Sony to launch Blu-ray Vaio PCs in June

Sony will begin selling its first personal computers with Blu-ray Disc drives in Japan in June, the company said Tuesday.

Both laptop and desktop computers will be available.

The Vaio VGN-AR70B laptop has a 17-inch widescreen LCD (liquid crystal display) panel with 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels resolution, so it can show high-definition content at full quality. The Vaio VGN-RC729DP desktop includes a digital TV tuner and will be sold with or without a 19-inch LCD monitor.

The drives in both computers can read and write to Blu-ray Discs. A single-layer Blu-ray disc can store 25G bytes of data, or about five times that of today's DVDs, and can be used to store both computer files and video. In Japan, Sony is bundling software with the machines that can record digital HDTV broadcasts to the hard disk and later copy that content across to a Blu-ray Disc.

The computers can also import video from external sources such as Sony's high-definition camcorder. Once in the PC, users can edit the video and burn it to a disc. This fills an important gap in Sony's high-definition offerings, since people using the camcorder today have difficulty exporting the HD video out of the PC in a useful format.

There's also an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connector on the laptop for sending the video signal to an HD television.

The laptop is based on an Intel Core Duo T2500 (2GHz) processor and has 200G bytes of storage. The desktop uses a Pentium D (3.2GHz) processor and has 500G bytes of storage.

The laptop will cost around YEN 400,000 (AUD$4,700) and go on sale in Japan on June 24. The desktop version will cost about YEN 440,000 with monitor or about YEN 380,000 without, and go on sale from June 17. The laptop will be available in the U.S. in the "summer" this year and cost around US$3,500, Sony's U.S. unit said. Details on other overseas launch plans were not immediately available.

The laptop is expected to be the first portable computer from any manufacturer to go on sale with a Blu-ray Disc drive, although Toshiba is about to put on sale a laptop with drive for the rival HD DVD format. In the desktop market Fujitsu Ltd. is planning to sell a desktop with a Blue-ray drive in June.

Sony is a major backer of the Blu-ray Disc format for high-definition movies and content. The format is battling HD DVD to become the de facto replacement for DVDs for high-definition content. In terms of data storage Blu-ray Disc has the advantage with its 25G-byte single layer disc comparing favorably with 15G-byte HD DVD-R discs or 20G-byte HD DVD-Rewritable discs.

Sony will start selling blank Blu-ray Disc media in Japan in mid-June to coincide with the launch of the two computers. A 25G-byte BD-R write-once disc will cost YEN 1,900 (AUD$22.50) and a similar-capacity BD-RW rewritable disc will cost YEN 2,700 (AUD$32).

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service

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