Lessons for Apple's multimedia transition

What Apple could learn from Sony

Let me say it up front: Playing video isn’t the strong suit of either Apple’s new iPod or Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP). The iPod is primarily a music player, and the PSP is primarily a video-game system. But both play video very well, so it may be beneficial to compare the two, to see what (if anything) Apple can learn from Sony—and vice versa.

The comparison starts with the screen. The new iPod’s 2.5-inch display is colorful and bright; to my eyes, it’s just fine for music videos, home movies, and even the occasional TV show or movie. But the PSP’s 4.3-inch screen is even better—and not just because it’s bigger. Its wide-screen aspect ratio is perfect for movies and videos.

Then there’s storage capacity. The iPod has a 30GB or 60GB hard drive, while the PSP doesn’t have a built-in hard drive at all. Instead, it stores data on Sony’s Memory Stick Pro Duo flash media cards, which (as of this writing) max out at 2GB—enough for two or three feature films or several hours of TV recordings, after you’ve compressed and encoded the video for PSP playback.

There are several ways to do that. Two utilities—Nullriver Software’s PSPWare ($15) and RnSK Softronics iPSP ($20)—transfer movies, photos, and music from your Mac to your PSP; each can also convert video. Kinoma’s Producer ($30), Elgato’s EyeTV, and Roxio’s Toast 7 Titanium (   ) also have presets for the PSP.

PSP can also play movies in the Universal Media Disc (UMD) format. An increasing number of UMD movies are available at electronics retailers and superstores, for $15 to $30. They save you precious card space, and they look better.

While the easiest way to get video onto your iPod is to buy and download TV shows, music videos, and short movies from the iTunes Music Store, you can also move your own video content, either with QuickTime Pro or with a utility such as the open-source HandBrake or Splasm Software’s inexpensive Podner ($10; ). Podner is my favorite, because it supports drag-and-drop video conversions, and it even copies the file to iTunes once it’s done, making video conversion almost idiot-proof.

So what could the iPod learn from the PSP? A bigger, wide-screen display would be nice. I also like the PSP’s use of removable media, whether blank or with video content already on it; that’s the way we’re used to watching video in our living rooms, so why not do the same with a portable player? Combine flash media, UMD support, and the larger screen with the convenience of the iTunes Music Store and the iPod’s big hard drive, and Apple could have a best-of-breed portable player. And if Apple could also learn a thing or two from Sony about gaming, so much the better.— Peter Cohen

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