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Sony's new plasma TV adds home smarts

The consumer electronics maker unveils a plasma TV with built-in broadband networking that's linked to a Web pad-like remote control by wireless LAN technology.

Sony on Monday unveiled a plasma TV with built-in broadband networking that is linked to a Web pad-like remote control by wireless LAN technology.

The KDE-P50HZ1 and KDE-P42HZ1 plasma TVs are 50 inches and 42 inches in screen size and will go on sale in Japan later this year, for around $12,000 and $10,000, respectively.

The plasma display's networking features allow it to be used for Web browsing, or as part of an intelligent home network, according to a statement from Sony.

As previously reported, the project, code-named Altair, is one of the company's latest efforts to make digital content more accessible on its consumer-electronics devices, and thus reinforces Sony's vision of the television as the centerpiece of its plans for networked digital media.

The remote control unit can operate independently as a Web pad, or with the main display as a secondary TV screen. It has a small 6-by-3.5-inch display with an 800-by-480-pixel resolution--about the same image size and quality as large handheld computer.

It connects with the main unit with 802.11a networking, which is a high-speed wireless LAN standard more commonly used in computer networks. This standard has a theoretical speed of 54mbps, compared with the 11mbps of standard 802.11b Wi-Fi-based networks. The need to stream video from the main unit to the handheld requires the higher speed.

When used as a remote, software buttons are overlaid on the screen. But Sony emphasized that the pad also understands gesture-based fingertip strokes: Moving the finger across the screen in set patterns executes different commands. Sony has dubbed this its "air baton" feature because the movements resemble those made by an orchestra conductor.

The Sony plasma TV's remote unit has much in common with smart displays, which were launched in January this year by companies such as ViewSonic.

These pads, which Microsoft developed under the code name Mira, are typically a 10-inch or 15-inch detachable monitor running Microsoft's Windows CE for Smart Displays operating system. They funnel requests to, and receive data from, a base station PC running Windows XP.

Once detached, the smart display connects back to the PC using 802.11 wireless networking for accessing e-mail, surfing the Web or reading documents. A stylus, rather than a keyboard, is used to input data.

CNETAsia staff reported from Singapore. News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.