Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What does it take to build a PSP?

  1. May 4, 2005 #1
    I'm not sure anyone here knows, but let me explain what a PSP is. A PSP stands for "Playstation portable" its a home entertainment system which you can do the following:

    1) Look at photos
    2) Download music, listen to music
    3) Download videos, listen to video
    4) Play full 3D video games

    All downloaded from your computer. It also has B wi-fi, so you can connect to hotspots or a router to play games online or to browse the web.

    Now, I'm curious. Who engineers these technological marvels? Is there a physist, sitting in the background, doing calculuations on how to design it? It has a circuirt board. How do they design this machine? Is knowledge of physics/calculus nessicary?

    I hope I can one day build such a machine, thanks to science.

    Note: It also uses a laser to bread UMD (Universal Media Discs) and has full length feature films on these discs.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 4, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    The PSP is a combination of a lot of technology all blended into one device and its late arrival is an indication of how far some of those technologies needed to mature to make all of that fit into such a small device.

    The feature set is a product of assembling many individual integrated circuits (IC) chips with each being a marvel of technology where a small square of very special melted beach sand (silicon) allows for an incredible number of electrical devices in close proximity that require little power to operate.

    Getting all those little pieces assembled and writing software to make it all run smoothly would fall under electronic / computer /software engineering and is likely done on very specialized software.

    Designing a case that can protect the circuit board and packages everything to hold the batteries and screen and buttons is more like mechanical engineering / industrial design and will likely be done on very specialized software again.

    Then when you figure this is done by a team where all the compromises need to be worked out and each change tested and so on it becomes a very impressive endeavor that would require the financial resources of Sony to pull it off. It may not be on the level of our Apollo space program or the design of the 777 or A380 airplanes but it is still a big deal. The gant charts alone probably needed a dozen reams of paper. How do you calculate the costs in terms of caffine alone with the sodas and coffee that must have went into it?! :smile:
  4. May 5, 2005 #3
    I have a similar curiosity. I often wonder how long it would take me to just design a dvd player but then I've realised that these things seem like to much because I don't have the knowledge (microelectronics, dsp, etc.) of how they work and are engineered. Once I do I know it will be as easy as shutting down my pc
    :smile: .
    Last edited: May 5, 2005
  5. Sep 19, 2005 #4
    That is very interesting. I hope to find gold in my PSP (ISn't there gold plated material in there?)
  6. Sep 20, 2005 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Physicists generally have nothing to do with consumer electronics design. A good number of physicists spend their time studying ways to make electrical devices smaller, faster, or consume less power.

    The field of integrated circuit (IC) design can be loosely divided into design and manufacture. Physicists work on advancing the processes by which ICs are manufactured, while engineers actually design circuits which use the processes.

    The people who design devices like the PSP are electrical (and computer) engineers. Hundreds of thousands of man-hours are required to engineer all the different components that go into a device like the PSP. A single person would need dozens of years of education to actually be capable of designing and building every component.

    - Warren
  7. Oct 2, 2005 #6
    Much of it depends on the level of integration needed. For most consumer electronics devices a vast quantity of components and or libraries are readily available, thus its not as bad as one would think. Still complex, but not beyond the realm of a few dedicated people to do (provided funding is available), combined with a lot of beer, coffee, and pizza. Now to do it all from scratch is another story entirely, but few entities can justify the costs outside of the medical arena,where they are forced to DIY due to liability issues.

    If we go down the function lists.
    1) Look at photos
    2) Download music, listen to music
    3) Download videos, listen to video
    4) Play full 3D video games
    5) Wifi

    All pretty easy to do with off the shelf components basically an embedded pc chipset, an os, and some firmware to make it fly, and some cool packaging. I would guess 24 man months is all that would be needed if that. Now, to meet the price targets, and acheive marketability the complexity shoots through the ceiling... and much of it will be driven by marketing feedback and design changes along the way. No doubt the delay was probably caused not be technical issues, but by market driven ones causing major rip up and redo activities.

    Now to design each component and function from silicon on up, it might well take tens of thousands of man months.

    As far as calculus goes... its going to be behind the scenes, typically in the arena of thermal/power budgets, and the internal processes. Few firmware developers will be involved in that arena. They may however have libaries that make extensive use of numerical analysis techniques, but to them, its just a black box. Otoh, from a ground up approach, the process developers live with it pretty much constantly.

  8. Oct 4, 2005 #7
    I love this thread! hope more people can respond to it!
  9. Oct 4, 2005 #8

    New chips come out very often these days with more computing power, less power consumption and less heating. It's now up to the engineer to take this new chip and implement it in a new product.

    To design a new mircoprocessor takes teams of dozens of best engineers working 'round the clock for months or even years.

