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Originally published October 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 22, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Brier Dudley

Imagine PS3 as a digital media center

I had written off Sony's PlayStation 3 game console as a flop, but it may be time to reconsider. One reason is Sony finally brought the...

Seattle Times staff columnist

I had written off Sony's PlayStation 3 game console as a flop, but it may be time to reconsider.

One reason is Sony finally brought the price down, with a $400 model announced last week. But what's really interesting, especially here in the hometown of Microsoft, RealNetworks and Amazon.com, is the way Sony is accelerating plans to position the PS3 as a digital media center.

Those companies are all jockeying for position with devices and services as the world moves to high-definition television, digital music and online game and video content.

Will we keep using PCs to download and store this stuff, or will some computerish consumer-electronics gadget emerge as the new home-entertainment hub?

I'm not sure that dream machine will be a PS3, but Sony is pushing it that direction, while simultaneously trying to build the console's stature among gamers.

Clues started trickling out this fall in Europe, where Sony has had more success with the year-old console than in the U.S.

That's where Sony is releasing an add-on TV tuner that turns the PS3 into a TiVo-like video recorder. It's also where Sony is talking up plans for an online video and music store, similar to the ones operated here by Microsoft and Amazon.

"Some of that same functionality are things that we're working on here," Peter Dille, senior vice president of marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America, told me last week.

Sony will offer different services around the world, he explained. In the U.S., "we're working on a service which would offer video content, movies, TV shows, etcetera, in a downloaded fashion via the PlayStation Network."

The tuner may not come to the U.S. for a while, but Sony's doing other things to sharpen the entertainment focus.

Within a month, a software upgrade will improve the PS3's interface for music stored and played through the system, Dille said.

Sony's also working with retailers to change how the console is sold and displayed. This holiday season it will appear more often in the home-entertainment section, alongside TVs and DVD players, as well as in game sections.

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Retailers are also being coached on how to sell the system to "moms" as "a broader entertainment experience," Dille said.

"If she knows the whole family's going to get some lifestyle value out of this and not just the gamer in the house, it becomes a ... better value proposition," he said.

It won't take much to sell lower-priced PS3s to video enthusiasts because it's now the cheapest high-definition Blu-ray disc player.

A lot of people who bought fancy TVs over the past year or two have been looking for ways to get more digital content on their screens. They've been waiting for high-def player prices to fall, and for a resolution to the format war between the Sony-backed Blu-ray and the Microsoft-backed HD-DVD.

The Xbox 360 is a pretty good solution for streaming content from a PC. But it's loud, and you have to buy a $179 external HD-DVD drive if you want to play 1080p discs.

Microsoft is helping partner companies develop "extender" devices that wirelessly play PC-stored content on a TV, but they don't have as many features as the consoles and they cost nearly as much.

Sony's PS3 also streams content from a PC, but its interface isn't as nice as the one the 360 borrows from Windows Media Center. Dille said Sony will be doing more to promote that capability, but it won't use Media Center's interface anytime soon.

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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