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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

TECH_JAPAN

GADGETS

Create your own home-entertainment network


Last week, Sony announced an interesting addition to its entertainment lineup with the launch of a device that doubles as network-attached storage and as a handy digital-television recorder. It's called the nasne, and it is the successor to Sony's previously released torne DVR add-on (known as Play TV in Europe) for the PlayStation 3. But while the torne was used to record and store media on the PS3, the nasne will feature its own 500-gigabyte hard-drive to which you can record your favorite television shows.

News photo
Sony nasne

With a curved black exterior, the device is designed much like the PS3 itself, measures 43 x 189 x 136 mm and weighs in at less than half a kilo. The nasne connects to your home network, and Sony hopes that this will serve as a media hub for any Sony media device. In addition to the TV-recording functions, you can also use the nasne to store all your music, movies, and photos, and then access them from other devices on that network. And if 500 gigabytes of storage is not enough, you can connect up to four nasne's to your PS3, and up to eight on a VAIO PC.

Sony has previously outlined what it calls its "four-screen strategy," which aims to build an entertainment ecosystem around your TV, PC, tablet and smartphone. So far, no other company has really managed to pull this off besides Apple, so it will be interesting to see how Sony's nasne ties these devices together. Sony's president and CEO, Kazuo Hirao, commented on what this means for consumers:

"nasne will give users more freedom to enjoy television in new ways by enabling them to watch programs on various Sony products through dedicated applications. We will continue to offer attractive products and services that inspire customers around the world and spark their curiosity, by further enhancing collaboration within Sony groups."

Version 4.0 of torne will come bundled with the nasne, and the company has plans for media consumption and management from other Sony devices, too. VAIO computer owners can use VAIO TV to interact with nasne content; for the PS Vita, users will be able to use torne for PS Vita (this is the tentative name, according to Sony) when it becomes available later this year; and for Sony tablets or Xperia smartphones, there will be dedicated applications as well. On all devices, Sony will enable scheduling and recording of TV programs via a Web guide service provided by So-net Entertainment Corp.

In addition to Sony's own line-up of devices, content stored on the nasne can be enjoyed on any DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatible device on your home network.

The nasne is scheduled to go on sale in Japan on July 19 for ¥16,980. There's no word yet if or when it might be made available in overseas markets.

If you don't want to wait until June, there's another interesting option about to hit the Japanese market on April 27 from Planex (planex.co.jp). Its networked media player, the MZK-MP02HD, will be similarly priced at about ¥15,000, but it will serve up media from external sources connected to the player via USB 2.0 or over your home network. So this could include any number of media sources, ranging from USB thumbdrives to digital cameras, but most users will want to attach an external hard drive with stored media. The capability to play from a networked hard drive brings some intriguing possibilities for those who want to get creative with bit-torrent clients.

News photo
Planex MZK-MP02HD

As for file support, the device will be able to handle a wide range, including MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 and Quicktime; for audio, there's support for AAC, MP3, and WAV; for images, JPEG, BMP, PNG and GIF.

The player itself is not very large, measuring 146 x 101 x 31 mm, and weighing 183 grams. Around the back it's equipped to output video via HDMI or RCA connectors to your TV. There's also an ethernet port, and the maker has included a handy remote for navigation via a simple menu that supports Japanese-language search.

Planex's new model comes a year after its MZK-MP01HD, but the new player capitalizes on the increasing amount of high-quality content offered on YouTube, specifically supporting YouTube XL (youtube.com/xl), which is optimized for viewing on large screens. For Japanese viewers, domestic-content producers are beginning to come around to the idea of distributing on YouTube (Fuji TV this month announced six new YouTube channels), and with any luck the offerings will continue to improve.

Of course, given the price range of both of these devices it's tempting to just pick up the recently updated Apple TV, or even create your own solution using open-source software such as XBMC (xbmc.org). Regardless of what you decide, it's certainly encouraging to see more options come to market here in Japan.

Rick Martin is an editor at TechInAsia.com. Read more of his work at 1rick.com.


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