Sony unwraps Internet appliance, Bluetooth module

InfoWorld |  Hardware

Sony unleashed a panoply of high-tech gizmos at the Consumer Electronics Show here on Friday, offering new ways to blend consumer electronics with personal computers and content from the Internet.

Among the products unveiled was the eVilla Entertainment Center, a glorified Internet appliance that allows home users to access e-mail, news reports, and online shopping sites, as well as download multimedia content such as video clips and Internet radio stations.

Due to ship in the second quarter of 2001, the eVilla is priced at $499 and comes with a 15-inch, flat-panel Triniton display of the type used in Sony's Wega televisions. The unit runs on Be's BeIA operating system, uses the Opera Web browser from Opera Software, and will play multimedia content delivered in RealNetworks' Real format.

"This network entertainment center not only allows users to enjoy entertainment aspects of the Internet in new ways but does away with the inconveniences of a PC," said Mike Vitelli, president of Sony's consumer electronics group, speaking at a press conference here.

To use the appliance, users will need to subscribe to an eVilla Internet service provider chosen by Sony. The system has no hard drive, but users will receive 10MB of online storage with their ISP account. The unit also works with a Zip drive via one of two USB ports, and includes a slot in the front for Sony's MemoryStick storage media.

"The price is very impressive," said Richard Doherty, director of The Envisioneering Group, a market research company in Seaford, N.Y. "That 15-inch Triniton screen is not your average display."

The eVilla connects to the Web using a 56Kbps dial-up modem and also includes an Ethernet port for "future broadband access." Sony officials were keeping mum about the microprocessor driving the unit.

Also unveiled was the "Infostick," an expansion module that brings wireless Bluetooth capabilities to any device that supports Sony's MemoryStick. Slotting the Infostick into the MemoryStick bay of a digital camera, cell phone, PC, or other device allows users to transmit images and other data wirelessly from one device to the next.

A Sony representative showed a working prototype of the Infostick being used to transmit a digital photograph from a camera to a Bluetooth-enabled notebook computer. Pricing wasn't announced for the product, which is expected to be available later this year, the representative said.

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