls will be mapped onto the device buttons and the likely setup will include using D-Pad buttons for play, stop, fast forward and rewind functions.
Mp3 playback will decode VBR and 32-320 kbps bitrate files and will support ID3 tags.
Although all these features must be a welcome addition to the Nintendo handheld range, there is some confusion as to why the company will not support any means to transfer files onto the SD card. This will force DS and GBA SP owners who want to gain multimedia functionality to also purchase an SD card writer in order to transfer files from their PCs.
Another question arising from this announcement is that if the company can offer these features only 2 months after the DS launch, why were they not included in the final product? Keeping the price down must be the main reason since it gives Nintendo an obvious advantage over its main rival. Yet another issue arising from this product concerns Nintendo's previous anti-PSP statements which claimed that its DS is all about the games. Nintendo had been very quick to stress that the DS will not be competing with Sony's PSP since they were different devices. It seems however, that the gloves are off and one company feels strong enough to begin making a move on the others market.
Since Nintendo claims that current plans only allow for a Japanese release of the Play-yan device it is not certain how far-reaching this head-to-head competition with Sony will be.