Madison (Wisconsin) - In a move that could transcend its immediate influence upon gamers' ability to store their high score tables, the Media Software division of Sony has released a new Media Manager application for the PC (that larger version of a computer that sits on your desk whose screen is wider than 5 inches) for transferring files to and from PlayStation Portable. Complete with USB transfer hardware in the boxed edition, the package seeks to elevate the portable media experience for PSP to a level at least on par with that of Apple.
In what appears on the surface to be an aquamarine version of Photoshop Album, Sony's Media Manager collects and organizes all video, audio, and still image files on your PC. The audio collection capability is especially impressive here, in that it includes not only MP3 files but also Windows Media Audio (WMA), uncompressed .WAV, Ogg Vorbis (.OGG, an open source codec) and MPEG-4 Audio (.M4A) formats. The list of supported video file extensions is also impressive, although in practice, files with .MPG and .AVI extensions are often encoded using any of a handful of optional codecs. Such codecs are easy enough for Windows Media Player or Winamp to locate and install automatically and transparently, though may not be immediately supported by the PSP. However, MPEG-4 and .MOV formats are also listed, which makes it clear that Media Manager intends to support both older and newer versions of Apple's QuickTime.
Multiple format support, coupled with ease of management and control by the user, could give the PSP the edge it needs to carve at least a slice of the portable media device market. Already, PSP enjoys a solid lead as a portable gaming device, and has always had the theoretical capacity to serve as a portable player for on-demand media, downloaded by and transferred from the PC. What it has lacked to date is the cohesive software that provides consumers with the end-to-end experience, similar to what Apple currently offers through iTunes. The release of this software, coupled with a cross-promotion featuring Sony's own downloadable music service, Connect.com, could lead some to start comparing the PSP with the latest iPod, feature for feature. In such a comparison, the PSP's larger screen, UMD disc drive, removable memory stick, and with the version 2.x firmware, built-in Web browser with WiFi access, could prove...somewhat useful.
Another intriguing new feature is Media Manager's podcast feed organizer, which can automatically collect and organize selected audio and video productions whose titles are syndicated through RSS, to a cache on the PC. It then transfers those feeds to the PSP for scheduled replay. The 4.9 edition of iTunes has similar features, although at least based on the early screenshots we've seen, Sony's version appears to be more "plain," geared less toward product placement and more toward ease of use and functionality. At first glance, if I may be allowed to use this word in a PSP story, the Media Manager appears to mean business with regard to podcast feeds.
As far as Media Manager's "user interface" is concerned, one hopes you like blue. Even its audio file transfer panel, seen as a thumbnail, more than slightly resembles an early screen dump from a Commodore 64. What appears at least to be Sony's attempt at simplicity and consistency in its program's front end may be interpreted by some as another effort to best Apple at its own game. A dual-pane environment separates PC-based content from PSP-based; the user initiates transfers with a simple drag-and-drop motion.
The software-only version is available for download now at http://www.sony.com/mediasoftware, for $19.95. The boxed edition will apparently only be available online on 1 December through the Sony Style Web site, for $30.