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The failure of UMD - Sony's mobile disc format

Jubenhimer

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The PlayStation Portable was an important part of PlayStation history. It was the first time the brand went on the go, and it brought several key innovations with it. A powerful chipset allowed for near PS2 quality games and worlds, and Sony's patented Xross Media Bar let you not only play games, but also watch videos, view photos, and listen to music. Alongside the Nintendo DS, the PSP was remarkably ahead of its time, predating the multipurpose smartphones that dominate our lives today. Yet it also brought with it one of Sony's biggest failures yet.

Much like PlayStations 1-3, the PSP was used by Sony as a trojan horse for a newly developed optical media format, the Universal Media Disc, or UMD for short. A compact disc able to hold up to 1.8 GB of data, far more than the Cartridge formats of Nintendo handhelds. Portable DVD players at the time were expensive, and they along with DVDs, were too large to just whip out on a park bench. On paper, UMDs looked like a more enticing option. They were much smaller than DVDs, making them easier to carry around, and for just $250, the PSP was both a games platform, and a media player in one. What could go wrong?... Well, a lot more than anybody anticipated.

1.) By far the biggest problem with UMD, was the fact it was an optical format to begin with. For all the strengths optical media had at the time, portability wasn't one of them. Not only did the PSP suffer long load times, which is a big no-no when it comes to on the go content, but all the errors disc-based media is prone to are amplified by the mobile nature of the device. UMD was more likely to skip, more likely to not be read, more likely to break easily compared to DVDs. Which brings me to...

2.) UMDs were flimsy as fuck. From their tiny size, to their cheap casing, UMD was a notoriously fragile format. Many people even had to make their own replacement casings for them because the stock ones were so bad. Optical media is inherently less reliable than solid state media like cartridges, but that's more forgivable in a home setting where you aren't likely to take discs outside very often. But with UMD, not only were you more encouraged to do so, but you were expected to carry them with you, and nobody wanted to deal with a pocket full of loose UMDs that were likely to get scratched or cracked.

3.) When you get right down to it, there just wasn't a whole lot to watch on UMD. To Sony's credit, they did manage to get a lot of distributors to back UMD in its early days. Every major studio including Fox, Disney, Paramount, WB, MGM, even Sony's own Columbia were on board at launch. But as time went on, less and less UMD videos came out, as distributors instead focused on Digital releases via the PlayStation Store. As such, UMD became exclusively used for PSP games, as opposed to the all-purpose format Sony hoped it'd become.

Sony was ambitious with UMD, hoping it could make a format as ubiquitous as DVD for mobile devices. But in the end, Cartridges and Digital downloads were just more reliable for on the go media. Which is why the PlayStation Vita abandoned the UMD format in favor of a DS-like proprietary cartridge format.
 
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K1Expwy

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I never had any UMDs break, but those open gates were an invite for dust and other substances getting lodged inside the casing.
A portable device running a mini disc (not to be confused with MiniDisc) certainly looked cool, but mobile-friendly memory cards crashed in price during PSP's lifespan-- even Sony's own Memory Sticks at the time were capable of storing a lot more than 2GB, for cheap. When I hacked my PSP I just copied my UMDs to the card, and stored them for collecting.
Proprietary MSPD-based game cards were the right way to go. They even could have sold movies on the proprietary cards (either way they'd be subject to piracy, since an exploit for PSP was found before the North American launch). Sony's impressive engineering history had a few examples of strange design and functionality choices
 
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JordanN

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Was it really a failure considering the competition it was up against?

For example, before UMD movies, Nintendo had tried to make the GBA a portable media player but the cartridge limitations horribly gutted the quality (i.e poor sound, low bitrate, choppy frame rate).




Or anyone remember Video Now? It used discs but the first generation players only offered black and white visuals and you had to view it through a tiny screen.




From 2004 ~ 2010, I think the UMD's served their purpose. It was superior at delivering portable media content without making the massive compromises the other competitors had.
 
