Sony’s LocationFree Wireless Broadband TVs

We got very excited about this when we first wrote about it in January. Sony have introduced two new LCD TVs that allow you to enjoy media wherever you like at home without running wires. You don’t even need mains as they can run for a couple of hours on their internal batteries.

The LF-X1 display has a 12.1” screen with a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, whilst its smaller sibling, the LF-X5 has a 7” display with a 800 x 480 resolution. Prices are US$1500 (€1247) and US$1000 (€831) respectively.

The two screens come with a base station which you connect to your video source, and then the station transmits to the screen using any one of the three main WiFi protocols. The TV itself can chose which WiFi variant is most appropriate for the quality of video you wish to watch or amount of interference in your immediate environment.

You don’t even need to be at home – if your content is on a network you can stream it over the internet to the TV using 802.11b, as long as your upstream transfer rate is greater than 300kbits/s.

The TVs are very well catered for with other connections – each features a built-in tuners, ethernet port, two video inputs, USB port and IR port for remote control. For viewing photographs, the LF-X1 has a Compact Flash socket, the LF-X5 has a Memory Stick port.


Netflix Switching to Web Delivery

Netflix, the online DVD rental firm has plans to deliver films via the internet by 2005: “Our strategy is to get huge in DVDs and then expand into downloads,” Reed Hastings, Netflix Chief Executive, said to Reuters.

Netflix’s business model currently operates around the postal service – users browse the Netflix site, selecting titles they wish to view. DVD’s are then delivered to the company’s 1.9 million subscribers by post. Cutting out the postal service will pay for online delivery and allow Netflix to invest in more content. Hastings estimates that a download service will have 5 million subscribers by 2006.

Netflix currently charge US$20 (€17) a month for their postal-delivery service, and are proposing a US$22 (€18.50) per month charge for their download offering.

Netflix don’t want to download to computers, instead using a broadband connection direct to the TV set-top box – rather like Blockbuster’s unique VOD service in the UK.

Competition is going to be fierce – more movie download services are in the pipeline and Netflix will have to go up against strongly-backed groups like Movielink and CinemaNow. Movielink was formed by five major studios: MGM Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. CinemaNow counts Microsoft and Blockbuster amongst their investors.




BSkyB Announces Next Stage for Sky+

The Sky+ personal video recorder is set to evolve under new plans from BSkyB: they want to transform the PVR into a video and audio jukebox that subscribers can download films and music to.

Other plans include integrating five separate tuners – a move which will allow subscribers to record four channels simultaneously whilst watching a fifth.

Sky are also working on a technology that will allow Sky+ users to download content from their set top box to their portable video player so they can watch recorded programming whilst out an about.

Sky hopes to make £400 from each subscriber per year by the end of 2005. By building new functionality into their Sky+ product and then charging on a service by service basis, they should be able to earn significantly more revenue per customer, on top of the basic £15 subscription fee.

Since most domestic users are unlikely to ever want to record four separate programmes whilst watching a fifth, it seems to Digital Lifestyles that BSkyB will probably use this new capability to download films and programming to the PVR automatically, to a dedicated area of the hard disk. This will then allow Sky to promote the programming and offer it to to subscribers on an impulse buy, pay-per-view basis.

Media Guardian on Sky’s plans

Sony Announce Location Free TV

Among the many announcements at CES was an interesting portable 12″ LCD TV screen from Sony, that can be carried around a house and have various content delivered to it from its base station, enabling the showing of video from many different sources, as well as playing music, viewing photos and browsing the Internet. Sony calls it LocationFree™.

It is based on a similar device released just in Japan called AirTact and a few TVs. Kunitake Ando, president and group COO at Sony Corp has realised the potential to freeing the screen. At Sony “Dream World” held in Paris, Sept. 2003 was quoted that transforming traditional TVs to “location-free” TV or displays could take the 125 million TV sets sold worldwide and “easily increased to four or five times that number.”

The basestation can have many different sources plugged in to it, including; video, be that TV ariel/cable, DVD, VCR, DV video camera; audio sources; other media files stored on computers via Ethernet. There is a wide selection for possible connections to the network, wirelessly (802.11a, 802.11b (WiFi), or 802.11g) or an Ethernet cable. The content is delivered to the remote, battery-powered 12.1″ LCD touch screen, which can also run from a main source. There are also plans for a pocket sized 5.8″ version. The viewer is free to move around the house while continuing to access the different media sources, selecting them by touching the screen. As yet, Sony has not discussed battery life.

For the first time Sony have brought technology from their high-end TV sets to the LCD display including 3D Y/C separation circuitry for clear, vivid picture and colour blur reduction; angled line correction circuitry for smoothing out jagged lines; motion adaptive I/P conversion circuitry for improving fast moving action scenes; and digital audio amplifier circuitry for crisp sound and minimized distortion.

It looks like Sony have carried out considerable research to find what function user may want. The five pounds screen itself has a lot of connectors includes an Ethernet port, a USB port, Memory Stick media slot, headphone jack, keyboard port and an AV input for connecting to a camcorder. Useful features include viewers being able to “freeze” and save a TV scene by using the “capture” button on the remote screen – saving a mad scrabble for pen and paper where information appears on the TV.  Prints of the images or homepage data, e-mail attachments and digital photos can also be made to USB printers connected to the base-station.

