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Thursday, July 13, 2006 

RIP to Sony UMD: We Barely Knew Ye

According to the good folks at Kotaku, Target department stores are going to stop carrying UMD movies, a couple of months after several movie houses decided that they were going to abandon releasing movies for the format altogether.

When the Sony PSP was released over a year ago, the Sony hype machine was quick to declare victory by announcing that sales of UMD movie titles had quickly made the proprietary UMD format a "resounding success". In an effort to cash in, studios doubled their efforts to release as many movies onto UMD as they could, and within a few short months, close to about 500 titles were available on UMD. However, these studios would soon realize that the brisk UMD sales figures that Sony quoted early on in the PSPs lifespan only happened as a result of the fact that early adopters were looking for SOMETHING to pop into their brand-new $250 devices, especially at a time when there weren't nearly enough good games available for the handheld upon initial release.

As time went on, consumers got hip to the whole UMD-format thing and realized that they really weren't all that great to begin with. So, people voted with their dollars, and now, it's safe to say that the UMD movie format is practically dead.

So, in retrospect, why did yet another Sony proprietary format fail? (Betamax, Mini-Disc, ATRAC, Memory Stick)

A) Cost: At $20-$30 bucks a pop, UMD movies are waayyy too expensive, considering that people could get far superior DVD versions of these movies at $10-$20. Combine the price with the fact that the UMDs did not come close to offering the extras that people have grown accustomed to on DVDs, and you have a recipe for certain failure.

B) Lack of playback devices: Sony never had any plans to release a product that allowed consumers to play their UMDs at home, so, when you combine the price of the UMD movies, with the fact that you could only watch them on one device, it really didn't make sense to buy them.

C) Poorly made movies: Some UMD titles were released so haphazardly, that they didn't even feature chapter menus, which made searching for specific scenes in movies an incredible chore. Once again, why are you going to pay so much money to have a broken viewing experience? All that technology, just to relive the days of VHS playback? No, thank you.

D) Ripped Movies: Ironically, the PSPs ability to play digital versions of movies straight off Memory Sticks might have quickened the demise of the UMD format. Think about it: people really did want to watch movies on their PSP, but they didn't want to pay $30 a pop for the ability to do so. The solution? Rip movies from cheaper DVDs, re-encode them into a format that the PSP could understand, and BAM, you can watch movies on your PSP. It isn't the easiest thing to do, but where there's a will, there's a way.

Knowing Sony, they might just blame the fact that UMDs failed because of "piracy", even though the truth is that the format failed because of their stubbornness in sticking with expensive pricing. I don't know about you, but I would much rather spend a quick $5-$7 for a movie on UMD rather than spend three hours encoding a full-feature movie to UMD, wouldn't you? At a price like that, it's a friggin' impulse buy.

So, now... anyone think history is going to repeat itself, again, when Sony finally releases Blu-Ray to the world?

The above picture courtesy of the folks at Gizmodo