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.

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