Sony aims to bring online video to your TV

Did somebody say 'convergence'?
Written by Richard Shim, Contributor

Did somebody say 'convergence'?

Sony is developing a plasma screen television set that's intended to tune into streaming video from home networks and the internet as easily as regular TV programs, according to sources familiar with the plans. The project, code-named Altair, is one of the company's latest efforts to make digital content more accessible on its consumer-electronics devices, and it reinforces Sony's vision of the television as the centerpiece of its strategy for networked digital media. The new Sony TV will include a built-in internet connection and tuners for receiving broadcasts from cable, satellite and over-the-air transmissions, according to sources. The TV is expected to include a web browser but is not seen as a rival to Web TV. The device will be manipulated by a remote control rather than a keyboard and will use the internet primarily as an alternative way to deliver video to the TV screen. Sony has formed partnerships with several streaming media companies, including chipmaker Equator, On2 Technologies, RealNetworks and Secure Media, to help deliver that video. "They're really sticking their necks out and betting that streaming to TV is going to be really big," said one source familiar with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Tokyo-based entertainment and consumer-electronics giant has been working on the project for the last six to eight months, and a device is nearly complete, according to sources. Although the sources said Sony is committed to the project, its plans could change. Before its release, the device under development could evolve beyond its current focus to add features or drop existing ones. In addition, the company could determine that such a project is not commercially feasible because of high production cost or low consumer demand. Although it is considered a manufacturing juggernaut, Sony has placed bad bets in the past. It built an internet appliance called eVilla in 2001 to capitalise on the web craze, but pulled the $499 device just weeks after it reached the market. Plans were set to debut an Altair product in Tokyo in June, but that schedule has been pushed back because of technical obstacles. An introduction in the United States would follow if the product sells well in Japan. Earlier this week, Sony said it was working with eight other Japanese companies - Hitachi, Matsushita Electronics Industrial, Sharp, Toshiba, Sanyo Electric, Victor of Japan, Pioneer and Mitsubishi Electronics - to develop technical specifications for digital televisions so they can connect to the internet. Those specifications will be finalised in October and will probably be used in a product based on work from the Altair project, suggesting its launch will come later this year or early next year. The name of the project recalls a key product in computing history. Altair also is the name of a home computer introduced in 1975 that was the first to sell in significant quantities and the first to run Microsoft software. By News'com's Evan Hansen, Stefanie Olsen and Richard Shim
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