Sony Strives for Living Room Omnipotence With PS3 DVR Features

PlayStation 3 (PS3) and PlayStation Portable (PSP) owners in Europe will have something to look forward to in 2008 — the addition of PlayTV, a TV tuner and personal video recorder (PVR) for the PS3, as well as a whole slew of additional functionality for the PSP such as a video download service for users in the U.K and Ireland. Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) head David Reeves made the announcement Wednesday at the 2007 Games Convention held in Leipzig, Germany.

The addition of the TV tuner and digital video recorder (DVR) appears to be another step in Sony’s bid to make the PS3 the dominant device in living rooms around the globe, extending its functionality beyond gaming and Blu-ray DVD viewing.

“The introduction of PlayTV really will extend the already broad entertainment credentials of PS3, and makes it an exceptionally attractive proposition for the whole family,” said Reeves, president of SCEE. “PS3 already provides high-definition gaming, Blu-ray disc movies, music, video, photo album, Web browsing and Playstation Network support.”

The TV tuner and PVR for PS3 will be available in the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain in early 2008. Other PAL (phase alternating line) territories will follow “in due course,” SCEE said. No further details, such as price, were released.

“This is a big deal,” Ted Pollak, gaming analyst at Jon Peddie Research, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s not a huge deal but it is a big deal because it might work or it might not work.”

Same Devices, New Tricks

Play TV, according to Sony, will bump up the PS3’s ability to take center stage in the living room. The combination TV tuner and DVR will turn the PS3 into a high-quality TV recorder along the lines of similar devices in the U.S., such as the TiVo.

The add-on device will sport dual HD-ready TV tuners, allowing users to pause or record live TV while watching another program in either full 1080p HD or standard-definition formats. The peripheral will record individual programs or an entire series onto the PS3 hard drive through its seven-day Electronic Program Guide. The users can access the “lightning fast and simple to use” guide using the PS3’s wireless controller or the Blu-ray disc remote control.

The system also will offer intuitive controls with single-button help features, tutorial videos and simple navigation to make PlayTV a “positive joy to use compared with the complexity of some standalone PVR (personal video recorder) models” the hardware maker promised.

PS3 owners interested in taking their video content with them to view while on the go will also be able to wirelessly download recordings to their PSP via a WiFi connection or USB cable. The “seamless connectivity” will allow users to set recordings, watch live TV and record TV shows remotely on the PSP.

PlayTV will continue to evolve over time, Sony said, with added functionality updated via the PlayStation Network.

More Videos to Go

On the PSP side, Sony announced at joint venture with British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) to provide PSP owners in the UK and Ireland the ability to watch video on demand as they move through their day. The Go video download service, scheduled to launch in early 2008, will be the first official download service of its kind in Europe.

Users will choose from a range of BSkyB offerings normally only available to its subscribers, including sports programming, entertainment, movies, music and animation. BSkyB, in addition to its own content, will work with third parties to bring content from other channel brands and content owners to the PSP.

The content can be download directly to the PSP via a WiFi connection or downloaded to their PC and subsequently moved to the portable device.

Lost? Use Your PSP

PSP users who want to add navigation features to the device will have two new options. The first, Go!Explore, is a new GPS navigation package for the PSP. Scheduled for release in 2008, the add-on will provide users with the very latest in map data and navigation software from partners TeleAtlas and NavNGo.

Whether in a car or on foot, Go!Explore incorporates a GPS receiver and software loaded on a Universal Media Disc (UMD) to allow users to choose from a variety of 3-D city maps and 3-D landmarks in seven geographic versions. They can also receive instructions that will take them where they want to go using customizable route settings and visuals. Go!Explore will be available in 11 audio languages, including English, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish. Users can purchase additional maps and points of interests using the Playstation Network.

Alternately, users can use the PSPs communication functionality, which will receive a bump with the new Go!Messenger wireless communications package. New features will enable users to engage in video chat, voice chat or instant messaging using their PSP.

