CES: Sony Introduces Internet TV System

Sony's big news at CES is a way to seamlessly bring Internet video content from providers like AOL and Yahoo! onto its big-screen HDTV sets.

The new product, called the Bravia Internet Video Link, is a small modem-sized module that will attach to the back of Sony's latest Bravia LCD high-definition sets and allow them to display Internet video without
hooking the TV up to a PC or an external "media adapter" device.

A user will simply plug an Ethernet cable from a high-speed data modem into the module on one side, and then connect the module to the Bravia set via a standard HDMI link. The module will then be smart enough to grab streaming Internet video content, including high-definition content where available, and display it on the Sony set.

Internet portals AOL and Yahoo! are both supporting the Bravia Internet Video Link, which will become available this summer, and executives from both companies attended Sony's CES event to demonstrate the technology.

"They are the first of our vital partners in this initiative," says Sony Electronics President and Chief Operating Officer Stan Glasgow.

Content will also come from Internet video site Grouper, now part of Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as Sony Pictures itself and Sony BMG; RSS feeds can also be used to generate user-customized features such as local traffic and weather channels.

AOL executive vice president Kevin Conroy helped demonstrate concert footage of the rock band Coldplay streaming from the AOL service and being played on a Sony Bravia display.

"This partnership with Sony represents a phenomenal opportunity to extend AOL content to platforms beyond the PC, and allow consumers to experience content anytime, anywhere," says Conroy.

The service will be free to consumers, as the ad-supported content should benefit from the exposure, says Nick Colsey, Sony's director of product planning for televisions.

A major feature of the Bravia Internet Video Link, says Colsey, is that it will use Sony's Xross Media Bar (XMB), an icon-based user interface, to allow viewers to simply browse Internet content by using a TV remote. Sony will constantly update the module via the Internet connection so that the TV will be able to find the streaming content, which Colsey says will be optimized by programming partners for big-screen viewing.

Sony did demonstrate high-definition content being streamed to the module, but executives admit that broadband speeds would have to improve significantly before HD over the Internet becomes reality. Whether viewers who have spent thousands on a big-screen HDTV will want to use it to watch streaming standard-def video remains to be seen, of course. AOL's content looked pretty good in the demo, while the picture quality of a user-generated Grouper video was relatively poor.

Randall Waynick, SVP of marketing for Sony's home products division, says the appeal of the Internet Video module is based more on convenience than image resolution.

"It's not just quality, it's about having access," he says.