Sony marries the PC to the TV

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While most of the world’s major consumer electronics manufacturers paraded their latest wares at the IFA exhibition in Berlin at the end of August, Sony decided to go it alone and display its new stuff at its Dreamworld showcase held at Paris’s Le Palais du Congress a week later.

As ever the company unveiled a huge range of products; some breathtaking, some average and some highly annoying.

Among its key launches were:

A network media receiver – for transferring video and audio files from a PC to a home entertainment system/PC
PC-TV – a desktop PC with an LCD screen designed to moonlight as a person’s main TV
Clie – The eagerly awaited PEG-UX50 Palm-based PDA
Qualia – a range of ultra high-end products

Network media receiver

Sony has been offering PCs that can stream audio and video files for a while now, but this is the first time it made a great deal of noise about its products. Maybe it is a response to Philips Connected Planet products unveiled at IFA.

The Network Media Receiver is a small box that connects to a home’s main PC and home entertainment system and enables the user to access audio, still image and video files on their PC. The system operates via a wired Ethernet connection or wirelessly using the 802.11g format, will be bundled with RS Series Vaio desktops. The unit will add an extra £100 nto the cost – the wireless version will be more like £300. The NMR will also be on sale individually in the New Year for around £100. Also available is an AV receiver, the £300 STR-LV700R that adds the functionality of the NMR to its surround sound and radio facilities.

While the system worked well in its demo, it has several fairly serious flaws. Firstly the Network Media receiver only works with Sony Vaio PCs. Secondly it doesn’t stream content from the Internet – just files stored on a hard disk (this also means users can’t stream DVD movies). Lastly all streamed music has to be in Sony’s ATRAC3 compression standard. Users can convert their MP3s into ATRAC3, but if someone has hundreds of MP3s on their hard disk in MP3 format they are not going to want to spend hours converting them. A spokesperson for Sony did hint that future Network media receivers might add Internet and DVD streaming.

PC-TV Vaio W1

This product offers a real glimpse of the future. The Vaio W1 is essentially a desktop PC that can morph into a fairly attractive looking TV set. A design triumph it features a base that contains the computing element, a keyboard, which can be folded away and a 17.5inch widescreen monitor LCD. There ‘s range of picture processing options that change brightness colour and contrast level depending on which job the W1 is undertaking.

Central to the computer is Sony’s Giga Pocket software, which turns the PC into a hard disk video recorder. There’s also a DVD drive, surround sound system, Memory Stick slot and a host of Sony software. The PC features an Intel Pentium 4 2.80Ghz processor with 512MB memory, and a hard disk of 160GB.

It will be available in October – no news on price yet.

Media Center PC

While the W1 looks like a promising product we think it will quickly be overtaken by Sony’s first microsoft Windows XP Media Center PC. It has been leaked that the company will unveil its first PC to use this new operating system in the Autumn, The key difference between the W1 and the Media Center PC is that the latter features a second interface which can be simply operated by a remote control. Sony’s version is sure to feature its own Giga pocket software.

We think the Media Center offers Sony a gilt-edge opportunity. We’ll tell you why next week.

Clie PEG-UX50

There’s no denying that this is the best Clie so far. It has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, a super selection of entertainment facilities and an innovative design with a swivelling screen and easy to use keyboard. The 65K colour landscape screen is outstanding too and very easy to use with files like Word and Excel.

The only downside is a price tag of £600 – way too expensive for a PDA. Expect it to arrive in the UK in the middle of October

Qualia

Dreamworld saw the first European outing for Sony’s new range of ultra high-end products. Only available to order, and currently just in Japan, the range includes four models, with a further ten or so earmarked for launch in the nest year. The highlight is one of the world’s smallest digital cameras, the Qualia 016, a two-mega pixel model with attachable lenses that’s a snip at around £2,000. If that’s not pricey enough for you, then Sony also has a Super Audio CD player/surround sound system, the Qualia 007, which retails for around £10,000, or a 36inch TV monitor Qualia 15 for £8,000. Perhaps the most impressive was a high-definition video projector, the Qualia 004, which will set die-hard home cinephiles back around £14,000.

There were also some other products which we’ll feature over the next couple of weeks.

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