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Wouldn't necessarily call them flimsy and UMD movies were pretty good, had a bit of collection myself. There was no better way to enjoy something like Ghostbusters on the go back then.
 
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I remember when torrent sites were filled with anime and tv shows/movies labeld PSP, good times i remember watching The Batman and enjoying it on my PSP back in 2011..... Good times. :messenger_crying:

On topic UMD was a flop when everybody found out that digital PSP games had faster loading and you could overclock your system by hacking it which was super easy and basically got you everything for free...

I still love my UMD collection though, PSP is still my favorite handheld ever to this day.
 

JimboJones

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As a games media it was fine at the time, I had no issues.
As a film media I just didn't see the value in buying worse versions of films stuck on a proprietary media I could only use on a PSP.
Portable DVD players where a thing and while a bit more clumsy at least offered interoperability with DVD players at home.
 
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diffusionx

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UMD was a great format for games, held as much data as a GameCube and was portable. I didn't have any issues with breakage.

For movies it just made more sense to rip your own and convert to PSP format than buy a UMD of something you probably had on DVD.
 
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Vandole

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Was it really a failure considering the competition it was up against?
I suppose it's a matter of perspective, but just because it was more successful than any competitors doesn't mean it was actually successful.

It was fine for what it was in terms of a media format for the PSP. But if the goal was ultimately to create a media format that would be utilized by other companies, that didn't happen. No one else was making hardware to play them. And ultimately even Sony abandoned it before the PSP's life cycle was over.
 

Dr.Morris79

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Chhhuuuuugg chuuuugggg. Nothing beat the dulcet tones of a laser straining in your hands to read a disc.

I still have my PSP collection and three of the hand helds, it's been so long now the batteries are probably shot to hell. And I still never got round to playing Crisis Core.
 

Agent X

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I really liked umd aka mini disk and thought it was cool but it failed horribly. Stilll have a minidisc player somewhere as i worked at Best Buy at the time and got one for cheap.

MiniDisc was a different type of media from UMD.

From 2004 ~ 2010, I think the UMD's served their purpose. It was superior at delivering portable media content without making the massive compromises the other competitors had.
It had it's weaknesses but also had a lot of strengths over cartridge. It was the right choice for PSP in 2004.

I agree with both of the above posts.

UMD was a product of its time. Like most optical disc formats, it was created to balance out high capacity (1.8 GB) with low cost. In the PSP's case, portability was also a factor, as a CD or DVD wasn't well-suited to a handheld game system. In that regard, I consider UMD to be a success, since it accomplished its goals at a time when no other major competitor could provide anything similar.

Flash memory was a rapidly evolving market. Capacities went up, and prices came down. Soon, flash memory was able to break the gigabyte barrier at affordable prices, which signaled the beginning of the end for UMD. It was fortunate that the PSP was also designed to use flash memory. The public embraced digital downloads of music, movies, and eventually games as well. This helped carry PSP through its later years, as Sony began to wind down UMD production, and encouraged users to purchase downloadable games through PlayStation Store.
 

Soodanim

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The PSP is representative of a time when proprietary formats were everywhere. Before micro USB was in every phone (bar Apple) and SD cards were the only format worth using.

PSP looked like a much better system when you could use CFW to get round the UMD shit and third party adapters to get past their overpriced memory sticks.

UMD may have served its purpose, but it was so quickly relegated to a forgotten waste of a format.
 
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Krappadizzle

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I remember thinking it was a really cool idea. But it was a terrible execution. Sony has not once learned their lesson that if they are gonna do proprietary tech like that, it needs to be competitive price-wise with it's competition. There shit was always too expensive from their memory sticks to UMD's. Just cost way too much.

Wouldn't necessarily call them flimsy and UMD movies were pretty good, had a bit of collection myself. There was no better way to enjoy something like Ghostbusters on the go back then.

iPod Video came out not too soon after. Not necessarily better, but it was competitive. And the fact that you could just transfer shit from your computer to the iPod meant all your digital movies could play on it.
 
