(Photo: Andrew Nusca/ZDNet)
Country pop star Taylor Swift and the ghost of Jimi Hendrix joined Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer to kick off the company's annual press conference at CES.
The main takeway? I'll let Sir Howard put it in his own words:
"Our goal is to become the undisputed global leader in 3D."
How so? By leveraging the entire home theater ecosystem to make 3D creep into your home, whether you like it or not.
THE PRODUCT NEWS
The company revealed its "Monolithic" Bravia HDTVs, including the flagship NX800 LED backlit LCD HDTV, which will be available in early March and come in sizes ranging from 22 to 60 inches. (Pictured above, the similarly-styled LX700.)
The sets are displayed at six-degree upward slant to compensate for low TV stand heights, and an "almost invisible" bezel, concealed touch sensors and glossy or matte finishes round out the premium features.
The company also announced a new home theater setup that bundles a Blu-ray player and 5.1 surround setup that supports Internet video and BD Live.
"Sony is ready with the broadest Blu-ray lineup in the industry," COO Stan Glasgow said. "Being connected to a network these days is critically important."
And that's where the war over the Big 3 screens -- computer, phone, TV -- hits home: with arms in all of those segments -- plus cameras, camcorders and the PlayStation game console, as well as a newly announced "Dash" personal Internet viewer -- 3D is set to become ubiquitous.
GAMING, IMAGING, COMPUTING AS 3D ENTRY POINTS
Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kaz Hirai was also on hand to tout the success of the PlayStation Network, or PSN.
"Something more will be required to differentiate and add value," Hirai said.
Sony said it plans to extend its premium video service to platforms beyond PS3/P, such as Internet-enabled Bravia and Blu-ray devices, VAIO PCs and any Windows-enabled PC -- all by next month, in six countries.
Hirai stressed the four pillars of Sony success in the next decade: Hardware, software, content and services.
Celebrity fashion photographer Nigel Barker, of America's Next Top Model, was also on hand to introduce new Sony Cybershot cameras ("They're like professional point-and-shoots" he said, with no shortage of the words "fantastic," "extraordinary" and "outstanding") and camcorders, including a new Flip-competing MPEG-4 model named "Bloggie."
After a quick dive into new Sony Vaio laptops -- the premium thin-and-light Z series (3 lbs.), green W series (made of recycled materials) and multimedia workhorse F series (quad-core Intel) -- Stringer returned to the main event:
"We intend to take the lead in 3D," he said, bringing out executives from Discovery Communications and IMAX to remind folks of a partnership to create the first all-3D television channel.
"Imagine Shark Week in 3D," Stringer mused.
Upcoming 3D programming includes the 2010 FIFA World Cup matches in June and July, the PGA Tour and, in partnership with ESPN, a new ESPN 3D channel.
Even the PlayStation 3 is in on the action -- Stringer said a firmware upgrade will allow it to play 3D Blu-ray movies.
"I'm trying to persuade ESPN to do curling in 3D," Stringer said.
Kicking off the 3D parade were Sony's new 3D Bravia HDTVs for 2010, which are sized up to 60 inches, come bundled with two pair of active shutter glasses and have the 3D transmitter built into the sets.
The flagship models will be joined by two series of "3D capable" models, whose active shutter glasses and transmitter are sold separately.
And if all that's not enough, Stringer said Sony was working on a 3D OLED TV, showing off a prototype.
"Our engineers are working on bringing costs down," Stringer said.
That said, Stringer said Blu-ray 3D titles are coming, with VAIO and Sony's digital imaging products not far behind.
THE TOYBOX TAKE
Sony's press conference was a bit disappointing in that it didn't announce any "thinnest" "brightest" or any other superlative-type products. But the real message was that Sony plans to throw its weight around to gain as much 3D market share as possible.
I'm not really convinced by the 3D thing, however. The upconverted demonstration of 3D tech using Jimi Hendrix's performance of "Purple Haze" at Woodstock felt a bit cut-out-cardboard cartoonish, and I'm just not seeing myself sporting $40 3D glasses all day Sunday while I watch football.
I do believe that 3D applications for IMAX and other immersive experiences are a great idea and a welcome one.
But, using a Sony example, watching golf in 3D is hardly riveting: it's a lot of green and a little stick and a tiny white ball.
The same goes for soccer, or baseball, or any sport in real-time. The bird's eye view normally used just doesn't make 3D worth it. (Slow-motion replays, however, surely do.)
How do manufacturers solve this all or nothing problem? Clearly, 3D technology isn't necessary all the time, but it's not as easy as picking 3D content or 2D content. Different moments call for different experiences.
After all, I don't want to watch "Pardon the Interruption" in 3D, I'm sorry to say.
But that's where we're headed.
And what about the glasses limitation? Like having friends over to play PlayStation, there are only enough controllers -- glasses, in this case -- to go around. And they're just not cheap enough to buy a set to match your 12-piece fine china set when the family comes over for Thanksgiving.
I will say this: 3D has reignited the movie industry, and will likely do the same to the stagnant home theater market.
But it's got obvious faults, and I'm not sure how to respond to them. Does every movie need to be 3D? No.
One last thing, by the way: 3D tech is distracting. Watching movies, you notice the thrill of the technology more than the movie itself. It doesn't have the subtle improved experience the way a brighter or crisper screen is. 3D technology is noticeable, and I think that's a real problem.
But what I think doesn't matter. So many industry folks are backing 3D technology that it will push through to adoption, regardless if its optimized or not. As the price comes down, and manufacturers integrate the separate transmitter into the set, the consumer won't be asking whether or not to buy a 3D TV.
They'll all support 3D, whether you use it or not.