Sony Vision: Will Tablets be Key to the Future of TV?

  • Rob Wiesenthal, chief financial officer of Sony America and chief strategy officer of Sony Entertainment, says TVs will get access to video content through tablets which would enable, for example, Sony’s Video Unlimited subscribers to go to a friend’s house and “throw” a film to the TV set.
  • “If you think back five years, it was all about the boxes; Tivo, Slingbox, Roku,” he said. “I think consumers really had box exhaustion.” Apple’s AirPlay, for example, allows iPads and iPhones to wirelessly connect to TVs.
  • Sony is using the Digital Living Network Alliance standard to interoperate with different manufacturer’ devices without the need for a box.
  • “Other benefits include the lure of offering more targeted advertising through an IP-enabled tablet than has proved possible through set-top boxes, and the advantages of finding content on a tablet rather than by aiming a remote control at a TV 10 feet away,” reports Financial Times.
  • In order for this approach to work, however, home Wi-Fi networks will require the capacity to transfer large video files without interruptions and cable providers will need to be willing to make content available this way.

Hands-On Reviews: Striking New Sony DSLRs and Mirrorless Digicams

  • Digital Trends takes four of Sony’s new digicams for a test drive — a pair of 24-megapixel DSLRs (the SLT-A77 and SLT-A65) and two compact mirrorless cameras (the NEX-5N and NEX-7).
  • The 3-day test period was conducted by recording more than 1,200 stills and dozens of short videos in rugged Southern California exteriors.
  • The review speaks highly of the DSLRs: “Sony really leaped ahead with this new pair by upping still resolution, the frame rate, video quality and incorporating a high-quality OLED viewfinder. Resolution is now 24.3 megapixels, the most of any consumer camera. Even with all the pixels, the A77 cranks off 12 frames per second at full resolution; the less expensive A65 does 10. Both also capture AVCHD Progressive movies, which are a beautiful 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second, rather than 1080i.”
  • In terms of cost: “The A77 costs $1,399 for the body only and is sold with an extremely sharp constant-aperture f/2.8 16-50mm lens for around $2,000. The A65 costs $999 with a more traditional 18-55mm lens. As a comparison, the 3.7 fps 18-megapixel Canon EOS Rebel T3i is $899 with an 18-55mm lens.”
  • Regarding the mirrorless cameras, Digital Trends comments: “Although the NEX-7 still requires a final production sample test, the early taste was quite fine. This could easily be the camera of the year given our hands-on experience. The buzz among the reviewers was pretty intense. As for the NEX-5N, although it’s a nice camera, it really paled in comparison to its big brothers and sisters.”
  • Pricing for the mirrorless models: “The NEX-7 has the high-quality finder built-in on the rear top left; the view is very good. We used the camera with an f/2.0 24mm prime lens, which added a cool $1,200 to the basic $1,149 price for the body. The NEX-7 will be sold with a cosmetically-matching black 18-55mm lens for $1,349. This outfit has a very Leica-like vibe and takes some pretty spectacular images… The NEX-5N has a 16-megapixel APS-C sensor (up from 14) and costs $699 with an 18-55mm kit lens.”

Movie Studios Turn to the Internet: Are We Ready to Bid Farewell to the DVD?

  • Hollywood studios are responding to the 40 percent drop in home entertainment sales by recognizing that the future may heavily rely upon ramping up Internet delivery businesses.
  • According to the Los Angeles Times: “Across Hollywood, a quiet revolution is brewing that’s about to transform living rooms around the world… In the next few years, the growing number of consumers with Internet-connected televisions, tablets and smartphones will face a dizzying array of options designed to make digital movie consumption a lot more convenient and to entice users to spend more money.”
  • “It’s now critical that we experiment as much as possible and determine how to build a vibrant market for collecting digital movies,” says David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment division.
  • Studios may be eager to change, but have yet to determine how it can be effectively accomplished with a uniform approach. As a result, the immediate future will most likely see an expanded but confusing selection of options for consumers.
  • The article looks at some of these potential options including premium VOD, cloud computing, UltraViolet’s “virtual locker,” new offerings from Apple’s iTunes and sharing movies via Facebook.

Will Sony Streaming Player Have the Juice to Take on Roku and Apple TV?

