5 Reasons Why Sony's Universal Media Disc Failed

UMD discs had promise for the Sony PSP, but they were discontinued

The folks at Sony thought a tiny UMD disc was the perfect format for their portable PlayStation, but gamers and critics weren't so enthusiastic. Here are the top reasons why the newer PS Vita uses cartridges instead of the original Sony PSP disc format.

01
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UMD Is an Optical Format

UMD optical media disc

 Wikipedia

In some ways, an optical disc is actually an ideal storage medium for video games. Optical discs have (or at least had at the time) a much larger capacity than comparably-sized cartridges. The bigger capacity meant PSP games could have better graphics in comparison to the competition.

For handheld devices, however, there are also many reasons an optical disc is far from ideal. PSP games are notoriously slow-loading, and much if it has to do with reading the disc. On large consoles, load times can be reduced considerably by installing parts of the game onto the console's onboard memory, but the PSP doesn't have that ability.

02
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UMDs Are Not Burnable

A CD burns with large yellow flames.
Ffotograffydd Mabon Llyr Photographer / Getty Images

When the PSP first came out, aspiring game developers envisioned being able to burn their own 3D models onto a UMD disc. It is possible to do something like this with a memory stick, but the higher capacity of the UMD would allow for much higher-resolution images, so many dreamed of the day Sony would release a UMD burner.

Of course, that never happened. The PSP has always been a major target for piracy, and Sony got more and more sensitive about write-protecting their games over time. A UMD burner, they probably reasoned, would only open the floodgates.

03
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UMDs Are Delicate

A compact disc or CD optical disc that is used to store digital data
Noclip, Creative Commons License

While the UMD discs themselves are pretty tough, just like their larger CD cousins, they are prone to scratching. To keep scratches and fingerprints to a minimum, Sony encased UMDs in a plastic shell. Early on, a lot of gamers found the plastic shells had a tendency to split open and the disc would fall out. They're easy enough to put back together and secure with a little glue, but it wasn't confidence-inspiring. Some gamers also got confused by the shell and thought it was another layer that had to be taken off before you put the disc in the PSP.

Not only did the UMDs themselves feel fragile, but so did the door to the UMD compartment on the PSP, especially on the original PSP model. For a long time, a broken UMD door seemed to be the most common problem on PSPs being sold online.

04
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UMDs Are an Awkward Size

UMD / Universal Media Disc

 Wikipedia

Though a UMD is much smaller than a CD or a DVD, it's also much bigger than a Nintendo DS cartridge. That means DS owners can carry around a lot more games than PSP users. A related issue is that because UMD is an optical format, the apparatus for reading the UMD takes up quite a bit of space inside the PSP. Consider how many more sensors and inputs the PS Vita has compared to the PSP even though the system is only slightly larger. If the Vita used UMD, it would have to be even bigger.

05
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UMDs Are Not Cartridges

A Sony PSP UMD and a Nintendo Game Boy cartridge compared side by side.

Wikipedia

The simple psychological hurdles UMD faced can't be overlooked. Everyone was used to cartridges in handhelds. Pretty much every portable system has used cartridges, from the Atari Lynx to the Game Boy. Sony was maybe too ambitious in using a disc instead of a cart. As a result, some gamers passed on the PSP simply because it didn't use a traditional media format.