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"It’s the first step in moving the PlayStation 2 into a broadband environment."
——Sony's Kaz Hirai
SONY, AOL HOOK UP
A PLAYSTATION 2
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Sony and America Online are expected to announce today that they are joining forces to link Sony’s PlayStation 2 to the Internet, reports The Wall Street Journal.

According to the Journal the deal—which is an attempt to outflank Microsoft in the battle for new interactive services—has been in the works for several months.

The partnership with Sony makes sense, since multimedia companies like AOL Time Warner are eager to take the lead in high-speed communications links to the home via appliances other than personal computers. In addition to playing games, the PS2 console can already play DVDs and may be expanded for Internet access.

"It’s the first step in moving the PlayStation 2 into a broadband environment," said Kaz Hirai, president and ops chief of Sony’s U.S. PlayStation unit.

Microsoft’s forthcoming Xbox is set to compete with the PS2. Nintendo also has a competing machine, the Gamecube, in the works for fall.

The non-exclusive agreement between Sony and AOL includes plans for the companies to jointly develop specialized software—a browser, instant messaging, email, etc.—for the console. The downside of the console expansion is that consumers would need to plug a hard drive, keyboard, LCD monitor and mouse into the console to run the additional functions. Of course, Sony plans to market all of those "accessories sold separately" by year’s end.

The companies wouldn’t disclose financial terms of the deal or reveal whether users would have to pay a separate fee for the AOL functions.

A spokesman for Microsoft’s Xbox downplayed the PlayStation 2’s ability to serve as a tool for email and instant messaging, saying, "The marketplace is about online games. It’s not about instant messaging and email."

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