Recently, I showed my Sony PlayStation Portable to my friend, Jeff, who's 38. He never had seen the hand-held game system up close.

He gazed in wonder as this 6.7-ounce "toy" played the movie "National Treasure 2" vibrantly on a 4.3-inch screen, then we toured a video game that looks and moves as impressively as any PS 2 game.

I showed him photos of Charisma Carpenter stored on the PSP. We surfed the Web (albeit slowly) using its internal WiFi. But he didn't get a chance to listen to music on it, iPod-style, though it has that capability.

All this, I told him, costs $200. And this new version, the PSP 3000 (released in October), comes with a built-in microphone so you can make Skype phone calls on it. Plus, the 3000's new LCD screen features less glare and much more screen detail than before.

Jeff experienced mild consumer surprise, or what I call PSP Envy. He asked if he could buy my PSP from me. No, of course not.

If this sounds like my love letter to the PSP, it mostly is. The PSP is kind of like the iPhone, but with far superior gaming and video, and no mobile phone service and no touchscreen.

Yet, there's scant pop culture buzz for the PSP, which surprises me constantly. Everyone talks about the Wii, "Rock Band" and the Xbox 360, while parents of little kids know all about Nintendo's hand-held DS.

But the DS - fun in its own right, offering less detail-illustrative computing power in its touchscreen - is primarily for kids, while taller game addicts often go for the PSP.

DS vs. PSP is apples and oranges, two different markets. When you play "Manhunt 2" or "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories" on the PSP, these are cinematic games, and you see the blood. In fact, if you read my best-games-of-the-year list, you saw a PSP game, "God of War: Chains of Olympus," came out on top for all of 2008. (By the way, in my best-of-the-year list, I meant to say that "Frontlines: Fuel of War" was the best online shooter of 2008.)

Not everything is perfect in PSP 3000 land. If you're a hard-core gamer, the PSP is not powerful enough to serve as your only system, but it's a great secondary system to your PS 3 or Xbox 360. The PSP is ideal as a primary system for casual gamers.

Also, the sound system still isn't quite loud enough for a loud-a-holic like me, even when you listen to the PSP on excellent Sony or Bose headphones, or through plug-and-play speakers (Logitech is probably the best choice for that).

And you still can't buy my yet-invented fantasy item: a plug-and-play video projector that beams PSP movies and games onto a wall.

If you got a PSP for the holidays, or if you're planning to take the PSP plunge, it should not leave you disappointed. (Spend an extra $45 on a Sony 2200 mAh battery, to get more battery life.) As for great games from the past few years that you can delve into, try:

"God of War: Chains of Olympus," "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories," "Tiger Woods PGA Tour '08," "Patapon," "Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow," "Spider-Man 2," "Manhunt 2," "Wall-E," "Lumines II," "Tomb Raider: Anniversary," "Midnight Club: LA Remix," "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII," "The Warriors" and "SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals: Fireteam Bravo."

And feel free to show it off in front of your friends. It is almost certain they have no idea what's under its hood.

(The PSP 3000 by Sony retails for $200 - Plays movies, games, music, stores photos and videos, works as a Skype phone and surfs the Web. Games look as good as on the PS 2. Easy to very challenging games. Games rated "E" to "M." Four stars out of four.)

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