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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 06:49 GMT 07:49 UK
Sony promotes vision of mobile video
By Darren Waters
BBC News entertainment reporter

Sony's Playstation Portable (PSP), which launches in the UK this week, is being touted as the first true mobile entertainment device.

PSP
The PSP is released in the UK on 1 September
Designed primarily to play games, it also stores digital photos, plays MP3 music files and video.

Hollywood has rushed to embrace the device and scores of films have been released including Spider-Man 2, Swat, Dodgeball, and Kill Bill.

In Japan, Sony has started a basic TV service, offering film trailers and TV programmes for download and playback on the PSP.

And the piracy world has also got in on the act - illegal copies of films and TV programmes that have been formatted for the device can be downloaded.

So is the PSP the future of mobile TV and video?

"Previous devices haven't sparked the public's imagination but the fact it has [film] studio support could mean that it could be a successful format," says Paul Callaghan, an analyst with trade journal Screen Digest.

Its appeal is that it is a broad personal entertainment machine
Andy Armstrong
Sony Picture Home Entertainment
A number of pocket computers, mobile phones and media players can already play video - but unlike the PSP, none has been given strong support by film and TV companies.

Films for the PSP come on a new disc format, the Universal Media Disc (UMD). The small disc can hold three times as much data as a CD - enough for a DVD-quality movie.

More than three million UMD movie discs have been sold in the US with two films - Resident Evil 2 and House of Flying Daggers - selling 100,000 copies each in the first month.

Major studios Fox, Universal, Paramount, Buena Vista, Sony and MGM have all pledged films for the device, with Warner and Dreamworks still to embrace the format.

PSP
More than 20 films are available on UMD for the PSP
Mr Callaghan says: "One of the problems that early portable video players faced was a lack of studio support."

The lack of built-in copy protection or discs for sale meant studios were unwilling to provide movies, he adds.

The fact that most major studios have backed the format is a "strong indication the industry sees this as a market with a lot of potential", he says.

The PSP's widescreen format is designed to make viewing comfortable and immersive, while the bright screen also makes it possible to watch outdoors.

"Its appeal is that it is a broad personal entertainment machine," says Andy Armstrong, marketing director of Sony Picture Home Entertainment.

PSP vs DVD

But while the UMD has been a hit in the US, it is not doing so well in Japan.

A recent survey of Japanese PSP users found that only 10% had used it to watch a UMD movie.

Analysts say the UMD will never be as ubiquitous as the DVD.

More than 65 million US households own DVD players, while the UMD market is expected to grow to 25 or 30 million households.

"No console has ever reached the same penetration levels as the DVD player," says Mr Callaghan.

And while DVD sales are slowing in many countries - including a sharp fall in Japan - it will still be the home entertainment format of choice for some time to come.

Price concerns

There are also concerns from some users that UMD movies can be more expensive than the DVD equivalents.

The forthcoming release of 1984 film Ghostbusters costs 13.99 on UMD from Amazon's UK site but can be bought on DVD for 4.97.

Mr Armstrong says UMDs will be "complementary" to DVDs.

"The pricing reflects the investment behind the new UMD format. In time, that might be reviewed."

But the PSP can play video from other sources too. Content downloaded from the net can be saved to Memory Sticks for viewing on the go.

Piracy boom

At the moment, legitimate TV content is thin on the ground - but pirates are filling the void.

Most pirated films and TV programmes downloaded from the net can be easily converted to watch on the PSP.

Some pirates are already providing "PSP friendly" versions of films and shows.

Elsewhere in the gadget market, a video iPod from Apple has long been anticipated - but the company has always denied interest in the market.

Mr Callaghan says there are still barriers before PSPs provide mobile video for the masses - such as the capacity of storage cards.

"Mobile video may never be as successful as the portable audio market," he says.


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