Sony shows off larger entertainment ambitions in E3 keynote


A poster on the floor advertises Sony Corp's PlayStation 4 console, at an electronics retail store in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Reuters/Issei Kato)

Sony and Microsoft are  locked in a tight battle for gamers as they show off what their newest consoles can really do. Sony has come out ahead so far by marketing itself as  the console for hard-core gamers. Meanwhile, Microsoft's attempts to appeal to a wider audience by pitching the Xbox One as a multimedia device that just so happes to have awesome games has proven less successful for the company.

But on Monday, ahead of the game industry's Electronic Entertainment Expo, those postures did a little bit of a flip. Microsoft focused solely on games, pumping up its video gaming base by not only announcing new exclusive titles but also tipping the re-release of all four major Halo games ahead of the 2015 release of "Halo 5: Guardians."  Sony, meanwhile, took some time out of its keynote to offer its ambitions for a wider media and entertainment play.

And we're not only talking about its plans for an upcoming "Rachet and Clank" movie. The company announced that it's releasing a $99 set-top box that will stream video from Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services in the Sony universe. Called the PlayStation TV, the device will also let you stream games from your PlayStation 4 to other televisions in your house, as well as older titles from previous consoles by way of  Sony's upcoming cloud-based game service, PlayStation Now. At that price point, it's primed to take on Amazon's Fire TV. Amazon's $99 set-top box also has a gaming focus, but it doesn't have nearly the gaming catalog that Sony will once its service launches later this year.

It's actually very logical for Sony to make a bigger entertainment play, given that the company itself has extensive music and movie holdings; combining all those services is one of the mandates of chief executive Kazuo Hirai. But the tone of the keynote seemed a bit out of step with the image Sony's put up for the PlayStation so far.

That's not to say that Sony necessarily neglected gamers. The company announced a slew of sequels and original games set to hit the console this holiday season and beyond. These include "The Order: 1886," "FarCry 4," "Uncharted 4," "Arkham: Knight" and, as a pleasant surprise for fans, "Little Big Planet 3."

Sony also announced that it will be opening up the beta program for "Destiny," the upcoming game from Bungie, the studio that made the original "Halo" games on July 17. If you can't wait, PlayStation 4 owners can apply to a part of the alpha program starting Thursday at 3 p.m., Eastern, to help developers test out the game ahead of its official launch this fall.

There were also a couple of hardware announcements during the keynote, including a brief look at the company's virtual reality headset, currently called Project Morpheus. Sony didn't release many details, but did say that it will have two playable demos using the headset on the game floor.

Finally, the company also announced that it will be releasing a white version of the PlayStation 4 -- "glacier-white" per one press release -- that will be released exclusively as a bundle with Destiny when the game officially launches on Sept. 9.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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