PlayStation in Race To Power Digital Home


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PlayStation in Race To Power Digital Home

Jason Lopez,

Sony says it will show off a prototype of its newest PlayStation game console next spring. As the device evolves, it is becoming a potent competitor to the personal computer in the race to empower the digital home.

Sony's PlayStation 2 is the market leader, but Nintendo's GameCube and Microsoft's Xbox have cut into its lead. Sony says it will offer a glimpse of the new machine at the E3 trade show set for Los Angeles in May of next year. Microsoft is expected to counter with its new Xbox Next console at E3. Nintendo is busy working on its latest device called "Revolution."

Unlike other game consoles, the PlayStation is a primary actor -- from a technology perspective -- in a vision of the networked home. But the idea that a game console can do more than play video games is already here. About two out of three PlayStation owners use their consoles to watch movies on DVDs. A third listen to CDs.

Home Entertainment Server

Sony has a grander vision -- not necessarily in its technological sophistication but in its breadth. Unlike the PC centric dreams of Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft -- in which the PC handles most functions -- Sony is building the digital home from the point of view it knows best: home electronics.

"Sony wants the living room to be the hub of the digital home," said Yankee Group analyst Michael Goodman. "It's about consumer electronics, such as TV sets [and] CD players; and you might think of the PlayStation of the future as something like a home-entertainment server," he told NewsFactor.

Sony's technology development focuses on enabling dumb consumer-electronics devices to be networked. The company currently is working with IBM and Toshiba on the Cell processor, which is tailored specifically for broadband content and the convergence of video and audio platforms with gaming.

"You put the Cell chipset in a TV, let's say, and you suddenly have a whole new device," noted Goodman.

Go with What You Know

The personal computer is certainly an amazing machine, and it may very well turn out that the hub concept articulated by Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, among others, will work swimmingly. After all, it appears that bigger hard drives, faster processor speeds and improved software can result in computers that enable users to play games, listen to music and watch movies.

But Sony is a consumer-electronics company first, so it is attacking the problem by making devices that buyers are already familiar with more powerful. "What consumers have are islands of functionality," remarked Gartner G2 analyst Van Baker. "I'm not sure that consumers are clamoring for a converged device as much as they want portable content," he told NewsFactor.

The race to equip the digital home is tantamount to making content user-frieindly. Who will win -- the "living room" or the PC hub? In the short term, it appears to be a moot question. The major challenge to the concept of the digital home may not be a technology problem at all. It is a legal one.

In order to make the "living room" or the PC hub work, consumers must be able to buy digital content and play it without having to worry about whether they are using the right codecs, have loaded the proper DRM certificates or have the right hardware.

"Until that happens," says Baker, "the home network has a long way to go."

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