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Sony plans video version of Vaio pocket device

Sony, desperately trying to defend its Walkman legacy in light of the success of Apple Computer’s iPod music player, said it will introduce a new portable device this year that can play video and beam it to a television set.

However, the company — criticized for its proprietary copy protection technology — acknowledges there will be a rocky road ahead until digital rights management and home networking standards are made easier for consumers.

Keiji Kimura, head of Sony’s Vaio computer line and mobile products, told Reuters the new portable video device will be introduced first in Europe. The product is part of an extended lineup of new Sony Vaio computer products aimed at blurring the distinction between home entertainment and computing.

Sony’s new line of portable devices, which includes an audio-only model, is a key element in the firm’s drive to grab a chunk of the digital entertainment market that has so far been defined by Apple, with its iTunes Music Store on the Internet and iPod portable jukebox that can store thousands of songs on a hard disk.

The iTunes Music Store is the most popular Internet music shop. It sold 70 million songs in its first year, accounting for the majority of music legally distributed over the Web.

Sony recently opened its own Internet music store, Connect, in the United States, and will open European versions next month in Germany, France and the UK. But the store has received harsh criticism from consumers and the press because the music can only be played back on devices that use Sony’s standards for encryption and digital rights management.

Kimura, who noted that digital entertainment is still in its early development stages, is hopeful that Sony and its rivals will eventually open their technologies up to each other.

In a first step, within four to eight weeks some 100 electronics and software makers brought together in the Digital Home Working Group will come up with the first specification of connection standards for easier communication between devices, he said.

Sony will use the standard 802.11G Wi-Fi technology — already popular among computer users for wireless Internet connections — to send video from the Vaio Pocket to a TV.

Hollywood and the music industry will be invited to the table to help eradicate the already abundant fragmentation of the emerging digital entertainment market, he said.

Standards are crucial if the electronics industry is to convince consumers to replace home entertainment systems with new networked products that will work together, Kimura said.

Electronics makers have high hopes for the networked home where consumers can watch, edit, store and swap entertainment such as video, audio, games and pictures between products such as mobile devices, computers, TVs and DVD recorders.

Sony’s first home network products will enable consumers to record a TV show on their home computer even when they are behind their desk in the office, and send these TV programs wirelessly to any TV set in the home.

But Kimura estimated it would take three more years before the average consumer will be able to use these services.

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