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June 21, 2005updated 19 Aug 2016 10:11am

Why PSP UMD Porn is a Red Herring

News that Hollywood is looking to launch pornographic titles on Sony's PlayStation Portable - a device aimed predominantly at kids - has been greeted with dismay by the electronics giant. But it can't pretend to be surprised. The PlayStation

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News that Hollywood is looking to launch pornographic titles on Sony’s PlayStation Portable – a device aimed predominantly at kids – has been greeted with dismay by the electronics giant. But it can’t pretend to be surprised.

The PlayStation Portable (PSP), which is available in the US and Japan and launches in Europe in September, uses a new removable storage format, Sony’s proprietary Universal Media Disc (UMD). It’s a 60mm DVD-like affair, only it can store up to 1.8 Gigabytes, which is a hell of a lot for something smaller than a CD.

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If Sony had been desperate to keep porn off the PlayStation Portable, it could simply have refused to license its UMD technology to those types of companies. It would be pretty difficult for them to hack, because for UMD, Sony created a protection system that uses a unique ID for each disc (using AES 128-bit encryption) and the ID of the PlayStation Portable itself to restrict illegal copying.

But Sony also has high hopes that UMD will become a standard, so it is putting it through a standards group for ratification, namely the European Computer Manufacturer’s Association (ECMA), which is hoping to publish the standard this month and then fast-track it to ISO/IEC standard status.

Sony wants UMD to be a standard so that there is a good stock of music and movies available for the format, making its PlayStation Portable and other UMD-capable devices more attractive. Sony has said that it will allow other manufacturers to make hardware that can play music and movie UMDs, but not UMD games – it wants that market to itself.

Another element of the motivation for having UMDs as widely available as possible is that it is selling its PlayStation Portable hardware at a loss – around $50 per device, analysts estimate. Sony is hoping it can recoup those losses by selling UMD games, music and videos down the line. It realises kids are savvy enough to realise it’s risky buying content in a format that isn’t widely supported, so making UMD a standard is critical to selling kids UMDs, and recouping that lost cash.

Once it becomes a standard, then anyone will be able to put films out on UMD, whether Sony likes it or not. But don’t forget that every film sold in the UK will still need certification from the British Board of Film Classification (bbfc), so in theory pornographic material would be restricted for sale to those over 18, as it is today on DVD.

So it will be no easier for someone under age to get their hands on a pornographic UMD than it is to get their hands on a pornographic DVD. Which does beg the question, just what is the difference between pornography being available on UMD from it being available on DVD? Both can be played on portable devices, and both are subject to bbfc classification.

What we should be far more worried about is the fact that kids are playing violent video games in the first place.

Numerous studies have found them damaging, and if you take all of the studies together, as Craig A. Anderson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University puts it: "When one combines all relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques, five separate effects emerge with considerable consistency. Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behaviour, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behaviour… High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and violent criminal behaviour (e.g., self-reported assault, robbery)." Enough said.

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