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Sony's trip to eVilla extended

The consumer electronics giant has once again delayed its eVilla Web-browsing appliance, CNET has learned.

Sony has once again delayed its eVilla Web-browsing appliance, CNET has learned.

The $500 Net gadget, which can also store music on Sony's chewing gum-size Memory Stick flash memory, was originally set to ship in April. Last month, the company pushed back the date to May 1. Sony now expects to have the unit on store shelves by mid-June, eVilla General Manager Rob Bartels said Friday.

As with the last delay, Sony said it needs more time to sign up partners that will provide services for the unit, which is being billed as a network entertainment center.

"We just want to make sure we fill out our content-partner story," Bartels said in an interview Friday. The company will begin taking orders on its Web site May 14, with those units shipping as early as the end of the month but in mid-June at the latest, Bartels said.

Introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, eVilla features a 15-inch monitor that is oriented vertically, rather than in the horizontal position used on most computers and other Net appliances. The device runs on Be's BeIA operating system.

Although it lacks a hard drive, the unit has a Memory Stick reader and two USB ports for connecting to a Zip drive or to printers from Epson and Hewlett-Packard, among others. Monthly service from Sony is expected to cost $21.95, with Sony having subsidized some of the hardware costs to be able to sell the unit for $500.

Bartels said the decisions by 3Com and Netpliance to exit the Internet appliance business has not dampened the consumer electronics giant's enthusiasm for the market. Gateway is also rethinking its Net gadget strategy.

"We're still excited and ready to go," Bartels said. "We look forward to redefining the category."