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Sony seeks life for Vaio beyond PC

Posted: 19 May 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sony? it & mobile solutions network? computer? pc?

Unveiling Sony Corp.'s new computer product lineup here this week, Keiji Kimura, president of Sony's IT & Mobile Solutions Network Co., defined a new strategy for Sony's computer business as "Vaio beyond PC."

Kimura said Sony is evolving its Vaio-branded computer platform into a number of networked audio and video products. Significantly, Vaio OSs will no longer be limited to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP.

Vaio Pocket, Sony's new portable audio player will use Sony's proprietary OS. The same is apparently true of the video version of a prototype pocket device Sony demonstrated here.

The pocket video prototype includes a hard-disk drive, MPEG-4/MPEG-2 video decoding and 802.11g-based wireless connectivity. The palm-size video device is designed to let users download content from a home server. Consumers can also use it to wirelessly transfer video content to a big- screen TV. Either way, "it would be unthinkable to use the Windows operating system for such a small device," Kimura told EE Times.

Kimura said Sony has no plans to switch its Vaio platform from Windows XP to Linux any time soon. But he added that Linux is a candidate for a number of small but powerful Vaio-based devices.

Sony, along with a host of computer OEMs and ODMs, are striving to move their computer products into the consumer electronics market. The shift has been aided in large part by Microsoft's commitment to push Windows Media Centers or Windows Media Center Extenders. Both Windows Media Centers and Extenders are similar in concept to Sony's new network AV products. Both are designed to let consumers move content via wired or wireless networks between devices.

Kimura said Sony will stick with Windows XP for the time being because it is a strong platform with the largest installed base. But for anything that goes "beyond PC," Sony doesn't see Microsoft helping Sony differentiate its Vaio products from consumer devices. "Other than XP," said Kimura, "Microsoft has failed in its every attempt, including Windows CE and .NET initiatives" to extend the Windows platform into the consumer market. "We don't see any of those new initiatives [becoming] a major success."

Sony launched the Vaio product line in the U.S. in 1996. Then, industry observers criticized Sony's late entry into an already cutthroat computer market and doubted whether Vaio would survive.

Those critics have been silenced, with Vaio "gaining at least a 12-percent market share in the consumer PC market in Europe," said Laurent Pellet, director at Sony Information Technology Europe. But the Japanese company is also keenly aware that Vaio is beginning to lose its cache.

In redefining the system over the next five years, Sony must do two things, the Sony executive said: improving the audio and video quality faster than other PCs and simplifying Vaio's operation and connectivity. At the same time, it must improve compatibility with other consumer devices.

"With today's PC architecture, the quality of audio and video won't get any better so easily," Kimura said. Sony will use its homegrown, dedicated DSPs and software, originally developed for Sony's professional and consumer audio and video product lines.

Audio filters called "SonicStage Master Studio" are now embedded in Vaio software. A dedicated DSP called "S-Master" is also now integrated in Vaio. Consumers can download audio from analog records or tapes, and process and master the music in high quality audio on their own computer.

The new lineup scheduled for launch this summer includes the Vaio Pocket, a portable audio player with a 2.2-inch QVGA color LCD, 20GB hard drive and at least 20h of battery life.

Sony has also introduced Vaio X505, 9.7mm thick and weighing 840g. It comes with a ultra-high-density, 10-layer motherboard as small as a Mini Disk.

- Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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