Sony Smart Stick to challenge Google Chromecast dongle

Sony Smart Stick The Smart Stick can download apps from the Google Play Store

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Sony has confirmed plans to launch a dongle to add apps and other smart-TV features to its televisions.

It will compete against a similar new product, Google's Chromecast.

Sony told entertainment trade-magazine Variety that it would formally launch the Android-powered Smart Stick later this week.

It will offer access to online content including video streams, music and games. However, one analyst said its price might prove its weakness.

Sony told Variety the Smart Stick would cost $150 (£94), but Google's plug-in is being sold in the US for $35.

App downloads

Many of the features offered by Sony's device were included in its earlier Google TV set-top boxes, which have struggled to find demand.

However, the Smart Stick is designed to do away with the need for a separate cable as it can be plugged directly into a TV's mobile high-definition link (MHL) socket.

News of the gadget was revealed on the company's blog last week. The post was later pulled but can still be seen via Bing's cache facility, and the device's instruction manual remains online.

Sony Smart Stick The Smart Stick allows owners to browse the internet and simultaneously watch TV in a sub-window

They state that the dongle offers access to Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and the Chrome web browser - which will all come pre-installed - and the option to download more software from the Play app store.

The gadget comes bundled with a remote that includes a microphone for voice-control, a touchpad and more traditional buttons.

Cheaper competitor

The details have emerged two months after Google unveiled its Chromecast dongle.

The device uses an HDMI socket to offer a more limited range of online content and relies on owners using a smartphone or tablet to control it via wi-fi.

However, it has the benefit of a lower price and is not restricted to being used on a specific brand of TV.

"For many consumers this will boil down to the fact that it's $150 versus $35," said Ian Maude, a digital media expert at consultants Enders Analysis.

"Sony is offering yet another device without offering anything that different from other internet-enabled set-top boxes."

"There is clearly demand to watch internet video via the TV set, but there's a whole new price point for these devices and at $150 I don't think the Smart Stick will fly."

Sony also faces competition from others who are also investing in new smart TV facilities.

Google's Chromecast dongle is being sold for $35 (£23)

Samsung - the world's bestselling television manufacturer - has bought Israeli firm Boxee's assets. Boxee's most recent product had let subscribers record TV shows onto its servers and then stream them to TVs, computers and smart devices.

LG has acquired WebOS - the operating system formerly used to power Palm handhelds - to "enhance" its smart TV products.

Microsoft is promoting its forthcoming Xbox One as a way to integrate content from a cable or satellite provider with other online video.

Meanwhile Apple, Sky, Roku and Western Digital are among others to offer more limited net-connected media streamers, while cable providers, including the UK's Virgin Media, are offering access to increasing numbers of apps via Tivo and other set-top boxes.

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