  • Sony will offer its SMP-N200 set-top box next month in the U.S. for $99. The player, introduced at IFA in Berlin, is the successor to the company’s Netbox.
  • The device has been upgraded to support 3D and live content streaming. It can be controlled with an iOS or Android smartphone.
  • “The original featured then-impressive support for local media playback and streaming, but does the Blu-ray-less wonder does it have what it takes in 2011?” asks Engadget. “If it has a UI refresh and access to comparable sources thanks to Sony’s now streamlined Video Unlimited/Music Unlimited media approach then this could play well as a one-two punch with a connected PC, phone or tablet.”
  • The SMP-N200 features DLNA capability and an array of connection options including composite, component, HDMI and Wi-Fi.
  • “The Streaming Player is ideal for consumers who want to upgrade to a connected television, but are happy with the TV they currently have,” said Charles Speidel, vice president of Sony’s Home Audio and Video Group. “Whether using it in the family room or on a secondary television in the house this new set-top-box offers access to the full complement of streaming content available from Sony, without committing to the cost of a new Bravia.”

Will Sony Tablet S Set itself Apart from iPad Wannabes?

  • Walt Mossberg suggests that one reason Apple’s iPad dominates the market is that most other tablet offerings come across as imitations that do not ultimately provide the same superior experience.
  • Sony aspires to change that perception with the release of its 9.4-inch Sony Tablet S, which Mossberg describes as a “handsome tablet with an unusual, asymmetrical design and some software tweaks and content services it hopes can set it apart from the pack.”
  • Sony’s new device, launched over the weekend, uses Google’s Android OS and costs the same as the Wi-Fi-only iPads ($500 for the 16GB version and $600 for the 32GB model).
  • The Tablet S has no cellular data option and tested weaker than the iPad in terms of battery life, but has a design like no other competitor: “One of the long sides of its rectangular, plastic body has a thick, rounded edge that makes the device look like a folded-back magazine.”
  • Mossberg sees this as a positive, even suggesting the device feels lighter than the iPad (it isn’t), based on how the weight rests on your palm. “While this design makes the Tablet S much thicker than many competitors, it has several advantages. When you hold the device one-handed in portrait, or vertical, mode, it feels much more comfortable and balanced than any other tablet I’ve tested. When you lay it on a flat surface in landscape, or horizontal, mode, the rounded edge creates a natural angle for typing, without a case or stand.”
  • Additionally setting it apart is an SD memory card slot (useful for transferring media), a customizable row of frequently used app icons, a Favorites feature (ideal for recently accessed media and Web bookmarks), and a universal remote control app with built-in infrared transmitter. “Sony also is bundling services for buying music, TV shows and movies, e-books and games to create a content ecosystem like Apple’s,” writes Mossberg.
  • We’ll see if these new features and unique design will be enough to attract consumers. If not, another tablet is on its way: “Sony is planning a second, even more radical tablet for later this fall, called the Tablet P. It’s a much smaller and lighter device that has no visible screen until you unfold it to reveal twin 5.5-inch displays that can either be used as one large screen or can have separate content in each.”

David Bishop to be Honored at LATM 13th Annual Soiree

  • The non-profit organization Los Angeles Team Mentoring (LATM) will host its 13th Annual Soiree fundraising event at the Beverly Wilshire on Thursday, October 13, 2011.
  • The special event will recognize David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, as its 2011 Keystone Honoree. Bishop will be recognized for his ongoing support of LATM and his commitment to charitable and community causes.
  • The evening will include cocktails, a silent auction, dinner, the Keystone Honoree Award presentation and a live auction.
  • All proceeds will benefit the organization’s TeamWorks after-school mentoring program, which is currently operating in 13 LAUSD middle schools.
  • To purchase tickets and/or to find out about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Cassy Horton at chorton@latm.org or call 213-742-6733.

Projector News: Are We Close to Affordable 4K Devices for the Home?

