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Sony's iTunes rival goes live in the UK

Music Unlimited offers 6 million tracks

Sony has launched a subscription streaming music service, furthering its plan to offer a range of content via the internet to its consumer electronics devices.

The service, called 'Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity', will initially be available in the UK and Ireland, but Sony plans to expand it to more countries in 2011. It expects to add at least Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, New Zealand and the US next year.

Consumers will need a 2010-model network-enabled Bravia TV, Blu-ray Disc player, personal computer or a PlayStation 3 games console to access the service, which will offer 6 million songs at launch, said Kaz Hirai, who runs Sony's network services division and also heads its game business. He was speaking in Tokyo.

Two service options are available. The basic plan will offer dozens of genre-specific and era-specific channels of non-stop music, and a premium service will add on-demand access to all songs in the library and additional channels with new music. Sony said music from all four major record companies -- Universal, Sony, Warner and EMI -- and from many independent labels is available.

The basic plan will carry a monthly cost of £3.99 or €3.99 and the premium service will cost £9.99 or €9.99 per month.

Users on both price plans can also synchronise existing playlists to the service. Sony's software will scan files in the user's music library and digitally fingerprint each song. This data - and not the audio file - will be uploaded to the service and, once matched with songs in the database, will be added to the user's own library and be available on demand across all devices.

The service works with most music file formats, except those with DRM (digital rights management). Sony is planning to later add support for protected music files.

This method allows a user to quickly make their music library available across all connected devices, but it comes with one drawback: songs that aren't among the 6 million in the database won't be accessible through the service.

The service needs a continuously connected broadband Internet connection, because all the songs are streamed and not downloaded.

As its name suggests, the service runs on Sony's Qriocity network platform. Qriocity is intended to link all of the company's network-enabled consumer electronics products and shares the same base as the PlayStation Network that links Sony's gaming devices.

At launch the music service is not available via Sony's PlayStation Portable or Sony Ericsson cell phones, but there are plans to roll out the service to those devices, said Hirai.

The music service was developed with London-based Omnifone, which offers consumer electronics and telecom companies a system called MusicStation that they can rebrand. Sony Ericsson's PlayNow service is based on the Omnifone platform.

Sony already offers a video-on-demand service over the Qriocity platform in the US and a handful of European countries.

Hirai said the services are being launched first in Europe because the Qriocity network platform there is ready ahead of other regions.


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