Sony Sees Movies on the PSPFull-length films will be available on the UMD format when the device launches in the U.S. next week.
Martyn Williams, IDG News Service
Sony Computer Entertainment will begin to realize its plan to expand the PlayStation Portable (PSP) platform beyond games into prerecorded movies and other video next week when it launches the PSP in North America.
The upcoming launch on March 24 will be the first for the PSP outside Japan, where it was launched on December 12.
At present, only gaming software is available in the PSP's UMD (Universal Media Disc) format. UMD is a 2.4-inch optical disc inside a protective cartridge. Each disc can hold up to 1.8GB of data. That's significantly less than a DVD-Video, but by using more advanced compression and cutting DVD extras such as out-takes, SCEI can fit a movie on a UMD disc.
Portable Media Player
The availability of films on UMD from March 24 will mark the start of the PSP's transformation into a portable media player, says Masa Chatani, corporate executive and chief technology officer of SCEI, in an interview Friday.
The first 1 million PSP Value Packs being distributed in North America will contain a copy of the film Spider-Man 2, and Sony Pictures Entertainment has announced a further seven titles that it plans to launch on UMD. The PSP has also received support from other movie studios. Lions Gate Entertainment has announced 16 titles and earlier this week Buena Vista Home Entertainment said it plans to release five titles on UMD.
"In the U.S. we have already met with all the major studios," Chatani says. "They pretty much love the PSP and the quality of the UMD. They are also happy because it's not cannibalizing their existing business. It's an incremental purchase and poses very little risk to their existing business."
The PSP has a widescreen format, 4.3-inch display, and movies will be displayed in up to 480 pixels by 272 pixels resolution. While the screen is about a quarter of the resolution of a conventional widescreen TV, its small size should mean that images remain sharp and crisp.
SCEI has yet to announce UMD support in products beyond the PSP, but it has talked about the possibility of making it a common format for a family of gadgets. Should this happen, the UMD movies may benefit from future players with larger screens. The movies are stored on the discs at a resolution of 720 pixels by 480 pixels, says Chatani. That's the same resolution as DVD.
The discs have something else in common with DVDs: region coding. Whether it is actually used, however, is up to the content publisher, as in the DVD world, he says. To date, game publishers haven't been overly keen to use the system, but the same might not be true of movie companies. The Spider Man 2 disc bundled at launch will be region coded to North America and won't work on Japanese systems, says Chatani.
Let the Music Play
There's a third format in the UMD family: UMD Audio. No companies have announced plans yet to release audio-only UMD discs, and Chatani thinks some may opt for a combination of the audio and video formats to offer users a disc of music with accompanying music videos or short films.
Users can also view and listen to their own content on the PSP through memory cards, a feature that has been popular among early purchasers, says Chatani. Earlier this week Sony, SCEI's parent, announced a new version of its PSX combined game console and digital video recorder that can compress video onto memory cards for playback on the PSP.
By launching next week, Sony is keeping a promise to North American consumers that it would launch the PSP before the end of its current fiscal year, which finishes on March 31. The company made the same promise to European users but has had to let them down.
Demand for the system is strong and SCEI is on track to meet its fiscal year target of 3 million units shipped, he says. In Japan, after an initial surge when the PSP first went on sale, demand has remained fairly constant and many shops are unable to keep stock, he says.
The company is shipping about a million units to retailers for the North American launch, or about five times the number available at launch in Japan.
The Value Pack will cost $250 in the U.S.