  • ETCentric contributors have recently submitted a number of interesting announcements related to high-end projectors for the home. The following are a few highlights:
  • Sony announced its VPL-VW1000ES with 4K resolution, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 2,000 ANSI lumens of brightness that allows it to project on screen sizes up to 200-inches. “During the presentation Sony showed a 4K clip from its upcoming ‘Spiderman’ flick on a VPL-VW1000ES that looked every bit as beautiful as you might imagine,” reports Engadget. Price is rumored to be less than $25,000.
  • JVC is introducing a new line of home theater projectors that features e-Shift technology, which takes 2D HD content and upconverts and scales to a 4K signal (3840 x 2160) to display at “4K precision,” twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of Full HD. The projectors are also 3D-enabled with a 2D-to-3D converter derived from JVC’s professional 2D-to-3D converter and includes user adjustments for 3D depth and subtitle geometry correction. While Sony indicated its projector would be available for less than $25,000, Engadget reports “the top of the line JVC has an MSRP of just $12k, while the cheaper model will be $7,999 when they all ship in November.”
  • Epson’s new home theater projectors feature full HD, active shutter 3D, with 1080p resolution and Bright 3D Drive Technology, which drives the panels at 480Hz, essentially doubling the image refresh rate of 240Hz panels, up to 200,000:1 contrast ratio, up to 2,400 lumens of color and white light output — and enable viewing on larger screens and in a range of ambient light conditions. “The primary difference between the $4,000 6010 and $3,000 5010 (the wireless HD-equipped 5010e will run about $3,500) is the included accessories and options: like ceiling mounts, 3D glasses and additional lens modes,” reports Engadget. “The budget 3010 ($1,600) and 3010e ($1,800) models sport a more modest 40,000:1 contrast ratio and 2,200 lumen rating, but do have a pair of built-in 10W speakers.”
  • Panasonic’s new PT-AR100U home theater projector offers 1080p resolution, a 50,000:1 contrast ratio, and 2,800 lumens of brightness. “Panasonic even aims to make the PT-AR100U less fiddly than a typical projector, with a Light Harmonizer feature that senses ambient lighting and color and automatically adjusts the projector’s white balance, gamma, and sharpness to compensate,” indicates Digital Trends. Expect the projector to be available in October for under $2,000.

Hulu Takes its Show on the Global Road with Streaming Service in Japan

  • In its first international venture, Hulu is launching its subscription service in Japan where it will offer hundreds of premium feature films and thousands of TV shows for $19.19/month.
  • The service will be accessible via select connected TVs and smartphones (Engadget reports that Panasonic Blu-ray players, Sony Blu-ray players and TVs, Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles and Android tablets are relegated to the “coming soon” list.)
  • Content will be provided from CBS, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Additional local market content will be added including Japanese-produced and other Asian content.
  • Hulu is also announcing an exclusive mobile marketing partnership with NTT Docomo. Details will be forthcoming.
  • A follow-up post from GigaOM yesterday outlines the differences between Hulu’s current U.S. offerings and its plans for the Japanese market, “that could give a hint at what Hulu might look like in the future.” So is there a “no ads, higher fees and more content suppliers” future for Hulu outside of Japan? If so, watch out Netflix!

Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba Join Forces for Planned LCD Venture

  • Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi announced they plan to merge their small screen divisions into one liquid crystal behemoth, to be known as Japan Display.
  • “The deal could create the world’s biggest maker of LCDs for mobile phones and cameras,” reports the New York Times, “with 22 percent of the market for small and midsize screens, according to DisplaySearch, an industry research firm.”
  • “By integrating each partner company’s wealth of display expertise and know-how, I am confident the new company will become a driving force for technological innovation and new growth in the rapidly expanding market,” says Howard Stringer, Sony’s chief executive.
  • The Japanese government has reportedly encouraged its nation’s manufacturers to consolidate as a means of competing with rivals such as South Korea’s Samsung, which is presently more profitable than any Japanese electronics manufacturer.
  • The venture must gain approval from antitrust regulators in Japan in order to move forward.

Sony Announces First Head-Mounted 3D OLED Display

  • Sony announced it will launch a head mounted display dubbed the “Personal 3D Viewer” HMZ-T1 in Japan this November (some of you may have seen the prototype at CES 2011).
  • The wearable display is designed for viewing both 2D and 3D on a “movie theater-like virtual screen,” equivalent to a 750-inch display, according to Sony.
  • The device uses twin 0.7-inch OLED panels with 1280×720 resolution and 5.1 surround sound. It is expected to sell in Japan for around $700 (possibly higher when it makes its way to the U.S.).
  • ETCentric staffer Phil Lelyveld comments: “Online chatter discusses this as an alternative to 3DTVs versus the social aspect of viewing. The health warning at the bottom of the press release is rather strange, given the target market.”
  • Health warning from the Sony press release: “Considering the protection of the growth and development, we ask children (age 15 and younger) to refrain from using this product.”

Movie Site Flickme Launches, Betting Big on Social Interaction

  • Former COO of Funny or Die Mitch Galbraith launched the beta version of social streaming movie service flickme this week with deals in place from Sony and Warner Bros. The venture was founded by Galbraith and Mark Smallcombe, who received funding from Sequoia Capital.
  • The new service lets users rent or purchase movies and watch instantly, via their Facebook accounts. Users can also socially connect with friends to share deals and recommendations. According to the website: “About one third of the movies on flickme feature pass-along perks: the first person to rent or buy can share special offers with friends, including discounts and access to rentals before they are normally available.”
  • The service will face competition from streamers such as iTunes and Netflix but is hoping the social connection will make it distinct.
  • “We’ve built a short cut to find movies you’ll love,” says Galbraith. “We’re assembling a library of thousands of top Hollywood titles and enabling highly personalized recommendations from close friends to ensure every movie you watch on flickme is a winner.”

