At its E3 press event, Sony Computer Entertainment of America opened up a new platform for its PlayStation Store on the PlayStation Network — a movie and TV show download service.
It wasn’t announced at the end of the event to create some big closer, and it wasn’t accompanied by a bombastic demo like some of the upcoming games the company previewed (“Resistance 2” frightened me). Nope, the new PSN service had to settle for a few seconds of a trailer for “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”
A service like this has been talked about for a while, and if CEO Jack Tretton is correct, it’ll be up and running in just a few hours.
During the demo, the store looked fairly easy to use. You can browse by several categories and click on a title to take a closer look at trailers, a synopsis, running time, etc. A few more clicks seals the deal, and the video starts downloading. Since it’s a progressive download, you can start watching after just a few minutes, provided you have a fast enough Internet connection.
Some movies and TV shows feature content in both standard and high-definition — though “high definition” could mean 720p and not 1080i or p. Movies can be rented for US$3 to $6 or purchased for $10 to $15. Once downloaded, content can be ported to a PlayStation Portable. Studios offering content include Sony Pictures (really!), MGM, Fox, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Disney, Turner Entertainment and Funimation.
The entire set-up — using a set-top box (if you want to be a little loose with that definition) to interface with an online store to get click-to-buy downloaded feature entertainment — looks a whole lot like Apple TV, and I wonder how much of a threat to Apple TV this makes PS3. I realize they’re barely in the same ballpark price-wise, but a fairly talented Best Buy employee could conceivably upsell an Apple TV buyer to a device that does basically the same thing, plus plays Blu-ray discs and does a fairly decent job with video games.
However, Apple wins in storage capacity. You can get 160 GB in an Apple TV, and when you’re buying downloads rather than physical discs, storage is an issue if you ever want to watch anything twice. But at the event, Sony announced yet another move in its ever-complicated model and pricing scheme: an 80 GB version available for $399. Previously, that was the price of a 40 GB version. What had me puzzled on that was, it’s not available until this September. One would think Sony would want to play off the video store’s immediate availability with an immediate price cut.
What’s also interesting is how an online movie store — an online HD movie store, no less — might cross the PS3’s Blu-ray player. Are consumers still not sold on downloads? Do they still require a physical disc? When the PS3, the best-selling Blu-ray player out there, gets the ability to download movies tonight, will those who use its movie features really prefer to go to a store and buy a disc, or will they just do so because the studios won’t let new releases go out on the Web until a month after the DVD is out?
Finally — and this seems to happen rather often with Sony — why did this take so long? Sony is big and powerful and has been around forever — but it got beat to this space by Apple, just like Apple devoured so much of the MP3 player market while Sony sat on the Walkman.
I imagine getting movie studios together on something like this is really, really hard, and it’s only more difficult when one of your divisions, Sony Pictures, is everyone else’s competitor. But Microsoft, Apple, TiVo, Amazon and other companies have had this, or something like it, going on for months, and the PlayStation 3 has always been a great candidate if only the papers could get signed. Only now have the deals been made.