PSP to Connect in March

Sony will "revamp" its iTunes-esque service to distribute movies, videos, and games to its handheld.

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When Sony launched its Connect music-download service in May 2004, it was with the obvious intention to try and take down Apple's iTunes service. Nearly 20 months later, iTunes is breaking records, while Connect--which uses Sony's proprietary, non-iPod-compatible ATRAC3 audio format--is used by only a tiny sliver of the market.

Yesterday evening at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Sony executives announced that in March, the company will relaunch a new version of Connect. The revamped service will offer movies, video, and games for download onto Sony's multimedia and gaming portable, the PSP.

"Soon, Sony will be rewriting the rules once again," the company said in a statement. "The Connect service will enable you to download hundreds of videos, games, and TV shows as well as films and other content. You'll even be able to browse from a wide selection of books."

The mention of games raises the likelihood that Connect will have an Xbox Live Marketplace-like section which will let PSP owners download titles. Currently, games on Xbox Live Marketplace cost between $5 to $20 and feature classic arcade titles like Joust and new casual games like Hardwood Backgammon. However, Sony did not mention any specific titles.

No specific movie or video titles were mentioned either. But Sony, by virtue of owning the studios Columbia/Tristar and MGM, has a massive film and television catalog to draw from. Sony executives did not mention what movie and video downloads would cost. However, as Connect's music prices mirror those of iTunes--$0.99 per song--expect a pricing scheme similar to iTunes' video offerings, which go for $1.99 per music video or television show. Moviesquare, the movie-download site Sony currently runs in Japan, may also offer a clue. It offers more than 260 movies for the PSP, priced from 210 yen ($1.78) to 1,260 yen ($10.71) depending on the feature.

It appears Sony wants to emulate the success of iTunes' video venture, which has exceeded expectations, and Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, which has seen four million downloads since it launched in November. However, one big issue may inhibit the growth of Connect's video and game service. While video iPods have 30GB or 60GB of storage built in and the Xbox 360 has a 20GB hard drive, the $249 PSP Value Pack comes with only a 32MB Memory Stick Duo, which is adequate only for game saves and very limited audio offerings. That means those who didn't pick up the $299 PSP Giga Pack over the holidays will have to purchase a separate high-storage Memory Stick Duo to be able to download PSP movies and games, which usually come on 1.8GB Universal Media Discs (UMD).

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