Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Console Post of the Week: Sony

Chris Kohler sent me a link to a fascinating article about Sony titled What Is Sony Now?.

It's a fair question. Sony was once identified as being the cutting edge of cool, later transformed itself into a money-printing giant, and today it's neither. Plus here's one more shocker:
For the past nine years, the business that has accumulated more profit than the rest of Sony combined is financial services, mostly life insurance, with some auto insurance and banking.

Didn't see that coming, did you? Well, neither did I.

The basics, though, are not complicated. Other companies make televisions and computers and video game consoles with the same degree of innnovation and quality as Sony, but at lower prices. The huge profit drivers of the 1997-2000 era (televisions and video games) are gone, and there's nothing to take their place.

Sony, though, isn't giving up. Here's a clue:
Hirai says Sony has lowered TV sales targets and will continue to shed assets, cutting staff and factory capacity as it outsources more production. Echoing Stringer’s view that Sony needs to produce a “different kind of TV,” he says Sony is working on prototypes that replace commodity LCD and plasma TVs. “We’re going to move onto these new technologies sooner rather than later,” Hirai says. Sony hopes to get its cool back with ultralow-power, glasses-free 3D sets that double today’s resolution, though they’re not expected to be mainstream until at least 2013.

In other words, Sony can't win selling standard HD sets against Samsung, etc. What they are hoping to do, apparently, is be a leader in 4K-HD technology. With a standard resolution of 3840×2160, one of the early benefits of 4K-HD would be to enable 3D displays that could show full 1080P resolution to each eye. Also, many films and sporting events today are shot at 4K resolution, and a 4K display would theoretically be capable of displaying them at full resolution (I say theoretically because compression has an effect on image quality, and 4K programs would require more bandwidth or disc space, hence potentially more compression).

Sharp will have 4K display at CES in January, and the early buzz has been extremely positive. So Sony will (again) have stiff competition.

Interestingly, though, it's not just 4K tech moving forward. OLED seems to have come back from the semi-dead (at least on anything larger than a cellphone screen). 55-inch screens from both Samsung and LG will allegedly be at CES as well.

Does this mean you'll be able to buy a 55" OLED display next year? Probably not, unless you want to pay a gigantic premium. But a year ago, OLED looked like it might never be used in much more than cool cellphone displays. Now, with Samsung's significant investment in the technology, and cost breakthroughs in the manufacturing process, it looks like OLED for large HD displays is apparently "real" this time.

Back to Sony, and let's move on to the Vita. A still-unconfirmed report this week indicated that buying a Vita title through PSN and downloading it will cost 40% less than buying the physical disk. If true, this will be an interesting experiment in pricing, since a discount of that depth would be very tempting, even with losing the ability to resell the game.

Course, given the price of the proprietary memory cards ($120 for 32GB), it could be argued that Sony's willing to discount the games heavily because people still have to buy the memory cards to store them. At the top level, though, a 40% discount would at least qualify as something substantial.

Sony has to stop the bleeding, basically. And at least they're not sitting around and watching the future hit them in the face, which I've accused them of doing in the past. Swing the sword.

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