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Sony launches net appliance

Except Sony insists EVilla isn't a net appliance

What's in a name? A lot in today's marketing-mad society. Launching its EVilla as a 'network entertainment centre' this week, Sony tried to avoid what it deems the stigma attached to the term internet appliance.

Powered by a Geode GX1R processor and running the BeIA 1.0 operating system, the EVilla differs from its appliance cousins mostly by its emphasis on one-button access to internet entertainment content, primarily streaming audio and video. The device can automatically download news and email - set it to retrieve information in the middle of the night and you can access it offline in the morning without tying up a phone line. This seems similar to Windows' Task Manager.

The Evilla is scheduled to ship in the US by the end of this month. Priced at $500, users will require a subscription to EVilla's dialup internet service (a rebranded standard ISP). UK buyers will have to wait as a firm release date has yet to be announced.

When Sony previewed the device at the Consumer Electronics Show in January it didn't duck the internet appliance tag. But, since then, other vendors have been bailing out of the internet appliance market. Audrey was dumped by 3Com after six months, Netpliance binned its I-opener product last November, Virgin's Webplayer lasted less than three months and Gateway is 'rethinking' its net appliance strategy - something that only recently was being touted by the firm as a linchpin of its future.

Sony seems to be counting on the power of its brand to carry the day where others have failed, but doesn't seem to think even that can overcome a muddied name.

The EVilla consists of a 14.3kg box with a built-in 15in monitor set to an unusual portrait-mode 800x1,024 resolution, plus a keyboard and mouse. Sony says the portrait display is designed to minimise or eliminate scrolling on many popular websites, which typically are longer than they are wide. Overall, the device vaguely resembles a taller, skinnier iMac.

In addition to its built-in 56K modem the EVilla has two USB ports. It also provides an ethernet port that will be activated for users who subscribe to broadband EVilla service when it is offered later this year and a Memory Stick memory card slot.

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