Sony unwraps Linux-based HDD video recorder

Sony has unveiled a video recorder based on a hard disk drive (HDD) and running the Linux operating system, the first in what the company says will be a new range of audio-visual products that take advantage of the always-on feature of broadband networks.

The Channel Server CSV-E77 will be launched on Nov. 1 and comes equipped with a 160G byte hard disk drive that provides enough space for up to 100 hours of recording in the lowest of the device's three quality modes. The other modes, standard and high quality, allow for 50 hours and 30 hours respectively of MPEG2 video. Sony said the hard disk drives used in the device are regular PC models and not the audio-visual hard disk drives that are being touted as better suited to video recording.

Other features include two TV tuners so you can watch one channel while recording another, although recording of two programs simultaneously is not possible. The E77 includes a VHF/UHF/cable tuner and can also hook up to an external satellite tuner, cable set-top box or other video source.

The device uses similar hardware to existing HDD video recorders, but the E77's innovative user interface and ability to connect to Sony's My Caster web site stand out from the crowd.

The MyCaster service, offered by Sony's Japanese web site, contains the electronic program guide that the E77 uses to record and organize video, and acts as a secondary programming interface for the recorder. This means that users can program their recorders from any computer connected to the Web or via a cell phone Internet service. The instructions are then sent from MyCaster to the device, which is where the always-on connection comes in useful.

Once the programs have been recorded, the system allows instant access to any content on the disk. The recorded programs are arranged in up to 10 virtual TV channels, such as news, drama and sports, and users can cycle through the channels as if they were channel-surfing on a conventional television. A preview mode also allows users to quickly find content, with small clips from each virtual channel arranged in a three dimensional wheel that can be cycled around.

The system runs Montavista Linux version 2.4.17, an embedded version of the free operating system, on a MIPS processor running at 350MHz, Sony said.

Sony did not intend the E77 to connect to a home audio-visual network, so it is missing the ability to transfer recorded programs from the hard drive to a PC hard disk via the Ethernet port. Nor does it have an I-Link (IEEE1394 or Firewire) port, another option that would have allowed the transfer of files.

The E77 unveiled Wednesday is the first in a promised line of products from Sony that will be marketed under the 'Cocoon' family name. Details of other products or information about when they would be released were not announced, although the company did show mock-ups of an audio player and video player in the Cocoon family.

The announcement is also the latest in what is expected to be a string of new product announcements over the next two weeks as Sony's Dream World exhibition approaches. The free event, which will take place in Yokohama, Japan, on Sept. 14 and 15, is open to the public and will highlight the entire range of products from Sony, from consumer electronics and computing products to life insurance, movies and electronic money.

The first Dream World-related product launch took place on Monday when the company unveiled three new MiniDisc players including its thinnest MD Walkman yet produced. On Tuesday the company announced new high-end digital still cameras and a photo printer.

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Martyn Williams

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