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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

August 22, 2007 at 2:02 PM

Sony dares Xbox to become a video recorder

Sony confirmed at a games conference in Germany that the PlayStation 3 will morph into a digital video recorder.

With an accessory TV tuner called PlayTV being released in Europe next year, users can record TV shows onto the console’s hard drive. It sounds like the service will also complement Sony’s online game service. I’m guessing Sony will tie in its movie business somehow, maybe with downloadable films, although it seems more interested in selling Blu-ray discs to PS3 owners.

PlayTV sounds like a great device: With two HD tuners, it can record 1080p content on the console. It also includes a seven-day program guide and the ability to send recorded content wirelessly to PSP handhelds. From the release:

Designed to reinforce PS3’s rightful place in the Living Room at the heart of the home entertainment needs, the twin channel TV tuner peripheral and PVR software turns PS3 into a state of the art TV recorder, allowing users to watch, pause and record live TV.

On the other hand, why doesn’t Sony just put the tuner inside the console? It could charge extra for one with DVR capabilities. But this is the same company that’s selling a $300 Ethernet dongle for its TVs, instead of building one into them.

Sony’s not saying when PlayTV will come to the U.S. and a spokeswoman told me it won’t be shown at the PAX game conference here in Seattle this weekend. The official statement:

“We have no announcements at this time regarding DVR/PVR capabilities for PS3 in North America.”

That seems like a starting flag for the Xbox team to add a tuner-recorder feature to its console before Sony. It could probably hack one together in a week based on the external tuners you can buy for Media Center PCs.

It seems logical, but there are a few reasons why Microsoft may choose to let Sony run with its all-in-one entertainment console.

Like Apple, Xbox is selling TV and movie downloads and Microsoft may prefer to have 360 owners fill their hard-drives with paid content instead of free, over-the-air material.

Microsoft may also continue steering people toward setups that include both an Xbox and a Windows Media Center PC, which can record TV and play it back through an Xbox.

Maybe Microsoft is waiting until it releases the third generation Xbox to really move the console beyond gaming and into digital video, but that might give Sony’s PS3 to catch up if its DVR takes off.

Either way, it seems like Sony’s opened an interesting new front on the battle over the digital living room.

Comments | Topics: Games & entertainment, Microsoft

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