Sony is making it possible for the videogame players in the 10 million homes worldwide with its PlayStation 2 (PS/2) game console to stream video and audio on their TV sets.
Last week, the consumer electronics giant began marketing a $40 plug-in adapter that links the console via telephone line to the Web and permits browsing, e-mailing and, with the help of RealNetworks software, streaming.
"The exciting part of this is that we're now looking at rich, broadcast-over-IP possibilities," says RealNetworks' Jai Jaisimha.
Sony's initiative may be the most significant yet toward streaming on the TV. Web TV and AOLTV offer dedicated consoles for browsing and streaming on the TV but have been slow to grow. About 1 million homes have the Web TV console; fewer than 300,000, the AOLTV box.
Sony expects PS/2 households to double by next March.
Microsoft (Xbox) and Nintendo (GameCube) are also looking at putting full Web capability into their game consoles, but initial versions of their new boxes—due later this year—will not include it. The consoles, however, will allow users to play against others online via a built-in modem .
The Web capability is part of Sony's strategy to develop a centralized entertainment system for the home. In addition to games, PS/2 also plays DVDs and CDs.
Analysts think the move is a winner, if Sony can work out some of the security and child-protection issues that come with Internet access.
"Based on studies we've seen, Internet consumers look for high-bandwidth services," says Russ Sapienza, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers' Media & Entertainment Group. "If the PlayStation can offer something like that, I would anticipate a high take-up because the price is right."
RealNetworks software will ship with Web-enabled games. "None of the devices we've worked with before have achieved the mass adoption that the PlayStation 2 has," says Jaisimha. "We're really talking about a truly innovative and different consumer experience."
In addition to the adapter, Sony is offering a 40-GB hard drive for local storage and a wired keyboard and mouse for navigating the Internet. But, Jaisimha says, the goal is to offer software that requires "minimal keyboard interaction."
PS/2 users will have access to Internet radio and other RealNetworks subscription services.
"The Internet is not part of the initial product launch, but I'm sure you'll see future versions with this capability," says a Microsoft spokesman, pointing out that the Xbox features an Ethernet port for fast data transfer and an internal disk drive. "Convergence is a key part of our platform strategy."