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Monday, May 02, 2005

Portable shorts

Sony and AtomFilms are trying to encourage owners of Sony's PlayStation Portable to use it not just for gaming, but for movie-viewing. Atom's making three short films available, for free, to help Sony promote its brand-spanking-new $250 device.

What this means:

- Sony is at least mildly interested in training consumers to use the PSP for films. But they're also worried about muddying their marketing messages: is this a gaming device, or a video iPod? Witness the high initial prices for studio releases (roughly $20) that are available for the PlayStation Portable. And when I demo'ed the PSP earlier this year, the company didn't seem too focused on promoting its movie-playing abilities, even though the screen is pretty darn crisp, and it has a film-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio (aka "widescreen").

- But I'm not crazy about the two media formats consumers can use to watch movies on their PSPs. Both are proprietary Sony formats: Memory Stick for shorter films, like those Atom is supplying, and UMD (Universal Media Disc) for full-length features. The latter is anything from "universal," and it remains seen who (aside from Sony) will issue films on UMDs, which look like the Shrinky Dink version of a CD. Check out this interesting discussion about UMD on Engadget, and this PC World article.

Sony, of course, is the company that brought you Betamax. How quickly they forget that open standards - like VHS videotapes that you can actually record on - prevail over closed ones.

Will Sony's PSP become the video iPod? It's possible -- Apple, after all, distributes music in a proprietary version of the AAC audio format which can't be played on any device but the iPod. But Sony will have to sell a lot of PSPs to get there.