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Sony to ease PC-entertainment networks

The electronics giant is attempting to prod consumers into the convergence era this spring with RoomLink, which allows people to more easily network PCs, TVs and stereo receivers.

Sony will try to prod consumers into the convergence era this spring with RoomLink, which allows people to network PCs, TVs and stereo receivers with relative ease.

RoomLink, which is already available in Japan and will hit U.S. shelves next spring, is essentially a networking hub for swapping data between disparate devices, said Mark Hanson, vice president of PC marketing at Sony.

With it, music or digital photos stored on a PC hard drive can be played on a stereo or TV. Likewise, the hard drive can function as a personal video recorder. Connections can be made with cables or wirelessly through Wi-Fi. It will sell for around $199, Sony said.

Eventually, these networks will likely expand beyond the home so that customers can download music from home to a cell phone or MP3 player.

"The next step is how to get (data) anywhere you are," Hanson said.

PC makers have slowly, yet steadily, transformed the home computer into a nerve center in the home entertainment world. Home networking devices push the colonization one step further because networks allow the computer to serve as a vault for recorded TV programs or music.

The Japanese version of RoomLink lets people stream DVD video from one device to another, but that feature will be disabled in the U.S. version, a Sony representative said.

Home networks, along with recordable DVD drives, will likely be two of the major themes at Comdex this year, said Richard Doherty, principal analyst at research firm the Envisioneering Group. Sony, though, like many large manufacturers, won't be at the convention, which takes place next week in Las Vegas.

Sony's RoomLink, which works only with the multimedia software that comes on its Vaio line of desktops and notebooks, won't be alone in this market. Intel earlier this year showed off its Digital Media Adapter, a device it designed and that performs the same function.

Mitac, a major Taiwanese manufacturer, has already said it can build these devices from Intel?s blueprints. A number of PC makers, including Dell Computer, Gateway and China?s Legend Computer, will likely bundle these devices with PCs, said Louis Burns, vice president of the desktop platform group at Intel in September.

Some PC makers may come out with these devices this year, but most will likely wait until next year, Burns said.