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YCoCg

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UMD was an odd format, it pretty much was always sidelined once people modded their PSP's and found that running games from the slow SD Cards was actually MUCH better and kept the console quiet.
 

TGO

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As a game media format it served it's purpose just like every cartridge did and was replaced by another
As a movie format, yeah pretty pointless
 

Larxia

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I really liked umd aka mini disk and thought it was cool but it failed horribly. Stilll have a minidisc player somewhere as i worked at Best Buy at the time and got one for cheap.
"for cheap" ?????
I remember at the launch of the psp, seeing 512 mb memory cards for over 60€ in retail stores.
You could get slightly lower prices depending on the brands, but it was expensive as fuck.
I got a 2gb memory card a few months or a year after launch for 60€ on ebay, and I remember it was a really good deal back then, which shows how expensive these cards were.
If you're talking about late years of the psp, maybe, but the first 1 or 2 years? Hell no.
 

TheMan

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Was it really a failure considering the competition it was up against?

For example, before UMD movies, Nintendo had tried to make the GBA a portable media player but the cartridge limitations horribly gutted the quality (i.e poor sound, low bitrate, choppy frame rate).




Or anyone remember Video Now? It used discs but the first generation players only offered black and white visuals and you had to view it through a tiny screen.




From 2004 ~ 2010, I think the UMD's served their purpose. It was superior at delivering portable media content without making the massive compromises the other competitors had.

what the hell, never heard of either of these. Were they asia and/or europe only? The Video Now player looks like some Tiger Electronics shit

edit: this one video conveniently gives some backstory to both of these pieces of trash. and yes the video now is from Tiger, lol
 
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JordanN

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what the hell, never heard of either of these. Were they asia and/or europe only? The Video Now player looks like some Tiger Electronics shit

edit: this one video conveniently gives some backstory to both of these pieces of trash. and yes the video now is from Tiger, lol
I'm in North America and they advertised those two all the time in the early 2000s.

But for obvious reasons, the quality they offered was very bad back then. Hence why I said PSP looked like a tremendous leap forward. It did offer portable media content without the gapping sacrifices.
 
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Omeggos

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I had several umd movies on my psp. (Team America, godzilla ‘98, spiderman 2 and 3, a family guy collection)

it was a really cool idea but frankly the psp was more of “background noise” kind of media player, not something I would want to watch on regularly.

fuck I really want a psp3
 
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Yoboman

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It worked fine enough, but it did launch in the face of the most ubiquitous period for movie pirating and torrenting.
 

Le Big Mac

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Secretly adored the UMD. Like the Vita, there's something entertaining about Sony shooting and missing time after time.
 

JordanN

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Secretly adored the UMD. Like the Vita, there's something entertaining about Sony shooting and missing time after time.
PSP's only flaw was the single analog stick, IMO.

Honestly, I never saw the UMD being a hinderance. But the analog "nub" was weird part about it.

There was only one of it and it was so small. For the first handheld that promised PS2 level games on the go, why gimp the most important part about controlling the in-game camera?

Nintendo made the same stupid move with the 3DS as well. Only one damn circle pad. It had the touch screen to compensate but it was still very janky and obsolete.
 
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lachesis

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I don't think UMD is a failure. At that time, with generally narrower available bandwith and all - physical media was unavoidable. It was just "timing" of PSP's release and how things were done back then. It was more or less a stop-gap measure, and they probably knew that too.

I think the true failure is the prices of Vita Memory Sticks with its ridiculously high price point though.
 
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Stooky

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I don't think UMD is a failure. At that time, with generally narrower available bandwith and all - physical media was unavoidable. It was just "timing" of PSP's release and how things were done back then. It was more or less a stop-gap measure, and they probably knew that too.

I think the true failure is the prices of Vita Memory Sticks with its ridiculously high price point though.
I agree UMD was around when sd cards sizes were small and expensive.