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Another video format bites the dust: Sony killing off the UMD?

UMD, we hardly knew ya... literally
Posted February 26, 2009 at 2:16 PM CDT

By Tim Briscoe

It's a demise four years in the making. A reputable source claims that the next version of Sony's PSP handheld game and media player will not include a UMD drive. As it is the only device using the discs, a UMD-less PSP2 will thereby kill the fledgling format.

Many prominent consumer electronics blogs including Engadget, Kotaku and Boing Boing Gadgets are citing a Twitter post from video game luminary David Perry. "I hear Sony FINALLY has the PSP 2. And thank goodness, they've removed the stupid battery-sucking UMD disc drive," Perry wrote.

This report only bolsters already circulating rumors about UMD's death. In fact, the format seemed doomed from the outset.

The UMD (universal media disc) format was introduced in 2004 with the launch of the PlayStation Portable. The optical disc almost immediately found its detractors.

UMDs could not match the flexibility or storage capacity available with movies on DVDs. The fact that UMD-writers were never introduced became a major hurdle in its usefulness vis-a-vis DVD.

As Perry mentioned in his tweet, the optical drive sucked precious battery life from the PSP. Also, UMD-based games were excruciatingly slow to load. Some said the disc's protective outer shell would crack under normal use.

All the major Hollywood studios at one time released movies on the format. Our records indicate approximately 700 films and television programmed have been released on UMD here in the U.S. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment remains the only distributor still releasing new UMDs. Seven Pounds comes to UMD on Mar. 31. Two notable theatrical releases (not yet announced) are on the schedule for a May UMD release.

If Sony does indeed eschew the UMD drive on the PSP2, it will cement its push toward game downloads via the PlayStation store. (Though it might still opt to use the PSP's Memory Stick -- another proprietary medium from Sony.)

Digital delivery is a model that has so far proven effective so far for Apple's iPhone. Nintendo's revamped handheld the DSi (coming to the U.S. in April) will also have a digital download store.

The UMD was (yes, I'm committing myself to this rumor by speaking of it in the past tense) another in a long line of over hyped and underperforming proprietary formats introduced by Sony. Many saw it as a reincarnation of Sony's failed MiniDisc. Perhaps Blu-ray is finally the optical format it gets right.

What do you think of this imminent decision to kill the UMD? Do you even care? Does this give you any cause for concern over the future of Blu-ray? Let us know.

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