Saturday, September 03, 2005

Convergence, standards and crumby thinking

I've had my PSP for 6 weeks or so now, so watching all the excitement in the UK over its launch has been fun. Most stores sold out of the hardware purely through pre-orders, but there were games all over the place. Perhaps a reflection of the poor set of launch titles, despite it having been in the USA for 6 months. It was with some trepidation that I picked up an extra game - I'd bought Lumines and Mercury on day one - as, although I'd been told that games were not region locked, I wasn't sure whether it was going to be true. I bought Wipeout - something I'd never played, even in PS 1 days. I thought back to my first DVD player, bought in 1999 in Paris. I'd picked up a multi-region player from FNAC (there isn't really an English equivalent - they sell books, CDs, DVDs, hardware, software and cameras - usually in huge stores that are elegantly designed with lots of space to move around. Perhaps a Dixons crossed with Virgin with the space of John Lewis) - a multi-region player direct from a store! Imagine that - encouraging breach of licence laws! It was the arrival of Saving Private Ryan on Region 1 disc that persuaded me to make the purchase. For a couple of years I bought nearly all of my discs in Paris, mostly Region 1, because stocks in the UK were poor (I remember HMV in Oxford Street having maybe one shelf row of DVDs - now look at it, there's one row of videos instead). With my latest UK-bought player, I had to stand on one leg, point the remote backwards at the ceiling and type a button combination with the disc try open but sliding back home before I could make it play US discs). That's progress for you - we moved from having to open the box and fiddle with chips (doing god knows what to the warranty) to a strange series of gestures that needed no expertise and no fiddling inside. Given that the video game industry has shipped region locked discs or cartridges (just as the film business has) since the beginning of time (my memory says that would be about 1981 in video game systems), I think I was right to be sceptical. But, it turned out I was wrong, as on so many things (some of you will say). The "region 2" UMD (it's clearly marked as such) worked fine, even offering me the choice of a 1/2 dozen languages; how very European (the US games that I have don't offer that choice) The PSP has landed and it works fine for games - the screen is amazing, the speakers tinny (that's what headphones are for) and it has all the right buttons. It even plays cut-down DVDs. It will be interesting to see Sony's strategy with films. If they release some films on UMD a couple of weeks or a month earlier than the DVD version, I'm pretty sure they could make some interesting waves in the film business (and, given they own a studio, this ought not to be hard). Getting the type of film right seems key - more Hellboy than Pride and Prejudice, more Jennifer Garner than Orson Welles. Fanboys and girls could start to pick up a lot of films and the opportunity for film/movie tie-ins with both one one disc could be huge, if there's space for both. What I don't see, and maybe it's just me, is the whole wider convergence thing. Maybe convergence should just mean it does one thing really well and one thing quite well. Playing games to the highest standard and being ok as a portable film player, for instance? But I'm not going to go through the pain of figuring out how to get an existing video ripped to it, or shifting 1GB of music via USB. And I'm certainly not going to surf the web. Even which is supposed to render well on all screens using style sheets, doesn't handle this shaped screen. The wifi connection works fine for downloading software updates, but I don't want to use a mobile phone-style keyboard to enter web addresses thank you. I have enough fun doing that with my Treo - and that's just as crap at rendering most sites, unless they have a specific mobile version (thank you Google, and the Beeb) It's not going to fit in my pocket when I jog. Its battery isn't going to last the duration of a trans-atlantic flight. Or even, probably, a Eurostar trip. Two things good, four things bad, perhaps? My phone can handle MP3 too - but I don't use it for that (when I'm out running, I don't want anyone phoning me - I can barely talk, let alone actually hold a conversation of any importance). Sony will say that it's the future, that this is the way devices are going. They've even called it the PSP 1000, to give room for at least 8 more versions (2000,3000 .... 9000) - doubtless there's a lot more innovation and, god help me, convergence to come. I'll say, for the record, that it reflects crumby thinking. It does convergence because it can. It has a great screen so it plays films and displays photos, it has additional memory (although Sony's own standard and excessively priced) so it can handle MP3s (at least they've moved away from ATRAC), it has wifi so it can surf the web (even if you have to scroll left and right to read the whole text - and you have to manually configure the IP address for each network you use, rather than use DHCP - or, I do anyway). It's primary function - games - it does spectacularly well; it does films pretty well (it's no DVD player and I have no desire to populate two libraries); it does music ok (but it's no ipod); and it does the web not at all (someone's going to point me to a specially formatted for PSP site now, but I bet you it's a site that talks about the PSP, not one that I'd actually want to visit). Games is all I wanted when I anted up, films are an occasional extra. Everything else, they can keep for now. Next up, the ipod phone. Oh.


  1. Hi Alan - one quick comment about FNAC...

    if I remember right, the acronym stands for "Federation Nationale des Acheteurs-Consommateurs" - National Federation of Consumer-Buyers".

    FNAC was started by some friends who realised that as they all needed stuff like washing machines and lawnmowers at about the same time, the smart thing to do was club together and assemble a semi-bulk purchase, then beat someone up for a discount.


  2. I know at least 6 people who will get the xbox 360 on Dec 2nd so this FNAC principle may just work.
    But i guess the demand over supply for the 360 will weaken our consumer power whether we buy 6 units or 60.