Despite the hype, most people don't want a computer in their lounge room, but they'll happily allow a powerful games console. As such console makers are turning the once humble games machine into a one-stop entertainment shop, both to capture more eyeballs and to help justify to users the amazingly high price tags of the latest generation of consoles. You can bet this isn't lost on Apple either - the Apple TV might start as a video download service but once Apple establishes a foothold in lounge rooms the features of the Apple TV are sure to expand.
Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 offer high definition video playback - Blu-ray and HD DVD respectively - and are supported by a range of music and video download services, with Sony often lagging behind Microsoft even though Sony has the benefit of it's wealth of content. Sony has taken the initiative this time with "PlayStation Home", offering every PlayStation 3 owner a free avatar and virtual apartment in Sony's new virtual world unveiled at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Due for launch in the northern Autumn, "PlayStation Home" follows in the footsteps of incredibly successful virtual worlds such as "World of Warcraft" and "Second Life", allowing users to customise their online persona and living space as well as explore an immerse 3D virtual world inhabited by other PS3 owners. The will also have access to high definition video, and be able to watch movies, TV shows and their own content from within the virtual world.
PlayStation Home is part of the "Game 3.0" era, according to Sony Computer Entertainment's president of worldwide studios Phil Harrison. This era has been enabled by the proliferation of high speed internet connections, opening up a world of opportunities for both Sony and Microsoft as well as a legion of couch potatoes.
"PlayStation Home" is only the beginning, but the aim is to encourages more PS3 owners to put their consoles online where Sony can get to them. With a permanent two-way link into your lounge room to what's becoming the hub of the entertainment centre, the possibilities are endless. One of the most obvious is monitoring your habits and sending you tailored advertising, perhaps inserted into streaming video or other subscriber content. There's no doubt the skyline of "PlayStation Home" will eventually be littered by billboards, each which knows your name and targets advertising directly at you.
The word eco-system gets thrown around a lot, but that's exactly what Sony is out to create. "PlayStation Home" might be free, but it's a small price for Sony to pay to ensure you never leave the Sony Universe.