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Sony Is Keeping PlayStation’s Internet TV Options Open

When Sony launches the PlayStation 4 this week, the tricked-out $399 console will have a number of new features — but it won’t give gamers a way to watch live TV channels.

In an interview, Mike Aragon, VP and g.m. of global digital video and music services for Sony Network Entertainment, said the company is still exploring several different ways to bring cable TV to PlayStation consoles.

“I don’t think we have an answer yet,” Aragon said. “We are looking at lots of things…. there are multiple paths that can get you there.”

On one front, Sony has been working to secure programming agreements for an Internet-delivered television service, designed to be competitive with cable and satellite services. This summer, the electronics company this summer reached a preliminary agreement with Viacom to carry Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and other cable networks on such an “over-the-top” service, delivered on PlayStation and other Sony devices, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That won’t happen, at least this year. (Aragon declined to discuss details of the over-the-top TV initiative.)

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Nor will PlayStation 4 provide a way to hook into pay TV boxes, the way Microsoft’s Xbox One — set to ship Nov. 22 — will be able to pull in cable and satellite providers’ guides via an HDMI cable. Not many customers “were asking for those kinds of capabilities,” Aragon claimed.

Instead, Aragon and his team focused on improving the “user experience” for PS users with respect to entertainment.

The No. 1 request: PlayStation customers wanted a way to listen to music while also playing videogames. That’s now available in the PS4, letting subscribers of the Music Unlimited service pick from up to 22 million songs to listen to during gameplay.

For video, a key change is that the PS4 will stream all video in adaptive bit-rate format; the PS3 uses a progressive-download playback mechanism. With streaming, video selections will start faster (in under 10 seconds versus 30 seconds or longer), according to Aragon. Also, titles purchased or rented from Sony’s Video Unlimited store will not have to be stored on the console’s hard drive, freeing up space for games and other data.

The PlayStation 4, while it won’t have live cable TV, will launch with 11 entertainment apps, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Crunchyroll, Epix, NBA Game Time, NHL Gamecenter, Redbox Instant, Vudu and YuppTV.

Industry observers have expressed skepticism about whether a “virtual MSO” can create a pay-TV bundle that would truly be competitive with incumbent operators.

Intel, one of the most public challengers hoping to break into this market, had previously expected to debut its Internet TV service this year. But the chip maker pushed back plans to 2014 as it looks for a partner to help it gain critical mass on distribution. The company also has struggled to land programming agreement with TV networks.

Recently Intel has discussed different potential partnerships with Verizon Communications and other companies to launch the broadband pay-TV service.

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