While using the screen to browse the Internet, the viewer will be able to watch their choice of TV/video source displayed in a Picture in Picture (PiP) window, but given the screen is 800×600, we imaging this might not be used much beyond demos to friends.

Sony has omitted to give any precise dates for the shipping of Location Free, preferring to say it would be “Later in the year”.

Sony say one of the benefits of the screen being an IP device is that access your media does not need to be restricted just to your own home network. By taking the screen with you on your travels, you can access the self same content through any IP connection, which are increasingly found around the world in offices and hotel rooms. One example cited gives an interesting twist to the product – a person on the road, unable to attend their child’s birthday, has an opportunity to tune in, watching the live video being shot on a camcorder plugged in to the basestation at home. We believe application such as this, which can be used to bring together families distributed over great distances, will be a major driver in purchasing products.

We are excited about this step of remote access to your home media, firewall configuration allowing of course. It could be an interesting early step into a future where your home media server becomes the focal point of your media ownership, with your various remote IP devices having access, via your home server.

At this point it is worth highlighting that hard facts about which protocols are used to transfer content back and forth between base-station and screen. It would be a great shame if the protocols were proprietary. We think there is real potential in this device, and by using open standards; there could be a real potential for a product like this to become a standard for interfacing analog media to an IP device. There is a real need for a device like it and it appears that Mr Ando at Sony Corp is trying to fill it.

Philips Announces Digital Media Adaptors

Philips have announced two wireless digital media adaptors that enables the playing of computer-stored content, be that films, photos or music, to be played on TV or in a traditional HiFi system.

The SL300i and SL400i have both been labelled by Philips as a Wireless Multimedia Link can be used with a supplied remote control. Only the SL400i comes with an LCD display, so users can select music without having to have the TV on, and includes the 802.11b USB wireless adaptor.

We feel with year will be the year of the Digital Media Adaptor (DMA) with products expected from many of the major players as well as new entrants.

Philips SL300i

Philips SL400i

ReplayTV creator launches new HiDef digital media device

pRoku Labs have for the last year been quietly developing products that connect to High-Definition TV’s and their first device, the Roku HD1000, launches today. They claim it is the first digital media player to be designed for high-definition televisions and with a price tag of $499, Roku is targeting the high-end consumer, those already spending $3,000 or more on an HDTV set.

The HD1000 can play photo slideshows, video or music files from its front mounted built-in memory card slots (CompactFlash, MMC, SD, Memory Stick or SmartMedia) or, using either its built-in 10/100 Ethernet or optional WiFi adaptor, can play media files streamed from a PC or Mac.

You will have noticed that this is a recall only device – it has no ability to record. Many would expect that this device would come with a hard drive onboard, but perhaps because of the extensive and eventually fatal attention that ReplyTV got from its ability to record programs and skip adverts, this has been left for a later product.

Roku is trying a novel approach to encourage owners of large High-Def screens to treat them as picture frames or as windows to alternative location. To this end they are selling $69 memory cards filled with classic paintings, nature and aquarium images.

By keeping their overheads to a minimum, the company would break even by selling 10,000 units, but hopes to become profitable by selling at least 20,000 units within a year. Clearly a small market currently. They hope to gain additional income by its software to other set-top box and television makers and given the HD100 is based on an open Linux-based platform, they hope to encourage third-party developers to build applications for it using the published API.

Roku is lead by Anthony Woods, the creator of ReplayTV. ReplayTV was the first consumer grade hard disk video recorder to come to market, launching in 1999, a few months prior to the more widely known TiVo. Roku labs is not to be confused with Roku Technologies who have been developing peer to peer technologies.


Sony US announce details of PS2 hard drive

Following the long running rumours Sony has just confirmed that in March 2004 they will be releasing an 40Gb hard drive for their PlayStation 2 games console priced at $99. This gives them not just the ability to enhance game play, but to treat the PS2 as a media adaptor.

The hard drive will ship with a customised media player which includes the ability to play MP3’s, copy audio CD’s on to the PS2 and manage digital photos. As yet there is no detail about the handling or the playing of video files.

Since Microsoft announced the Xbox would have a hard disk, Sony has been concerned that the Xbox would be able to access digital media and display it on the connected TV. This, combined with the already available network adaptor, is the start of their response. In their words

“The Hard Disk Drive is a further step toward a new era of digital in-home entertainment, creating a total living room experience that includes games, movies and music.”

On the gaming side, users will be able to save their game progress as well as download new content – levels, missions and characters for their bought games. It will be sold pre-installed with Square Enix’s highly anticipated massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), Final Fantasy XI and pre-released demonstration of other upcoming games. One of the first games to utilise the Hard Drive will be the soon-to-be-released SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs and Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain, which probably needs the hard drive just to store its extraordinarily long title.

If you’re really desperate to get your hands of a hard drive for the PS2, one has been available since May 2002 as part of the Linux development bundle. Even though the drive in this kit is also 40Gb, it’s not expected that it will with the games.

PS2 Linux developer kit