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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

PSP zoning catastrophe in SA?

For some strange reason, many moons ago, South Africa got lumped in with Europe as a PAL region. Since then, all of our ‘legitimate’ entertainment products (ie movies and games) have been sourced from that region. An example of this is PlayStation hardware and games. We get Euro consoles and software through Ster Kinekor, who are the exclusive distributors of PlayStation products in this country. Now this has all worked out fine up until now, as the PS products have generally been first and foremost gaming systems, and it’s been relatively difficult to import them in any large number due to their size. Most people go out to retailers and buy a boxed PS2, and go to the same sorts of places for games, no problem. If PS owners really wanted to play games from other regions, they would have to get the machines chipped, and the kind of people that actually imported NTSC machines would typically know where to go to have them repaired if the need arose. Your everyday user could just go back to the store they bought the item from in the event of problems, and that store would deal with Ster Kinekor to get it repaired.

The PSP, however, seems to be introducing a bit of a problem. Somewhere along the distribution chain, someone has discovered that the games are not zoned, and that they can get away with selling import systems at retail. Now this wouldn’t be surprising if we were just talking about your typical grey importers, but I have now come across two cases of this with major resellers of the product. The first was when a friend got a PSP with his cellphone contract through Vodacom, the other is another friend that bought a porcelain white giga pack from Reggies.

The importing in itself is not that big a deal, but three things concern me about this practice. First of all, while games are not region encoded, UMD movies are, and unwitting customers are buying systems that will be unable to play locally distributed UMD movies. Secondly, what happens when one of these consoles is damaged? Will Ster Kinekor accept them for servicing or decline because they are not legitimate products? Finally (and this is the most worrying point), firmware updates are often required by new games, these updates are typically included on the game UMD, and your average user, when prompted to upgrade their firmware, will blindly accept this update. The problem here is that firmware updates are not always compatible with hardware from different regions, so a user running a European firmware update on a Japanese PSP may well turn it into a really expensive plastic brick. In fact, the Sony site specifically warns against using incorrect firmware versions on PSP hardware.

The question is, who is responsible for this practice? Are these resellers obtaining their stock from questionable sources? Are Ster Kinekor themselves unknowingly distributing ‘non-legitimate’ products? Either one is a bit scary, as it’s potentially going to result in innocent consumers ending up with damaged or unserviceable PSPs.



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