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Sony Sheds Light on Fully-Networked PlayStation 3

Sony, which has continued to paint convergence as the grail of the consumer electronics industry, has shed a bit of light on the future PlayStation 3 game console, a fully-networked device that could be capable of delivering as much processing power as a supercomputer by dividing tasks among networked machines.

Reuters Friday reported that a Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) spokesperson said the company is not thinking about hardware when it comes to the next-generation console. Instead, he said, the ideal solution would involve an operating system common to various home appliances, allowing them to run game programs.

The game console is likely to hit the market in 2005, when a powerful new microprocessor, currently in joint development by SCE, Toshiba and IBM, is expected to be ready. Code-named Cell, the microprocessor is based on silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology and other IBM materials advances. It is intended as a high-performance, low-power chip applicable to everything from digital consumer applications to supercomputers.

In April, when the three partners unveiled the four-year project, they said they will spend several hundred million dollars to develop new process technologies for building chips with features as small as 50 nanometers on 300 mm wafers. The new processes are expected to incorporate copper wiring, SOI transistors and "low-k" insulation.

Cell, for example, would be capable of transmitting high-resolution moving pictures. Reuters noted that while SCE has not yet decided how to integrate the Cell processor in the PlayStation 3, the idea is to incorporate the chip in Internet servers and home electronics, allowing networked machines to divide computing tasks, thereby delivering as much processing power as a supercomputer.

The strategy has already been in motion at Sony for some time. Both Sony and its new-found competitor in the game console space, Microsoft, have been betting that game consoles will evolve beyond being just game boxes to become the central hubs of home entertainment systems. Today's consoles already play CDs and DVDs, and are just starting to go online, allowing users to surf the Web and send e-mail and instant messages. Next-generation consoles are expected to offer personal video recorder (PVR) capabilities and possibly video-on-demand (VoD) functions.

On Thursday, Sony unveiled a joint project with Philips Electronics to develop ultra short-range radio technology, similar to Bluetooth, which will allow electronics devices to communicate wirelessly. The PlayStation 3 is also likely to incorporate the CoCoon technology Sony revealed Wednesday, under which Sony plans to equip televisions, PCs, game consoles and mobile devices with large hard drives, making them capable of digitally storing and playing back movies and music.

Last year, Sony forged alliances with AOL Time Warner, RealNetworks and Cisco Systems, providing the PlayStation 2 with access to a Web browser, instant messaging client, e-mail client, RealPlayer 8 technology and an IPv4/IPv6 dual protocol stack.