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

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January 7, 2007 11:00 PM

Sony's WowTubes

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Sony hit all the major themes of this year's Consumer Electronics Show at its press conference today, announcing new devices and services to download video, store it on high-definition DVDs, record it on flashy new Windows Vista PCs and display it on bigger and brighter flat-panel televisions.

The consumer electronics giant also noted that it reached its target of selling 1 million PlayStation 3 consoles during the holiday season, but the PS3 wasn't Sony's star this year.

Sony device plays back Web video on TV.

A standout announcement was a gadget that will attach to Sony televisions and enable them to play high-definition video streamed over broadband, plus other video content downloaded from the Internet. The company also disclosed partnerships with AOL Video and Yahoo! Video, and played up the downloadable content on Grouper, a YouTube competitor Sony owns.

Prototypes of the gadget are about the size of a DSL modem and can attach to the back of upcoming Sony flat-panel TVs, but they'll increase their depth if you're mounting one on the wall.

It uses a screen interface similar to the one on the PS3 and the PlayStation Portable, putting them all in the same family of next-generation video display devices from Sony. I wonder if they'll give the PS3 the same streaming capability, so it can keep up with the Xbox 360's evolution into a set-top box.

Sony also presented two slick but expensive new "living room PCs" based on Windows Vista Home Premium, which includes Media Center features for recording and playing TV broadcasts. One of the systems is a far out white hat-box shaped machine that will list for $1,600. The other is a high-end media center, shaped like a stereo receiver, with a Blu-ray disc burner inside; it will cost about $3,300.

Distinctive Sony TP1 Living Room PC With TV gadget lists for $1,600.

More accessible is a wireless music streaming device that also functions as a small boombox. Sony will sell it for $350.

But Sony's most cutting edge products at CES are, not surprisingly, televisions. The jaw-dropper was a display with working prototypes of 27-inch and 11-inch sets with superbright OLED displays that make today's high-def sets look like fat old dinosaurs.

Sony calls the OLED TV (organic light-emitting diode) technology "super top emission" and claims they have constrast ratios of 1 million to one. They're also not much thicker than an iPod, but a spokesman said they're just prototypes and won't be on sale anytime soon.

OLED: The next generation of advanced TV displays.

Other prototype TVs included an 82-inch flat-panel LCD and a 55-inch rear projection model with a new laser light engine.

While you're waiting for those to reach the market, you can get by with Sony's new 70-inch 1080p LCD with three HDMI inputs.

To show off its TVs, Sony held a very strange press conference. The news announcments were made at stages spread around its 10,000-square-foot booth at the show.

Seats were arranged facing only one of the stages. When the presentations happened at stages you weren't facing, you saw instead the presentation displayed on a bank of high-definition TVs.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.