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Sony wants PS2 to conquer the living room

The consumer electronics giant is touting its PlayStation 2 console as the ultimate convergence device, capable of delivering everything from movies to e-mail.

LOS ANGELES--Sony resurrected the "C" word Wednesday, touting its PlayStation 2 video game console as the ultimate convergence device, capable of delivering everything from movies to e-mail.

At a press conference before the opening of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show here, Sony executives summed up an array of hardware add-ons and software and service partnerships--most of them previously leaked to the media--that will transform the PS2 into an all-purpose home entertainment and whatnot center.

"We see a convergence of entertainment--film, music, broadcasting," said Kaz Hirai, president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America. "We are obviously the brand for the living room."

The hardware add-ons include a $40 combination Ethernet/modem adapter that will allow for broadband and dial-up Internet connections via any Internet service provider and a 40GB hard drive that will allow the PS2 to store just about any form of digital entertainment. Both are set to go on sale in November, right around the time Microsoft's competing Xbox lands in stores.

Coming around the same time will be an LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen, keyboard and mouse that will help the PS2 perform several functions now associated with a PC.

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 Sony fires back at Microsoft
Kaz Hirai, president, Sony Computer Entertainment
Those functions will be boosted by new partnerships with America Online, RealNetworks and Macromedia that will give the PS2 its own version of the Netscape browser, e-mail, instant messaging, and streaming audio and video capability, among other functions. They also allow Sony to offer a loud raspberry directed at Microsoft, whose software competes in many areas.

Combined with the PS2's built-in DVD playback capability, the new additions give Sony a powerful claim as the digital focus of the modern home, Hirai said, as long as consumers can figure out how to use all the new goodies.

"We need to keep it simple," he said. "For consumers, there needs to be a seamless entertainment experience."

Besides the multimedia add-ons, one of the themes to emerge from the press conference was that software developers are finally getting a grip on the complex PS2 hardware. Despite statements from Sony executives about the "myth" of the PS2 being tough to write for, developer after developer talked about needing extra experience to make PS2 games look good and run well.

PS2 hardware "created a little bit of a learning curve," said Jason Rubin, president of Naughty Dog, the "Crash Bandicoot" game developer. "We're now coming out of that learning curve."