Sony preps video store to fill hole in PSP film revenues

What took it so long?

Comment According to recent headlines, Sony is somehow going to challenge Apple iTunes with a film download service straight for the PSP. Instead those headlines should have asked why it has taken so long.

Sony is uniquely placed to offer a film download service in that it has a music download service in its Connect system, it has a perfect handheld video device in the PSP, and a High Definition device in the PS3, it makes PCs and it happens to have access to 8000 major motion pictures, and it has been promising to execute on online films for around 18 months.

It was a widespread fact in the Summer of 2005 that Sony had issued a new firmware upgrade that layered the H.264 codec onto the device, and it began experimenting with free video downloads as early as August last year in its native Japan, where it was being managed by its own ISP, So-net under the brand of Portable TV.

This system was put on trial, offering films in MPEG 4 (H.264) and using its own Atrac3 for the audio codec. Both MPEG 4 and Atrac3 were supported in a new PSP firmware issue, for the first time back when this service was first introduced, which is when the PSP was first able to play tracks downloaded from the Sony Connect music service.

This Spring it managed to get out a truncated version of the service, again in Japan only, and this time it only offering film rentals. There are no technical difficulties to speak of, and flash memory, although it is bigger and cheaper now, was cheap enough and came in large enough sizes before to make the proposition viable a year ago.

And anyway, as we know, people don’t tend to watch programming purely on the PSP, as they don’t on the iPod, they prefer to store it on the PC and view it that way, so memory was a non-issue.

Two years ago Sony had also promised to make its 500 most popular films available for download to a PC, but it never went ahead with its plan. It was in negotiations with ISPs throughout Europe, and a pricing schedule had been worked out, but then the initiative died. The question obviously is whether Sony goes with a non-branded ISP delivered option or a branded one, with software it had to write itself.

From a piracy point of view, managing multiple ISP delivery points would have been a nightmare, and why should Sony concede a huge margin to ISPs everywhere?

The Japanese trial offered films in H.264 using Atrac3 audio, and would communicate with the Connect Sonic Stage software on a PC, which sounds like the same system that has been launched now.

The original service that was launched in Japan was supposed to bypass the PC, and go straight to the PSP over a wi-fi link, but the US service is expected to use the PC, and the direct to PSP version to come out later.

What we suppose has happened is that Sony has wasted 18 months while it tried to push its Universal Media Disk, the tiny 1.8 inch miniature DVD format. These were massively overpriced by the studios, sold at a premium to a normal DVD.

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