Here's What I think (UMD Movies)
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It's no secret that the UMD movie format has been struggling as of late. Hell, it hasn't been doing all that well as a game format for that matter. Target is removing UMD movies from store shelves and will only sell them online. There are reports that Wal-Mart has reconsidered their support of UMD movies, but for now, they haven't stopped selling them. Sony insists the UMD is a viable movie format, citing poor choice in what movies are put on UMD as a key reason for sluggish sales. Gimme a break. Here's what I think: UMD Movies were doomed from the start - they never had a chance.
When Sony announced that the PSP would play UMD's, and that these little discs would not only deliver games, but movies, music, and music videos, people were intrigued. Who wouldn't buy their favorite album on UMD if it included a few music videos or live performances? Wouldn't you love to watch Spider-Man 2 on the bus? Sure, for the right price. This is where Sony shot themselves in the foot. Before the PSP launched in North America I traveled to Washington D.C. for a chance to play the launch lineup and discuss the PSP with representatives from Sony. One of the questions on everybody's mind was how much a movie would cost on UMD, so when we started taking a look at a UMD filled with music videos, I figured it was time to ask. Here's how it went:Me: So how much are UMD movies going to cost?
Sony Rep: (Somehow managing to keep a straight face) $20 to $30
Me:(Amazingly keeping a straight face as well) Isn't that kind of a lot?
Sony Rep: The video quality is fantastic and you can watch it anywhere. We just announced House of Flying Daggers, which will be $30.
Me: Isn't that a bit pricey for something that I can only play on the PSP? I mean, I can get the DVD for at least $10 less than that, and I can play it at home, on my laptop, at a friend's house...
Sony Rep: (Looking exasperated) But it's House of Flying Daggers! I understand that as someone in Sony's Public Relations department, it was this person's job to stand behind the product, but clearly they couldn't believe, nor could Sony couldn't really believe this was going to work out, did they? The answer was a resounding "Yes." The new special edition of Office Space was released on DVD and UMD on the same day. The two disc DVD set was on sale for $14.99, which admittedly is a great deal, but even at regular price it would have been about $20. Surely the PSP version of the flick would be a reasonable price as well, especially since it had a fraction of the extras. Nop, it was $30. THIRTY DOLLARS. At that moment I was absolutely convinced the format was all but dead.
One thing I haven't even mentioned is that the PSP has the ability to play video content off of the memory stick. Sony made this process slightly less complicated than sending a man to the moon, but it can be done. The video looks great too. Not as good as a UMD movie, but then again, it won't kill your battery in two hours like a UMD movie will. All the movie companies swear that it's illegal to rip a movie you own and watch it on another piece of equipment that you own, but you'd be a fool to buy the same movie twice just because you want to watch it while you sit on the can.
At this point Sony has recognized that they had to say something about UMD movies, so they blamed it on publishers releasing too much content. I don't know about you, but I know I hate to walk into a store only to be confronted by a seemingly endless array of options. Granted, not every movie that is on DVD needs to be on UMD, but I don't think having too many movies on the market is an issue.
Perhaps Sony meant that there are too many movies of marginal quality being released. I might be willing to buy Scary Movie 4 at the right price, but there's not a chance in hell that I'm going to buy a two-star movie on two different formats.
Can the UMD Movie format be saved?
Yes. I honestly believe it can be saved. However, I don't think Sony is willing to take the steps necessary to revive the format.
Here's how it could be done:
Lower the video quality slightly (nobody would notice), get rid of all the extras, and put two movies on one disc.
Take this one step further and let consumers rip the movies to a memory stick. No, not this new fiasco where you can buy a memory stick and then rip one of four movies off the included UMD (rendering the other three movies unplayable).
Lower the price. It seems that this has actually happened, but it's unclear if it's a change in Sony's stance or retailers anxious to move stock.
Sony dropping the ball with UMD is one reason people worry about the Blu-Ray format Sony is trying to push with the PlayStation 3. Sony is telling people they need Blu-Ray, which is clearly absurd, but that's a whole different column. I hope Sony learns from the mistakes they made with the UMD and Blu-Ray does fine, but I fear the time to declare the UMD dead is close at hand. Cause of death: Sony never gave it a chance.
7/22/2006 Aaron Thomas