Hands-on with the new Sony PlayStation Video Store

E3 2008

Drill on a movie and you're presented with options to buy or rent either SD (standard definition), or as available, HD (high definition) content. As reported, costs for rentals range from US$3 to $4 in SD, $6 in HD. I checked a couple dozen films and found the size range for HD movies tends to run between 5 and 8 GB versus 1.5 to 2 GB for SD versions. Expect those numbers to be notably higher if Sony starts offering 3 to 4 hour long stuff, e.g. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings' director cuts.

While most shows include basic info like release dates, length, size, language, and cast info, it's still but a fraction of what you can get on IMDB, which is too bad, because if ever a service screamed for that kind of interactivity, this is it. It's also not possible to see exactly what specific resolution HD content you're dealing with. 720p? 1080i? 1080p? Roll the dice, I guess.

Hands-on with the new Sony PlayStation Video Store

Even odder, you can't actually buy HD content, you can only rent it. Rentals are for 14 days with a grace period of 24 hours once the content starts playing, whereas SD purchases range from $10 to $15. SD can be upscaled, of course, but not letting you optionally buy HD content's a huge dealbreaker for me. I absolutely refuse to play SD content on my 1080p LCD, upscaled or no, because it frankly looks like washed out junk. Is this Sony's way of keeping attention away from the obvious issue of storage capacity? You can probably cram around 30 1.5 GB SD movies onto a 60 GB PS3, but only 8 or so 6.5GB HD versions.

The TV component works more or less the same as the movie one, including a very smart option to browse by TV network (A&E, History Channel, Adult Swim, Discovery, etc.). Think Family Guy, Prison Break, Afro Samurai, and tons more. But the service also has its own stack of oddball gotchas.

For instance: All three seasons of shows like Arrested Development are available, but bizarrely missing episodes like the first and thirteenth of Season One. The first two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are up, but not the latter five. And some shows that are regularly broadcast in HD like "Deadliest Catch" are only available in SD here. Are these accidental oversights? Licensing issues? Or simply a case of Sony overreaching and playing catchup?

Store performance should be less of an issue for those of you on really fast connections, but satellite owners and anyone with a 1.5Mbps or slower connection will experience notable load times as the system draws and redraws scads of thumbnails. Thankfully you don't have to deal with any annoying auto-loading video ads, but the architecture apparently doesn't cache those thumbnails, so moving around as quickly as you'll naturally want to can turn into a sluggish waiting game.

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Matt Peckham

PC World (US online)
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