Sony and Sun Join Forces

Feeling the need to hook your audio system directly into a website for music files? Last week, Sony Corporation and Sun Microsystems announced plans to further collaborate to provide digital consumer-electronics appliances with direct access to Internet-based content and services. The companies say that the first phase of this cooperation will involve the development of home gateway software, running on appliances such as set-top boxes (connected to a home entertainment system), that will support a combination of home networking and network server technologies.

Specific technologies to be supported include the Home Audio-Video interoperability specification (HAVi), IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire and iLink), as well as Sun's Jini, Java, Java Embedded Server, and Sun Management Center technologies. According to the companies, combining these technologies would create a seamless connection between network servers and digital consumer-electronics appliances in the home. It is hoped that this will simplify the secure electronic distribution of digital content, as well as allow alternatives for customer service and other types of post-sales support.

In a press release, Sony states that "this initiative will make it possible for Sony to introduce a new generation of digital A/V consumer-electronics products that offer direct access to online customer support through an easy-to-use, menu-driven graphical user interface. It will also establish digital A/V consumer-electronics appliances as powerful products for accessing Internet-based content and services with the same level of simplicity and convenience that consumers have come to expect from products such as stereos and television sets."

For its part, Sun views digital A/V appliances as an opportunity for the millions of Java application programmers—already creating interactive content and services for the Internet—to expand the variety and sophistication of their online offerings to cater to a much broader audience. Sun's Scott McNealy explains that "the collaboration with Sony will unleash the power of the Internet in networked consumer-electronics devices, forever changing the way people think of them."

Commenting on the agreement, Sony's Nobuyuki Idei states that "with the approaching broadband network era, we are moving in a direction that will fundamentally reshape the relationship between digital A/V appliances, computers, and the Internet." The current collaboration, which began in January 1999, is intended to expand Sony and Sun's ongoing effort to bridge the HAVi and Jini home network architectures. Teams of engineers from both companies have reportedly begun groundwork for the creation of a system incorporating the home gateway software. Sony has also recently announced that it is cooperating with the Universal Plug and Play technology from Microsoft, a possible competitor to Sun's Jini.