Personal Tech: TV to go
The big news last week in portable video was the announcement from Apple and Disney that they are partnering to put some popular TV shows in your iPod. For $1.99, you can download new episodes of ABC shows, including Lost and Desperate Housewives, to the pocket-size device just a day after the programs air on TV. The concept is being billed as a giant step for Hollywood. For years, TV and movie studios have refused to offer downloadable versions of their precious products, lest the evil pirates steal them away.
So what do I think? Big yawn. Let's be real about it: Who's excited about watching the latest plot twist in Lost on the iPod's 2.5-inch screen? The best gadget for bringing along your favorite flicks is Sony's PlayStation Portable ($250 and up). The PSP's 4.3-inch screen has remarkable resolution and color and a widescreen-style shape that's ideal for watching movies. In fact, this ability has trumped the device's considerable game-playing power. That's why you're more likely to see someone using it to watch Sin City than to play Madden '06.
The PSP does have one flaw, and it's a biggie. To watch those movies, you have to spend about $20 to buy a copy of the film stored on a Universal Media Disc (UMD), a Sony proprietary format that will be unplayable on pretty much any other device in the immediate future. Until recently, if you wanted to get a DVD that you already own into the PlayStation Portable, you had to perform some pretty sophisticated hacking.
Who wants to do that just to watch a flick while you're on a plane or train? Fortunately, some reasonable shortcuts are popping up. A new software program called Video Vault ($40, www.divmm.com) simplifies the process of transferring DVD movies into the PlayStation Portable. Install Video Vault on a PC, and the computer can then rip the DVDs (provided the computer has a DVD drive) into a number of other formats, such as DivX and MPEG4. The Video Vault software does a fine job of guiding you through the process, but it's still more difficult than transferring a music CD into a portable device. So, if you never did learn how to program your VCR, Video Vault may be out of your league as well.
A weekly feature of usnews.com, Personal Tech reviews the latest in consumer electronics and gadgets.