Comdex '99: Sony wields Stick for a new era

Sony aims to make it in the content business

Sony is aiming to provide both the hardware and the content to fortify consumers' entertainment needs.

Nobuyuki Idei, Sony's president, used his Comdex/Fall keynote address laid out a plan to give consumers broadband Internet access and offer consumers via a variety of hardware platforms, including PCs, set-top boxes or its Playstation 2 gaming/appliance device. At the same time, Sony intends to use the networks to deliver content ranging from games to music to movies.

"We have talked a lot about synergy (of Internet access hardware and content)," Idei said. "I think broadband networks will give us real value for synergy of content."

Idei also referenced Sony's deal to license the Palm operating system, announced Monday. He did not give any specific plans for the handheld operating system, other than to say "we'll use Palm OS in next-generation Vaio devices."

Idei trotted out filmmaker George Lucas and guitarist Steve Vai to prove his point. Vai recorded a raucous guitar solo on a Sony memory stick (a memory module about the size of a stick of gum) and Sony executives used the stick to play back his performance.

The demonstration included the announcement of several products that utilise Sony's Memory Stick technology, including a new memory stick Walkman. The Walkman will provide up to 80 minutes of music on a single 64MB memory stick. Idei also announced Music Clip, a pen-sized device that includes 64MB of built in memory and a Universal Serial Bus interface. It can play music for up to five hours on a single AAA battery, he said. Idei also announced Info Stic, which uses the Bluetooth short-range wireless technology to allow memory stick devices to communicate with other devices or PCs. This product will be available at the end of next year. Also announced was Audio on Silicon, a new technique that can be used to store audio files inside a device. Pricing was not given for any of the products.

But it was clear from Idei's remarks that Sony expects the PlayStation 2 to really blur the lines between PCs and appliances, games, music and movies. The PlayStation 2, slated to arrive in North America and Europe in the autumn of the year 2000, will offer a number of gaming features, along with the ability to connect to the Internet via a broadband connection.

A demonstration of the product revealed graphics processing abilities of up to 64 frames per second of graphics rendering, which allows it to simulate animals such as birds.

Sony is working on about 250 game titles for the device as well as digital content, including music, pictures and music, said Kazau Hiral, president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America.

"We believe (Playstation 2) will actually accelerate the deployment of broadband networking into consumers homes," he said. "This is the first mass market product for the broadband world."

Sony will not only rely on its own content to draw in customers. It plans to give customers the ability to develop their own broadcast quality content. One method of doing so will be with a new device called the Sony Minidisk CAM, which records up to 20 minutes of MPEG 2 quality video directly to a 650MB disk. This allows users to pick out still images or edit video on the fly, and upload it to a PC via an Ethernet connection. The camera, however, is reportedly quite expensive, carrying a price tag of about $2,200 (£1,320).

Lucas praised the virtues of filming, editing and showing a movie in an all-digital environment. Sony recently delivered a new camera called HDCAM to Lucas' Lucas Films Studios, so that he may film the next Star Wars film, Episode 2, completely digitally. This, he said, will save time and money in editing film.

"Whatever I can imagine, I know I can put on the screen somehow," Lucas said of recent developments in computers that have helped filmmakers devise ever more outlandish plots.

Idei summed it up by saying that Sony intends to lead the charge into broadband with its hardware and content offerings, including Playstation 2.

For full coverage, see the Comdex '99 Special Report .