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<b>E3 2004:</b> Sony trumpets PSP software support, but what of Hollywood?

Impressive specifications are one thing, but Sony's PlayStation Portable launch also put a strong emphasis on the wide range of developers working on the handheld; what about the movies and music aspects of UMD, however?

Impressive specifications are one thing, but Sony's PlayStation Portable launch also put a strong emphasis on the wide range of developers working on the handheld; what about the movies and music aspects of UMD, however?

There's strength in numbers when it comes to software support, at least as far as Sony is concerned, and a huge list of some 99 developers and publishers was rolled out to demonstrate just how many companies are scrambling to support the forthcoming portable.

Admittedly the list cheated a bit - we counted Konami on it five times, with each of the company's development subsidiaries listed - but it's an impressive cross-section of the games industry regardless, and many of those studios are bringing major franchises to the PSP early in the console's lifespan.

Electronic Arts plans to have Need for Speed Underground, NBA Street, NFL Street and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 up and running on the console for its launch early next year, while Activision's Tony Hawk and Spider-Man titles will be on the handheld, to name but two of the western publishers who have committed to PSP; almost all of the other publishers are also expected to support the platform, but have not yet announced specific titles.

In terms of Japanese publishers, Konami is bringing Metal Gear to the platform in the form of Metal Gear Acid; Namco will have a Ridge Racer title and the "Tales of" RPG series on the system; Koei plans to release a new Dynasty Warriors title on the handheld, and Sega has Puyo Pop Fever and "Project S" in the pipeline. Nothing has yet been announced from RPG giant Square Enix, but the company - which, although not quite the "kingmaker" that EA is in the west, is still important to the success of any console in Japan - has said that it will be supporting the handheld.

And that, of course, is before you consider the first party line-up - which includes Gran Turismo 4, Ape Escape, Syphon Filter, Armored Core, MediEvil, Wipeout and plenty more. All in all, there's no doubt that the PSP will be well supplied with game software - although there might be question marks over the nature of that line-up, since original titles are thin on the ground. Only Death Jr. and PSP Racing stand out as genuinely new games in the range announced to date.

We always expected Sony to prepare an impressive range of software for the PSP, however. The real question mark is over the other capabilities of the device - namely the much trumpeted video and music playback abilities.

On this matter, Sony has been rather less forthcoming over the past day or so. A trailer of Spider-Man 2 (a Sony Pictures production) was shown running on the device at yesterday's conference, along with an Incubus music video. However, so far only one UMD movie title has been confirmed - Square Enix' Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children will come in UMD form as well as more traditional DVD format.

Sony Pictures will almost certainly be releasing its catalogue in UMD format, which represents a significant number of major movies, even more so if the company's current efforts to buy MGM succeed. However, this still leaves a large number of studios and other media companies which will need to be convinced to release their titles on UMD as well as on DVD - a process which is likely to be a struggle even for a giant corporation such as Sony.

After all, this isn't the first time that the company has unsuccessfully championed a new media format. The technological and conceptual predecessor to the UMD, namely the minidisk, absolutely failed to garner support from the music industry - only a tiny number of albums were ever released on pre-recorded minidisks, and the format was only rescued by the ability to record music onto cheap blank disks.

UMD has no such ability; the abilities of the PlayStation Portable as a movie playback device will live or die entirely on the strength of pre-recorded software support. Music is less constrained, since we expect that music playback on PSP will be handled using the Memory Stick Pro Duo storage cards and Sony's online Connect Music Store.

Of course, it's not essential that the PSP should be the greatest movie playback device ever. Many - indeed most - consumers will probably be happy to use it as a powerful games console, versatile communication device and functional music player. But having promised the earth in terms of movie playback functionality, it will be hugely embarrassing for Sony if the company cannot secure the support of Hollywood for its burgeoning UMD format in time for the launch of the device early next year.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.