    It is unlikey that you could do all that by yourself, but you can certainly be part of it.
  10. Oct 5, 2005 #9
    wow that is fasinating! what do you have to know to design such chips? calculus and physics?
  11. Oct 5, 2005 #10
    Yes, knowledge of physics and calculus is important. However, those topics are only the very fundamental beginnings of the tools engineers use. The engineers designing these devices have a background in circuit design/analysis, power electronics, semiconductor devices, digital signal processing, etc. These topics span many different fields, so it is easy to see why it would require a team of engineers from different backgrounds to assemble a PSP. And that is just the hardware -- there is the software aspect of the device as well!

    The people working on the PSP are electrical and computer engineers. If you are interested in designing such devices, that is the route to take.
  12. Oct 5, 2005 #11
    does it take calculus to design the PSP?

    What calculus in engineering does it take to design the PSP? (Playstation portable system)?

  13. Oct 5, 2005 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    You've asked this question like 10 times!!!
  14. Oct 5, 2005 #13

    I already asked it?
  15. Oct 6, 2005 #14


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

  16. Oct 6, 2005 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I've merged the two threads on this topic.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2005
  17. Oct 6, 2005 #16
    sorry about that!
  18. Oct 6, 2005 #17


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Is there a reason why you are so concerned with the use of calculus in the design of the PSP? Homework project, perhaps?

    Calculus is generally only used in the lower levels of the design, which involve analog circuits for amplifying and converting information between analog and digital forms. Calculus is also involved in the design of the individual electrical components, such as transistors and diodes, within the integrated circuits. Variants of calculus can be found in software comprising the audio and video codecs.

    - Warren
  19. Oct 6, 2005 #18
    Thanks. Actually no its not a homework project. I just ask alot of questions and am curious about calculus's involvement in real life. I am interested to know what it is actually used for in real life. Do you explain more about audio codecs? Not sure what those are. Alot of smart cookies here, I barely know any of this, and I'm 17!

  20. Oct 6, 2005 #19
    Analog and digital form. You mean like, when I push a button or when I push the D pad, this gets converted into eletrical impulses ? is this what you mean?

  21. Oct 6, 2005 #20


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Calculus is one of the basic understandings needed to complete higher physics and engineering because the math behind calculus is the basis for the understanding of the theory. Finding a direct relation and explaining if a laplace transform or a fourier series is what you need to study is quite a bit more difficult, but once you understand those areas you begin to apply them in new ways.

    A codec is a COmpression-DECompression standard, its going to be a combination of both math and for lossy formats like MP3 or JPG a study of human senses. How much background noise or low level audio can be discarded before you can hear a difference, how much color and detail information can be discarded before you see a difference? Or, it could be better said its a question of how much can be discarded to make for an acceptable compromise of storage/speed to reduce cost or improve playtime?

    Life is analog, the sun comes up and the light progressively gets brighter as the angle relative to the surface improves, water flows in a river as influenced by gravity. Now we could quantify such activities and represent the quantifications with numbers. We could then specify how we look at those numbers and further refine it into how many numbers we want to look at.

    Take a person talking for example. Going back to bell we've had the ability to talk, creating air pressure variations that moved a diaphram with a coil of wire and transmit this on copper wires over distance to another diaphram with a coil of wire and magnet and have a reasonable copy of the sound transmitted. Today this could be captured by a small chip constantly examining the audio coming from the device sampling the air pressure variations and making each of those variations a number. Each number could then be processed into pulses of light sent over a thin piece of glass for miles and sent to a satellite thousands of miles in the sky and converted back again to an analog air pressure variation that would be the sound you hear on the receiving end of a telephone.

    The same goes for a PSP. It has a small computer and software inside with numbers describing everything. Now it goes through many a process to convert those numbers into light/sound that you can use. Otherwise it would be about as exciting as watching the green symbols changing in the movie the Matrix, digital is a means to an end but it isn't really the end itself.

    At 17 you can explore much of this in many different ways. Maybe you want to be a game designer and like to think creatively about using color and role-playing to make new challenging levels of games. Maybe you're fascinated with the math of kinematics and could go into developing a new software game engine or video chip design. Maybe analog circuits are of interest and you want to be involved in helping reduce the power consumption so the device runs cooler and uses less battery power. Hundreds of possibilities exist.

    Just as there are hundreds of ways calculus is used, even if indirectly. Some brilliant people have taken the transistor valve and shrunk it to the size and cost that makes my computer possible, but a lot more people were involved in making hundreds of other items that make just my computer possible much less our conversation. Its mind boggling to consider that we've come this far from hunting-gathering, but an appreciation of such a thing is important to respecting the beauty of what we've created and the progress we (as a society) make through time.

    Appreciate the beauty, but also find a outlet to use it if you desire to and don't be concerned with all the details that go into what makes your goals possible. I think the plain old light bulb overhead is a impressive invention I can purchase for a few cents, but I don't think much past the switch besides how it can provide light so I can do work. And a complex device like a PSP has a lot more to it than that! :smile:
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: What does it take to build a PSP?
  1. What can you build (Replies: 6)

  2. What does the diode do? (Replies: 10)

  3. What does CLK mean? (Replies: 2)