Redesigned version may boost UMDs

In a move that may help boost the struggling UMD movie format, Sony unveiled a redesigned version of its PlayStation Portable on Wednesday that allows users to play the device’s video and games directly on a TV.

At its press conference on the first day of the E3 videogame confab, Sony revealed a new version of its PSP that is smaller and lighter and comes with a video output.

An important criticism of the UMD format has been that while discs cost almost as much as a DVD, they work only on the PSP and nothing else. New video output, which will let users transfer the video from the handheld gaming device to the TV, could make UMD movies and TV shows seem like a better value and possibly boost sales for the studios, most of which have cut back on releases in the format.

While the PSP is doing relatively well, it’s trailing far behind the Nintendo DS. Sony is hoping that the smaller size and extra video features, coupled with a $30 price cut to $170 in March, will help fix that problem.

Changes to the PSP were not as significant as some gamers had predicted, however, and came at an event where Sony made few major news announcements. Instead, following Monday’s decision to cut the price of the PlayStation 3 by $100, the electronics giant focused on its upcoming lineup of games in an attempt to boost interest among the hardcore gamers who pay attention to E3.

“We’re here to show games, games and more games,” boasted Sony Computer Entertainment America topper Jack Tretton in a sign of his company’s priorities this year.

In addition to its high price, many critics have complained that the PlayStation 3 doesn’t have as strong a lineup of titles as Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

But Sony put to rest rumors that one of the PS3’s most anticipated games, “Metal Gear Solid 4″ from Konami, would be multiplatform, confirming that it will be a PS3 exclusive when released early next year.

Sony also showed off several of its internally developed titles. Company has invested huge amounts of money into its own games to help boost the PS3’s and PSP’s lineups. Biggest emphasis was on high-intensity shooter “Killzone 2,” for which Sony gave its own separate party on Tuesday night.

Interestingly, Sony made no mention of one of fall’s biggest titles for the PS3, “Grand Theft Auto IV.” Slight is most likely a sign of Sony’s unhappiness that game’s publisher Rockstar made a deal with Microsoft to release downloadable content for the game exclusively on the Xbox 360.

Sony did boast about the continued strength of PlayStation 2, the only last-generation console that’s still selling well, with 10 million units expected to ship by the end of the fiscal year in March. But given the extent to which the competition is overshadowing the PS3 and PSP, traditionally dominant Sony found itself, for the first time in many years, with something to prove to E3 attendees this year.

Nintendo, on the other hand, struck a very confident tone at its press conference Wednesday.

With the Wii outselling other next-gen videogame systems and DS winning the handheld gaming market, Nintendo of America topper Reggie Fils-Aimes took the opportunity to point out how his company is succeeding by reaching beyond the core gamer market of young men.

“What we’ve accomplished may have increased our market share, but that’s just a secondary goal,” he explained. “We intend to steal more of people’s overall leisure time.”

To that end, he pointed to numerous statistics showing that the Wii and DS are reaching more women, older gamers and young children than the rest of the industry, thus expanding the overall vidgame biz.

E3 attendees were most excited to see new installments of Nintendo’s top franchises, such as “Super Mario Bros.,” “Mario Kart” and “Super Smash Brothers,” as well as peripherals that turn the Wii’s motion-sensing controller into a gun and a steering wheel.

But the company also showed off a new title aimed at a much broader market called “WiiFit.” Exercise game uses a new footpad to train players in aerobics, yoga and other exercises.

Though it didn’t fit the action and adventure genres that tend to interest most hardcore gamers, Nintendo prexy Satoro Iwata, a revered industry figure, personally showed off “WiiFit” and urged attendees to support his company’s initiatives to expand the audience.

“I ask the veterans to remember their very first day as gamers,” he said in a direct appeal to the crowd. “New players are the most valuable prize in the videogame business. If their experience is positive, then they can become veteran players one day.”

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