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Lessons in networked entertainment, Part 1

Jan 19, 20043 mins

CES 2004: Pioneer and Sony back away from networked entertainment plans

What’s not said is often more important than what is. That was the case at the Consumer Electronics Show this month, where two giants kept decidedly mum about the splashy networked entertainment products they’d unveiled at CES 2003.     

Last year Sony announced CoCoon, an “AV home gateway” product line it had introduced earlier in Japan. The product design was sexy with its big hard disk drive, personal video recorder software and network connectivity.  

In the same vein, Pioneer announced its DigitaLibrary product line of home entertainment servers — products that would “distribute three DVD-quality streams and 21 audio streams simultaneously” around a home network. So what happened?   

Apparently not much of anything.

Details on CoCoon’s fate were scarce at this year’s show, with Sony saying it will ship in Japan but not in the U.S. in the foreseeable future. Querying on the company’s Web site didn’t turn up much more information, where the word “CoCoon” on the Sony Electronics U.S. Web site got me a whopping total of zero hits.  

Pioneer missed on its May 2003 ship date and appears to have backed off from the project, at least publicly.   

Of course, this doesn’t mean either company has abandoned its plans to win the entertainment networking market in the future. Either could revive these specific products. In fact, Sony’s been shipping its RoomLink media adapter – a bridge device that streams audio and video from your PC to a TV – since spring of 2003, and its online gaming push for Playstation2 is moving along extremely well.  

Even so, Sony’s current posture resembles little that of one year go, when company President Kunitake Ando unveiled the “Ubiquitous Value Network” strategy, with CoCoon as the centerpiece. 

So what does Sony’s and Pioneer’s apparent skittishness say about the state of the home entertainment network?   After all, this year’s show produced even more announcements from Microsoft and Intel, and introduced a gaggle of media adapter and server start-ups.  

First, it just means the home entertainment network market needs more time to gel. Technologies that send streams of high-definition television around the home are still in early stages, and getting consumers to connect a PC to a TV to stream downloaded movies requires a serious behavior adjustment.  

Second, Sony, Pioneer and the like are ruled mainly by profit. If new products don’t move off store shelves in large quantities, don’t expect them to hold their attention for long.

But take heart. My next few columns will focus on some interesting announcements and actual products that came out of the show.