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Sony makes over Vaio line

Additions to the product line include the Vaio Pocket, a portable music player designed to compete with Apple's iPod.

Sony on Monday revamped and expanded the scope of its Vaio computer line.

Additions to the line include a new portable music player built around a hard drive, a diminutive Windows XP PC and new PCs with enhanced audiovisual functions. Also, the company revealed that it is working on a hard-disk recorder with more than a terabyte of storage capacity.

The Japanese electronics giant, whose overall business has been struggling in recent years, apparently saw the decline of its Vaio PC line and decided to refocus it.

Sony's Vaio Pocket

By rebranding the Vaio business as "Do Vaio," the company hopes not only to better compete with offerings from other Japanese PC and consumer electronics rivals, but also to attack presumed rivals such as Apple Computer's iPod music player and Microsoft's Media Center PC operating system.

One of the new devices--the Vaio Pocket--will be the first portable music player with an embedded hard drive to be sold under the Sony name when it hits stores in Japan next month. Overseas launch dates have not been set, the company said.

Industry watchers say Sony will struggle to gain a stronger footing in the fast-growing online-music industry, now dominated by Apple. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has nearly 50 percent of the market for digital MP3 music players, thanks to the iPod's success.

The company recently challenged Apple's iTunes music store with its new Sony Connect service, but some analysts have said Sony also needs a device to counter the iPod.

News analysis

Sony's foray into music
downloads gives Apple
its most potent rival yet.

Still, even after the launch of the Vaio Pocket, some observers were skeptical.

"In terms of actually attacking Apple, it's only a start. I don't see any major shakedown in the industry right now," said John Yang, Standard & Poor's equity analyst. "I just don't see how Sony could really turn the whole thing upside down with iPod."

Here are some of the company's new releases:

•  Do Vaio--a new interface for multimedia operation. Sony incorporated this interface into almost all of its notebook and desktop PCs. The interface can handle a variety of media files such as live and recorded TV programs, music and photos, and any other content from CDs and DVDs. It can be operated with a remote control, as well as with conventional PC inputs such as keyboard and mouse.

•  Vaio Pocket--a device described by Sony as the "iPod killer." The device offers a storage capacity of about 13,000 songs in a 20GB hard disk. The music player can handle tunes in the MP3, Windows Media and WAV formats, as well as ATRAC3, which is the company's proprietary format. The music can be transferred from Windows PC via USB, and the device can run continually for 20 hours. Besides holding and playing music, the portable device connects to a digital camera and can display photos on its 2.2-inch QVGA color screen.

•  Type U--a machine that may be the world's smallest Windows XP-enabled PC; it's 167 millimeters wide, Sony's Vaio Pocket 108 millimeters tall and 26.4 millimeters deep. The tabletlike PC features Intel's ultra-low-voltage Celeron M 900MHz processor and is designed to be manipulated with both hands, similar to some portable game devices. The device has a small (5-inch) LCD, and it can be operated by stylus as well as by built-in buttons. A detachable keyboard is also an option. The device has 64MB of video memory, allowing users to connect to a full-size display.

•  Type V--an advanced television and digital video recorder with PC functions. While Microsoft aims to conquer the living room by add TV/DVR functions to the PC, Sony appears to be heading to the same destination from the opposite direction. From the outside, Type V looks just like an LCD TV monitor (with a variety of 20-, 17- and 15-inch screens), and it sports some advanced components, such as a newly developed MPEG hardware encoder and Sony's proprietary "Motion Reality" video processor. However, it incorporates hard drive/DVD-recording functions, with as much as 160MB of storage capacity (enough to hold 103 hours of TV programs) and TV guidance capability. The machine runs on an Intel Celeron chip with Windows XP, and it can be operated with a remote control, as well as by wireless keyboard and mouse.

•  Type X--a concept model for future PCs. The machine is still under development, but Sony said it will feature more than 1 terabyte of storage with up to seven TV tuners.

Kyoko Fujimoto of CNET Japan reported from Tokyo. Reuters contributed to this report.