Studios, Retailers Backing Away from UMD

One year after being launched in the United States with the Playstation Portable, Sony’s Universal Media Disk (UMD) is in jeopardy as studios back away from releasing UMD movie titles and mainstream retailers lose interest in stocking UMD movies.

Universal Media Disks are a proprietary technology from Sony capable of storing up to 1.8 GB of data in a form factor similar to Sony’s MiniDisc. UMD is the defacto storage medium for PSP games and movies, and Sony promoted the PSP not only as a game device, but as an entertainment device for movies and other media, and studios responded with a flurry of movie releases in UMD format as the PSP hit the North American market.

However, UMD movies were criticized in the marketplace for being just as expensive as movies in DVD format; however, they offered a much lower resolution and could only be used in PSPs. Standard DVDs, conversely, could be used in consumer DVD players and computers.

Now, rumors are circulating (via the Hollywood Reporter) that mass-market giant Wal-Mart is on the verge of dropping UMD-format movies from its shelves. After an aggressive launch, Universal Studios has stopped producing movies for the UMD format entirely, and although Paramount has not officially abandoned the format, insiders say no titles are currently planned for UMD release. Disney’s Buena Vista Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment have significantly scaled back their UMD release plans, and several sources indicate Image Entertainment (Chronicles of Narnia) has abandoned UMD.

For its part, Sony seems to believe PSP users are ripping content from computers and traditional video players and watching it on PSPs, although both the digital video and portable gaming communities are skeptical, instead regarding the PSP as primarily a gaming platform with some lightweight wireless Internet capabilities. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Sony’s Benjamin Feingold as saying the PSP would have been more compelling for movie playback had it been able to connect to TVs for big-screen viewing…at which point, we’re wondering why we’d watch low-resolution UMB movies on a big screen?

As long as a retail market remains for developing PSP games, it’s likely the UMD format will stick around as a way to deliver new games to PSP owners; however, the days of seeing movies and other video content released in UMD format for PSP seems to be drawing to a close.

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