Sony’s $99 Streaming Net-Top to Launch in US and Europe

-PlayStation Beats Xbox to the Punch
-$99 Box Streams Video and Games to the TV Set
-Sony Should Focus on PlayStation Brands over TV Sets

Sony served notice that it aims to be a major player in delivering video entertainment to the home, not just with a gaming console but with a $99 streaming net-top box that’ll compete directly against Apple, Roku, Amazon, Google and others.

Sony announced at E3 the new and improved PlayStation (PS) TV streaming device will become available in the North American and Europe this year. E3 is the annual global gaming conference. The box plugs into a TV set, will stream OTT apps like Netflix, Sony’s original Web content, and its PlayStation video games to TV sets.

Game console rivals Microsoft and Sony have had their eyes on becoming the main entertainment device in the living room. Microsoft has been more overt in its strategy, and has focused on the TV features of its new Xbox One console, the One Guide, a personalized interactive programming guide that combines OTT services, VoD catalogues and TV listings. Microsoft has also added a number of content apps to the Xbox Live platform, and is releasing a lineup of original programming.

Sony, on the other hand, has been more focused on promoting the gaming features of its new PlayStation 4 console, although the device comes with all the big OTT apps, and Sony has promised its own slate of original series. Between the two strategies, Sony’s seems to have paid off. PlayStation 4 is outselling Xbox One, and reports indicate Sony’s gaming presentation this year at E3 outshined Microsoft’s.

We at The Online Reporter have argued that it would be a wise move for Microsoft to launch an under-$100 Xbox branded net-top box, if it wants to get very serious about controlling the living room TV set, but Sony has once again beaten Microsoft to the punch.

Sony is busy building an online entertainment empire. It now has:
-a global network of around 7 million PlayStation 4 users
-PlayStation Entertainment Network, an OTT service that rents and sells movies to users
Crackle, the ad-supported OTT service, which has 50 million users worldwide and an entire line-up of original content
-Playstation Now, a new streaming gaming service that will also stream content apps
-the streaming pay TV service that Sony announced at CES this year

The $99 Net-Top
The box, called PlayStation (PS) TV, was unveiled late last year as the PlayStation Vita box, but Sony wisely boiled the name down to its most important parts: PlayStation and TV. The PS Vita box was released last year in Japan and a few other markets in Asia. The new PS TV box has the same chip sets and software as the Vita, but will be released with a new color and design. It’s priced at $99 or $139 for a bundle that includes a game controller, an 8GB memory card, an HDMI cable, and a copy of the “Lego Movie” video game. Users can stream content – video and games – over the Internet to a TV set.

At E3, Sony marketed the box has a means to extend the TV reach of its popular game console, but the box will also be able to stream content from any of the video apps available on the PS4. And there are quite few of those, including all the big names, such as Netflix, Hulu and of course, Sony’s own OTT service, Crackle, in the markets where those apps are available.

The Streaming Entertainment Service
Sony is also launching a subscription OTT gaming service, called PlayStation Now, which will offer older video games, from PS3 and earlier generation consoles, to stream. Once the service goes live, users can stream the old games to a TV set equipped with a PS TV box.

The PS TV box will be able to stream content apps using the PS Now service – without another PS game console in the house – making the PlayStation TV a fully fledged Apple, Amazon, Roku and Google competitor.

The PlayStation Now service will also be available to stream to Sony’s Bravia line of TV sets. “Eventually the service will expand beyond PlayStation platforms and Sony devices,” the company said.

With the PS TV box, Sony will now be able to control the entertainment experiences across TV sets in its PlayStation households. If a household already has a PS3 or PS4, why would they go out and buy an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, when they can buy a device that streams most of the same apps, and even offers game play on those other TV sets, for the same price?

Original Content, Too
Sony said it will deliver exclusive “entertainment experiences only possible on PS TV,” and we’re betting that will include the original content Sony is developing for its PlayStation Network OTT platform.

The first series of many promised will be a 10-episode series called “Powers” that is based on a graphic novel series. It’s a sci-fi detective crime thriller originally developed for FX. Each episode will be an hour long, so this content is a step up from the under-five-minute-episodes of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

Sony first mentioned its plans for original content distributed via the PlayStation Network at last year’s E3 conference. It didn’t mention any new details about that plan at this year’s conference. Sony’s other OTT service, Crackle, and all of its short-form original content will also be available on the device.

Remaining Questions
Sony has been opaque about its entertainment strategy. It has announced a number of initiatives that have yet to come to fruition, leaving us with a few questions:

-When will Sony release the rest of the original content it’s been talking about? Will that content all be long-form, like the “Powers” series?

-Will the PS TV box become a defacto set-top for its promised streaming pay TV service, which it announced at CES this year?

-Is Sony still planning to launch a streaming pay TV service? Sony’s Computer Entertainment America president and CEO Shawn Layden told Re/code this week that Sony is still planning to launch such a service, but it hasn’t announced any new content partners or given any hints as to how the service might be delivered to viewers.

-What are Sony’s plans for Crackle? Earlier this year Sony indicated it was interested to expand Crackle’s content library when it acquired streaming rights to NBCUniversal content. Crackle is mostly filled with Sony’s own Sony Pictures films and TV shows.

The news also leaves us with questions for Microsoft:

-Will Microsoft also release an under-$100 Xbox streaming device?

-Will Microsoft offer its original content to non-Xbox users via its own OTT service?

More Signs Sony Should Exit the TV Biz
The success of the PlayStation business is a glimmer of hope for Sony, whose TV business has lost a total of $7.8 billion over the past 11 years. Sony would be smart to exit the TV business and focus on where it fits in the future of home entertainment: content, the demand for which has never been greater; entertainment boxes in the home that serve as gaming consoles and media players like the PlayStation; and OTT content and services.

Sony has put a lot of eggs in its UHD basket, but it’s unclear if those efforts will pay off for the company.

Sony’s big hope is UHD (4K) sets where it has a big advantage in its UHD ecosystem of content, cameras, UHD media player, UHD online library and some rather good and proprietary UHD technology. One is upconversion from 1080p HD to near-UHD. It’s a vitally important technology because initially at least 99% of the content that UHD set-makers will see will be in traditional 1080p HD that has to be upconverted. It may be a bad sign then that Sony recently shut down entirely its technology division that handled UHD technologies.

If Sony does not succeed in the UHD TV market, it will…

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