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Sony launches music subscription service in the U.K. and Ireland

Sony announced on Wednesday that it has launched a subscription music service in the U.K. and Ireland with plans to include more countries starting next year. The service, dubbed Music Unlimited, is available to customers who have a Playstation 3, Vaio computer, or a 2010 model of a Sony Web-ready TV or Blu-ray player. Sony says it plans to bring the service to mobile devices in the future.

Music Unlimited will try and compete for a share of the digital music market by offering two different cloud-based subscription plans instead of the traditional pay-per-download model supported by iTunes.

The basic subscription allows users to listen to an array of streaming audio channels — basically ad-free radio channels — with songs culled from a library of over six million. Subscribers will be able to customize channels to tailor to preferences for musical genres, eras or mood. Sony has also included the ability to perform unlimited forward skipping of songs as part of the basic subscription plan.

The premium plan allows subscribers to access any of the songs in the six million song catalog on-demand, to create playlists from those songs, and to access additional premium streaming channels. The basic subscription costs £3.99 (U.S. $6.18) and a premium plan goes for £9.99 ($15.42) per month.

As an additional feature, subscribers will be able to sync existing music libraries to their Music Unlimited accounts. Currently, the feature will only sync DRM-free songs, but Sony says it hopes to make DRM-syncing possible in the near future. And yes, the syncing feature will work with iTunes libraries.

Sony plans to roll out the music service in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, New Zealand sometime in 2011.