January 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm

CES 2011: Enlightened Sony Unveils U.S. Qriocity Music Service for PlayStation, Bravia, Blu-ray

Seth Rogen and Jay Chou of Green Lantern join Sony CEO Howard Stringer at Sony's press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show (photo: Eliot Van Buskirk).

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Sony, the electronics and entertainment juggernaut, took another stab at digital music distribution at the Consumer Electronics Show this year with the U.S. unveiling on Wednesday of Sony Qriocity Music Unlimited, a freemium music service that will run on three popular Sony platforms within the home: Sony PlayStation, Sony Bravia televisions, and Sony Blu-ray players, which comprise a total of 15 million televisions that Sony has connected to the internet, according to Sony CEO Howard Stringer’s address.

At some point during the first quarter of this year, owners of 2010-and-later PlayStations, Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and New Zealand will be able to stream Sony Qriocity Music Unlimited internet radio stations, for free, based on artist, mood, genre, decade and other filters provided by partner Gracenote — sort of like what Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm do now — from a six-million-song-plus catalog including all of the major labels.

Or, if a user wants to move beyond the passive radio experience in order to collect music into playlists and access songs and album on-demand (a la Rhapsody), they can upgrade to a paid subscription (no price was mentioned, but we assume this would be for the usual 10 bucks per month). All the while, the system studies the user’s habits in order to provide better recommendations.

Sony tried a more rudimentary version of this trick in 2005, when it used to try to sell DRM-crippled music from its doomed Sony Connect store to owners of its own DRM-crippled music players, which had the rare distinction among “MP3 players” of not being able to play MP3s. Having abandoned that ill-fated effort, Sony, chastened, brings a more powerful offering for music fans this time around with Qriocity Music, for two key reasons: its popular gaming and television hardware, and a new, inclusionary policy towards the competition.

First, let’s talk hardware. As brilliantly as Sony’s portable audio players were, nobody used them due to their draconian DRM rules, which rejected the popular MP3 format. However, with PlayStation, Bravia, and its Blu-Ray players, Sony has household names with massive install bases. And because these are connected devices, which can verify a user’s identity because they’re the person who uses that particular device, Sony’s DRM woes are over.

Second, Sony is being very “un-Sony” about this service by allowing it  to compete with the other music apps available on Bravia TV as competing Google TV apps.

“What’s really interesting, at least in the Bravia TV line, is seeing Sony-driven services sitting on the same platform as Pandora, Slacker and others,” said Stephen White senior vice president of Gracenote, which powers Sony Qriocity Music’s recommendation engine. “They’ve definitely taken the approach of letting the consumer decide which service is best for them, and not force them into a walled garden approach.”

What a concept.

Sony Qriocity Music for Playstation, Bravia and Sony Blu-ray players is set to launch this quarter in the United States at music.qriocity.com.

Photo: Flickr/Sean Mason