Google Chair Remains Committed to Google TV, Hints at New Partners

  • Google remains “absolutely committed” to Google TV, according to executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
  • “Google TV, which allows viewers to mix Web and television content on TV screens via a browser, has received lukewarm reviews and been blocked by the major U.S. networks since its launch in the United States in October,” reports Reuters.
  • However, Schmidt told Edinburgh International Television Festival attendees that Sony and Logitech will remain partners for the next version and added, “I believe there are many more coming.” He also summed up three trends to watch most regarding the future of TV — Mobile, Local and Social.
  • Additionally, Schmidt explained there are “interesting ideas” how Motorola can help Google TV (last week Google announced its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility), but he would not provide details until the merger was completed.
  • “We’re intending to run Motorola, which would include the set top box business, as a completely separate business,” he said. “That does not mean that there won’t be communication between the two, and obviously sharing and knowledge sharing.”

Sony Xperia Line Baking Gingerbread: Adds Google Talk and Video

  • Sony Ericsson is adding Google Talk and video features this fall to its Xperia smartphone line.
  • The features will be available courtesy of an upgrade to the Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread platform.
  • The phone maker is also adding 3D camera features and increased social networking capabilities such as making Facebook access easier and quicker.
  • According to eWeek, key features include: “The ability to let users turn their Xperia smartphone into a mini PC by connecting mouse, keyboard or game controllers via USB to the Sony Ericsson LiveDock multimedia station, or to a TV via HDMI; Swipe text input (a competing technology to Swype on Android handsets); and screen capture from anywhere in the phone, a valuable tool for Web publishers.”
  • Expect the Xperia line to be available by October, possibly before the iPhone 5 fall launch.

Sony Alpha A77: A Glimpse at What May Make DSLRs Obsolete

  • Sony has announced two A-mount models for its Translucent Mirror line, the a77 and a65.
  • The a77 is the successor to Sony’s a700 DSLR. Sony has replaced the traditional mirror with a translucent technology that offers faster autofocus with less bulk.
  • The Sony press release claims: “The a77 boasts the world’s fastest continuous AF shooting performance” (among interchangeable-lens digital cameras with APS-C size sensors).
  • Digital Trends comments: “The a77 is exactly the kind of expensive ($2000 kit), hulking (weather-sealed magnesium body) piece of camera hardware with ridiculous specs (24.3 megapixel APS-C sensor, ISO 50-16,000) that photographers everywhere drool over.”
  • Eliminating the traditional mirror of a DSLR could potentially lead to serious changes in camera design and functionality. “It’s a huge breakthrough for DSLR videographers, who now have a viable option for seriously fast and accurate focusing (read: great for sports),” suggests Digital Trends. “It also allows the camera to have a crazy burst rate: 12 frames per second at 24.3-megapixels, far faster than any DSLR, even those that use lower resolutions.”

Sony NEX-VG20: Focus on Sensor, Sound, Interchangeable Lenses

  • Sony has unveiled its much anticipated NEX-VG20 camcorder, the next-gen version of its popular VG10. The company explains that four key value propositions were considered when developing the VG20: the sensor, sound, lenses and design.
  • Notable features include: interchangeable lens capability, new Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor and BIONZ processor, recording in 1080p (1920×1080), 16 megapixel sensor, ability to save images in JPEG and RAW formats, and recording at frame rates of 24p or 60p.
  • “What really sounds like it’s been improved is the VG20’s audio recording capabilities,” reports Digital Trends. “It includes a Quad Capsule Spatial Array Mic that supports stereo and 5.1 channel surround sound and has a new audio level control.”
  • In its Hands-On Impressions section, Digital Camera Review praised the “comfortable design and smart ergonomics” of the VG20, although expressed some issue with the camera’s heft. The review spoke highly of the LCD screen’s TruBlack technology and ability to rotate 270 degrees, but had issues with the viewfinder: “I appreciated the fact that it displayed plenty of helpful information including resolution, video format, battery life, remaining memory, etc., and I thought that the picture looked pretty crisp. But after having spent some time with the outstanding OLED viewfinders on the Alpha cameras (and enjoyed how closely it projected the image to the eye, so there was little to no border) I felt like I was looking down an extremely long hallway when using the viewfinder on the VG20.”
  • The NEX-VG20 is scheduled for a November release. Price: $1,599 (or $2,199 with the lens mount kit).

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