my personal blog

March 31, 2006


Filed under: business,technology — Alfonso Surroca @ 3:51 pm

Photo credit: Joohyun Jeon

You might have heard of of a little plastic-encased optical disc called a "universal media disc", or UMD. There have been more than noughadvertisements for the format. More likely than not, though, you don't actually own any UMDs. Why is that?

1992: The Year of the MiniDisc

The UMD's story begins in 1992. That year, Sony released a competing format to the audio CD, called the MiniDisc. For a few years, any consumer looking for an optical format could choose between the CD (with its universal support of publishers and hardware manufacturers alike), or the MiniDisc (with considerably less support from publishers and only Sony providing the hardware). Predictably, the MiniDisc format never took off, and soon disappeared altogether.

Fast-forward to 2005. Sony released a competing format to the DVD, called the UMD (universal media disc). Today, a consumer looking to buy a movie will often find the title available in either DVD or UMD format. Where the DVD has universal support, the UMD has less support from publishers (with some cutting back or eliminating UMDs altogether) and the only device with a UMD player is the Sony PSP. Does this sound like I'm repeating myself?

UMD: MiniDisc 2.0

It should, because Sony is repeating itself. The MiniDisc format died out because there weren't enough titles available to justify switching to the format, the format itself offered little or no advantage over the established format, and because it required consumers to buy new hardware which locked them into this format. Today, the UMD format is essentially MiniDisc 2.0, and shows that Sony has learned nothing from the flop of the MiniDisc format. Again, there aren't enough titles available, the UMD offers no advantage to DVD, and the only way to view UMD content is by buying a PSP.

On a Disc v. On-Demand

We're living in an on-demand world. Between digital cable, DVR boxes such as TiVo, downloadable TV episodes from iTunes and its ilk, and software offerings like Microsoft's Windows Media Center and Apple's Front Row, it's easier than ever to rent, buy, record, copy, and transfer all your media. Add to this the ever-decreasing price of hard drives and it's hard to imagine that we'll be toting DVDs anymore in the next few years.

With that in mind, the UMD format is decidedly old-school. In a bad way. When you choose to buy a movie, you are presented with two options: DVD, or UMD. With a DVD, you can watch it anywhere there's a DVD player (which is basically anywhere, period). Alternatively, with UMD, you can watch it in one place: Your Sony PSP. That's assuming you own a PSP. If you don't, then the UMD is a non-option. And if locking consumers into a fringe format seemed stupid in 1992, when audio CDs were high-end and your best bet for "downloading" music was recording the radio broadcast onto a cassette, then it is absolutely ludicrous in this age of when- and where-you-want-it content.

This is why we aren't all running to the stores to buy UMDs. There is just no way to justify the purchase.


Wikipedia: UMD

Engadget: "Breaking news: Sony's UMDs aren't selling well" (2/16/06)

technorati tags:  business, psp, sony, umd

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