Based on the latest in VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, Go!Messenger will allow PSP owners to contact one another for free when connected to a WiFi hotspot. Instant messages can be sent using a new and intuitive on-screen keyboard, Sony said. Meanwhile, voice chat and voice messaging only require the addition of a headset. Users can take it all a step further and ad the Go!Cam to turn the PSP into a video calling device.

Developed in partnership with European telecom BT, the application is installed on the PSP’s XrossMediaBar (XMB) and can be downloaded separately from the Web and installed on a Memory Stick.

Kicking It Up a Notch

Industry watchers, while not surprised by the announcements, said they expect the additional functionality to lead to more sales for the PS3 in Europe and cement user allegiance to the PS3 as well as more revenue from sales of downloadable content.

“Sony’s always had aspirations for the living room for game devices,” Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch, told TechNewsWorld. “They never quite materialized with the PS2. With the PS3 they are clearly making this push. But for consumers in the U.S., consoles are first and foremost about gaming more than anything else. This may help them in other parts of the world but you still can’t take your eye of the table stakes, which is making great games.”

The push to become the dominant living room device will results in more PS3 units sold Europe, said Richard Doherty, research director at Envisioneering. “[This is a] great product [and] should do well at almost any price point,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“These moves are not a surprise,” Brian O’Rourke, an InStat analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s evident that, in this generation of consoles, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo see the online/downloadable content aspect as important for two reasons. One, it can increase revenues; two, it can help ensure loyalty to the platform.

“If you play multiple online games on one console, you’re less likely to switch to another console maker’s platform in the next generation. Sony offering DVR capability and downloadable content meets both these criteria,” he added.

Nintendo and Xbox 360 owners wondering what’s next for their game consoles will still have to wait and see, according to Michael Cai, an analyst at Parks Associates. Nintendo, he said, is unlikely to add similar functionality in its Wii console. Microsoft has announced its intentions to work with carriers such as AT&T to turn the Xbox 360 into “an omnipotent living room entertainment center,” he said.

“Nintendo is laser focused on leveraging its growing popularity among non-traditional gamers through new games and accessories such as the upcoming Steven Spielberg game and Wii Fit controller,” he noted. “Nintendo is unlikely to integrate living room entertainment features.

“It’s possible Microsoft is negotiating with other telco TV operators such as Deutsche Telecom and Swisscom regarding similar deals, since they also use its IPTV solutions,” he continued. “In addition, Microsoft has expertise [in this area] and it may even try to partner with cable companies in the U.S. Microsoft is one of the best positioned companies in the digital living room right now with all the pieces needed for a connected entertainment experience.”

Still Waiting

While Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) continues to work to increase the capabilities of both the PS3 and PSP, the company has no announcements at this time concerning DVR/PVR capabilities for the PS3 in North America, Dave Karraker, a Sony spokesperson, told TechNewsWorld.

“We are continually expanding the capabilities of PSP via firmware upgrades.” Karraker explained. “SCEE has announced some significant new enhancements for PSP in their territories via Go!Messenger service. We have not made any announcements for this type of service in North America, although we continue to explore different options for PSP.”

“SCEE has announced a unique partnership for downloading TV content to PSP in the U.K. and Ireland,” he added. “As we’ve discussed previously, we are working hard on a download service for North America but have no announcements to make at this time. We understand and respect the consumer interest in this type of service, and look forward to sharing our vision in the near future.”

One reason for the lack of a similar announcement for North America, Gartenberg said, is because in the U.S. there is a “whole different set of technologies.

“This whole notion of adding digital tuners — it’s widely available in Europe,” he pointed out. “You don’t have the same wide availability of those types of broadcasts, so you’re not going to roll that out in the U.S.”

The lag could be a result of a higher PVR/DVR penetration in the U.S., Parks Associates’ Cai, opined, adding that Sony is launching in Europe because the U.S. “will be a more difficult market for a new player.”

Announcements on similar offerings in the Americas and Asia, however, are likely in the works, said Envisioneering’s Doherty.

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