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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:

So how much are UMD movies going to cost?

(

) $20 to $30

Isn't that kind of
a lot?

The video quality is fantastic and you can watch it anywhere.
We just announced House of Flying Daggers, which will be $30.

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…

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:

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.

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