Toshiba: We'll beat Sony to the living room with Cell

Toshiba and Sony plan to deploy Cell microprocessor in a wider range of products

Toshiba is confident that it will beat Sony to market with consumer electronics devices packing the powerful Cell microprocessor, the head of its consumer electronics business said Thursday.

The Cell chip was developed with a budget of several billion dollars by Toshiba, Sony and IBM for a variety of applications. Much of the initial focus has been on its place in the PlayStation 3 games console. But both Toshiba and Sony have been harboring plans to deploy the powerful chip in a wider range of products. Its power makes it well suited to handle high-definition digital video and possible uses could be in televisions and video recorders.

Yoshihide Fujii, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Toshiba's digital media network company, said Thursday evening that development work is continuing but he wouldn't be drawn on what types of products or applications Toshiba is eyeing for the Cell chip. But on one issue, he left no doubt. When asked if Toshiba would have Cell-based consumer electronics products on sale ahead of Sony, he emphatically replied "yes" without hesitation.

Fujii will be competing with a team headed by Masami Chatani, chief technical officer of Sony Computer Entertainment, which is the Sony division that makes the PlayStation. The Cell Development Center, as the team is called, has been tasked with finding uses for the processor beyond the PlayStation 3. The existence of the team was unveiled at January's Consumer Electronics Show by Sony President Howard Stringer, who lauded the Cell chip's "enormous power, flexibility and potential."

The first Cell products are unlikely to be in living rooms next year, Atsutoshi Nishida, president and CEO of Toshiba, said in an interview, "But maybe in early 2008 you'll be able to see something."

That timeframe puts Toshiba and Sony neck-and-neck in a race to market. According to a report in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun business newspaper in Japan, Stan Glasgow, president and chief operating officer of Sony's U.S. unit Sony Electronics, said at a U.S. news conference recently that the company is working on three or four products that are scheduled to go on sale in late 2007 or early 2008.

"The first priority is the PlayStation and nothing beyond that has been decided yet," Mina Naito, a spokeswoman for Tokyo-based Sony said Friday.

Only time will tell whether both companies hit those schedules or delays. After all, a year ago the world was expecting the Cell-powered PlayStation 3 in the first half of the year, but it didn't hit store shelves in the U.S. and Japan until November and has yet to go on sale in Europe.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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