Sony shows multi-channel Tivo-like machine

Sony will begin selling in Japan in November a combination personal computer and video server that can record up to seven channels of television simultaneously, it said Tuesday at the Ceatec 2004 exhibition in Japan.

To understand the Vaio X computer it's best to think of it as three things packed into one black, shiny box.

On one side its a multimedia personal computer, with two 250G-byte hard disk drives and a television tuner. Users can do all the normal things they would with one of the company's Vaio computers including recording television programs from a single analog channel or, via an optional unit, a digital TV channel.

Also packed into its tower-PC sized case are two video server boards. Each unit contains three analog TV tuners and is connected to a 250G-byte hard disk drive. The unit runs on the Micro iTron operating system and the interface with the rest of the PC via an Ethernet port, said Junji Tsuyuki, a senior product producer at Sony's IT and mobile solutions network department, in an interview at Ceatec 2004.

The three analog tuners mean it's possible to record three channels at once and because there are two server boards this rises to six channels simultaneously, said Tsuyuki. With the tuner from the PC side of the device also added, a user can record seven channels at the same time although the focus of the device is continuous, simultaneous recording of six programs via the dual video servers.

That works out well for the company's target audience of consumers because most areas of Japan are served by two public television channels and between three and five commercial TV networks.

The 250G-bytes hard-disk drive space is enough to store five and a half days worth of programming from each of the three channels assuming continuous recording, or one week's worth of programs assuming 19 hours per day of TV per channel, Tsuyuki said. What's more, users can specify 400G-byte drives for the video server units when they order the Vaio X. This would raise its total storage capacity from 1T byte to 1.3T bytes.

Users can bring up a grid-like EPG (electronic programming guide) screen that, instead of looking forward, contains the past few days of television. Then, at the press of a button, any program can be watched on demand -- a function Sony likens to a time machine.

"In America, TiVo is very famous but we don't have it in Japan," said Tsuyuki. "This is a kind of TiVo for Japanese users."

Sony has licensed technology from TiVo Inc. and also holds a stake in the Alviso, California, company but none of the company's technology was incorporated into the Vaio X, said Tsuyuki.

The Vaio VGX-X90P goes on sale in Japan on Nov. 20 and will cost around YEN 520,000 (AUD$6,470).

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