Sony announces cloud-based music service

On the same day Apple displays its digital music dominance, an electronics rival says it'll offer streaming music over the Net.

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Stephen Shankland
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Music Unlimited will let people select from a variety of genres.
Music Unlimited will let people select from a variety of genres. Stephen Shankland/CNET

BERLIN--Sony announced a new service Monday called Music Unlimited that will turn many of its electronics products into online libraries for streaming music.

"It is a cloud-based digital music streaming service that gives music lovers access to millions of tracks stored and synced with your devices," said Fujio Nishida, president of Sony Europe, at a press event here. The service "will be going live by the end of the year," he said.

The logo for Sony's Music Unlimited service
The logo for Sony's Music Unlimited service Stephen Shankland/CNET

Music Unlimited joins the already available video-on-demand service of Sony's Qriocity service, which now sports a two-part tagline: "Music that follows you. Instant blockbuster movies."

Sony announced Music Unlimited at the IFA electronics show here. The timing, though, illustrates just how hard it will be for Sony to fulfill its ambitions: on the same day, Apple refreshed its dominant iPod and iTunes product line that has thwarted Sony's music ambitions for years. This isn't the first time it's tried, either: Sony closed down its Connect music store, after years of effort.

Sony's service is very different from Connect and from Apple's approach, though. With iPods and iTunes, customers buy music online or copy it from CDs and store it on their iPods, iPhones, iPads, and in their iTunes libraries. And of course, it includes video as well.

It's a device-centric approach so far, Apple's LaLa acquisition notwithstanding, and it's proved successful: Through it, 12 billion songs, 450 million TV shows, 100 million movies, and 35 million books have been downloaded so far, Apple said Wednesday.

With Sony's Qriocity services, though, the music and video lives in the cloud, a dramatically different model.

First views of Sony streaming music service (images)

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With it, the music is sent over the network to a variety of devices: Sony's TVs, Blu-ray players, PS3 game consoles, and Windows PCs.

What about portable media players to answer the iPod? "It will increasingly become available on range of portable devices of the future," Nishida said.

Streaming audio over the Net is fine for broadband connections, but portable devices don't always have them, and when they do, data subscription plans can impose limits. However, mobile devices will be able to cache data on their own storage systems, said Chris Thielbar, manager of product planning for Sony's network services.

Some details are unclear still, including pricing and the range of music that'll be available. Sony still is negotiating with labels, Thielbar said.

Nishida promised a "huge libarary of music tracks in the cloud," though. In addition, Qriocity "will become a platform for a wide range of third-party service providers who can make the entertainment experience compelling and entertaining," he said.

In demonstrations of the service at the press event, a remote control could be used to select music, including selecting various genres such as classical and alternative; eras divided by decade; "premium" content; and music delivered by Sony's SenseMe technology to pick music based on a person's mood.

Users will be able to "discover music through channels personalized to their tastes," he added. "There's no need to manage music files. Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity will change the way we all enjoy our music."