Sony execs outline high-definition future

Sony hopes to make itself the leading brand for products using high-definition technology in Japan this year and worldwide in 2005, executives said Thursday at the company's dealers' convention in Tokyo.

Sony showcased its new lineup of HVX Grand Wega HD (high-definition) TVs, Vaio laptops and desktops, and DVD recorders. It hopes that some of the products will bolster its brand image abroad, including a 70-inch Grand Wega rear projection TV, aimed at the U.S. HD TV market, and its first high-definition video camcorder, the HDR-FX1.

The HDR-FX1 will be in shops worldwide by the end of this year, the company said.

One of the goals of this year's convention is to change the perception that Sony was late to the flat panel TV market when it arrived last year. "This year will be different," President Kunitake Ando told a group of reporters.

Sony's new mantra is to create an "HD world," which means tempting consumers to switch to high-definition products, said Fujio Nishida, Sony executive vice president of marketing. It is hoping that home users will shoot video on a Sony camcorder, edit it on their Vaios, watch the home movies on their HD TVs and store them on Blu-ray Disc recorders, he said.

Sony will be emphasizing LCD (liquid crystal display) as its core TV technology, Ando said. S-LCD, the LCD joint-venture set up by Sony and Samsung, could be making as many as 3 million 40-inch TV panels within a year or two of starting production, he said. Sony has said it will start production between April and June of 2005.

Sony sold about 10 million TVs of all kinds in 2003 and will sell about 11 million in 2004. About 10 percent of sales this year will be LCD and plasma models, rising to between 40 percent and 50 percent over the next three to five years, the company said.

Despite Ando's optimism for Sony's new products, price competition for flat-panel TVs and stagnant demand for home audio gear means that Sony will be unable to boost its profits from a year ago for TVs, DVD players and other large consumer products, the Sony president said.

"Compared to the mobile and portable markets, for home products, we cannot expect a leap in profits this year," Ando said.

Japan's electronics companies have been outlining their strategies in recent months for large, flat panel HD TVs. Sony joins Sharp in opting for LCD screens, while Matsushita Electric Industrial is opting for plasma technologies. Earlier this month, Matsushita unveiled an HD TV with a plasma screen measuring 65 inches diagonally.

Meanwhile, Canon and Toshiba said two weeks ago that they are opting for SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display) technology for large-screen TVs. The companies claim SED produces vivid colors like those of a CRT (cathode ray tubes) television, and that it uses much less power than LCD or plasma panels. Toshiba plans to phase out its plasma TV production from 2007.

Ando took a swipe at the SED technology, saying that it may not have as bright a future as its proponents claim.

"It's an extension of cathode ray technology, and it does seem to be a technology slightly out of phase with the times," Ando said.

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Paul Kallender

IDG News Service
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