Sony's PSX is not all it could be

Sony has dropped several features from its upcoming PSX, a product the company describes as one of its most important this year, because it has not been able to complete development in time for the year-end sales period, the company said Monday.

The PSX is Sony's first attempt at tying the world of consumer electronics and games together and combines a hard disk drive video recorder, DVD recorder, music player, photo viewer and PlayStation 2 games console in a single box.

A prototype of the product was displayed at the Ceatec 2003 electronics show in Tokyo in October this year and Sony disclosed the PSX specifications for the first time at the show after announcing general plans for the product in the first half of this year. Last week it said it will launch the product in Japan on Dec. 13 and again published specifications, although there are several major differences between those disclosed in October and those of last week.

Gone from the latest specifications is the ability to play back DVD+RW discs, play back data CD-R discs (although audio CDs recorded on CD-R discs are supported), display TIFF and GIF format images, display movies taken with Sony's Cybershot digital still cameras and playback MP3 files. Copying of video files from the PSX's hard disk drive to DVD discs has also been slowed down, from 24X speed to 12X speed, and it also cannot connect to the PlayStation BB online gaming service.

"We have changed the specification," said Taro Takamine, a spokesman for Sony in Tokyo. "Basically, as of Oct. 7 we planned some features such as DVD+RW playback, CD-R playback, TIFF and GIF (image file) support and PlayStation BB but we decided to drop such features."

The features are gone for two reasons, said Takamine.

The first is to make the device easier to use, he said. He cited the example of browsing digital images and said that entry-level users, at which the device is aimed, will find it easier by not having to make a selection between JPEG, TIFF and GIF formats.

The second reason is that development of some functions missed deadline and had to be left out.

"Also we are not able to complete testing of some formats before the holiday shopping season," he said. "Our priority is to launch before the year end."

Two of the features, the ability to read DVD+RW discs and connect to the PlayStation BB broadband Internet service, will be offered as a firmware upgrade for no cost via the Internet, said Takamine, although he could not say when Sony will offer the upgrade. "We plan to do it as soon as possible."

When launched next week, the PSX will support DVD-R/RW writable media and DVD-Video, Audio CD and all PlayStation discs, display of JPEG format images and ATRAC3 encoded music, which is a format developed by Sony and used in its MiniDisc players and some other digital audio products.

The machine has also become heavier in the two months since it was previewed at Ceatec. At the time, Sony said it would weigh 5.6 kilograms but the company is now quoting a weight of 5.7 kilograms for the DESR-5000 and 5.8 kilograms for the DESR-7000 model.

"We do not disclose that reason," said Takamine when asked about the weight difference.

Despite the lack of several promised features the machine is still likely become a hot seller during the holiday period because of its price and heavy retailer promotion. The DESR-5000 includes a 160G-byte hard disk drive while the DESR-7000 packs a 250G-byte drive and they carry prices of ¥80,000 (US$730) and ¥100,000.

Combination hard disk drive and DVD recorders from competitors are considerably more expensive or offer less recording space for the same price. Toshiba Corp.'s RD-X4, which has a 250G-byte hard disk and goes on sale in December, costs upwards of Â¥145,000 and Hitachi Ltd.'s MSP-1000 combines a 120G-byte hard disk drive and DVD recorder for around ¥110,000.

Combination hard disk and DVD video recorders have become popular in the last year and the number of models available has risen sharply from a handful a year ago to numerous models from several manufacturers today.

Sony's PSX, like some devices from competing manufacturers, has one other potential shortcoming. It does not support CPRM (copy protection for removable media) and that means it cannot record digital terrestrial television broadcasts, which began on Monday in Japan, unless the signal from an external digital tuner is first converted to analog.