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Sony eyes wireless PSP connections

Patent application describes variety of methods for wirelessly connecting portable game player to Internet and other gadgets.

Sony's new PlayStation Portable could download games via public Wi-Fi hot spots and swap content with the living room version of the PlayStation.

Those and other scenarios are described in a recently published patent application that cites numerous possible methods for wirelessly connecting a portable game machine with various types of Internet-connected devices.

Patent application 20040266529 was filed in June 2003 by Masayuki Chatani, senior vice president of the Broadband Strategy Group of Sony Computer Entertainment, and assigned to Sony Computer Entertainment America. The application was published three weeks ago by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

A SCEA representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The application describes several methods for using wireless connections to expand the functionality of a portable game machine. Sony entered the portable game market last month with the PlayStation Portable, which includes wireless-networking capability via an 802.11b Wi-Fi connection. Currently available only in Japan, the PSP tentatively is set to arrive in North America by late March.

Sony executives have talked broadly about using the PSP for functions besides playing games stored on the company's Universal Media Disc format, but the patent application goes well beyond any public discussions.

The application describes a number of scenarios for connecting a portable game player to a "base computing device," which could be a PC, a central server or an advanced game console such as the upcoming PlayStation 3.

Under one scenario, the central computer would be used as a "content execution server," processing chunks of software code too complex for the portable gadget to crunch.

"The content execution server will act as a base computing device that will execute program instructions of the game and then transmit, via the wireless transceiver,...processed active program instructions to the portable game device," according to the application. "By preprocessing the game instructions at the content execution server...the receiving devices will not be required to have robust processing circuitry, which is commonly required to execute typical game programs that involve sophisticated mathematical operations, lighting adjustments, and graphics...The receiving device can concentrate on providing video display and providing audio output to the user."

The application goes on to describe a number of methods for using a wireless connection to download content to a portable device to get around limited storage and processing capacity on a handheld gadget. In one scenario, games and other content would be stored on a central server and uploaded to the portable device when needed.

"In addition to games, it should be understood that the data being held by the content execution server may also include other digital data," according to the application. "Examples of other digital data may include, but (are) not limited to, movies, DVD data, music, or other entertainment or business digital content."

Sony executives have spoken broadly about using the PSP as a multimedia device. In a recent interview with CNET, Sony Corporation of America CEO Howard Stringer spoke of the PSP as a key tool for broadening the reach of Sony's Connect music service and other media ventures.

A server connection could also be used for e-commerce, enabling gadget owners to buy games and other content or rent games that would be good for a limited number of uses.

While the application most frequently cites PCs and living room game consoles as server connections, it also envisions Wi-Fi on the go.

"In today's wired world, many users are able to access hot spots free of charge in many locations such as coffeehouses, airports, gas stations, and the like," according to the application. "Once the user is close enough to the access point, the user can log in to the Internet server and use their previously purchased games or purchase new games for entertainment. In another embodiment, the remote access user can access their own video games that are stored on their home system, such as the content execution server or a game CD loaded into a game console."