International CES: Sony launches a comeback bid

  • Sony's newly launched Xperia Z smartphone is not only disarmingly clever and useful, but can be dunked in water without fear of catastrophic failure. A very cool cellphone.
  • Sony's Xperia Z smartphone
  • Sony's Andrew Fraser demonstrates a compelling technology called X-Reality Pro, which enhances an already good TV image to the point where the colours and textures are near-as-dammit true to life.
  • Sony's prototype 4K OLED (Organic Light-emitting Diode) television, introduced at International CES in Las Vegas this week.
Date:10 January 2013 Tags:, , ,

Having survived several years of plummeting revenues and an expensive but effective world domination strategy by its main Korean rival, Sony is fighting back hard with a slew of innovative products and groundbreaking technologies that would appear to give the Japanese electronics giant an excellent chance of making a comeback.

In a round-table discussion during International CES in Las Vegas, vice-president Masashi Imamura, head of the company’s home entertainment and sound business group, said Sony intended to “redefine the battlefield” in its turnaround bid, making the point that its most important strategy was to make a very good product, and to reach customers’ hearts through their five senses.

To that end, the company has unveiled an impressive line-up of new products and genuinely useful technologies encompassing almost the entire consumer entertainment experience, both in and out of the home. They’re stylishly designed, the functions are intuitive, and the thinking behind them makes sense, so the coming months and years should prove interesting.

There’s something for everyone, from groundbreaking innovations in smartphones, tablets and PCs to the latest developments in digital imaging and 4K and connected TVs. Sony say their CES exhibit is built around a growing need for networking and interacting functionality across platforms and applications, with an emphasis on efficient connectivity, impressive picture and sound quality, and a unique mix of electronics, content and network services.

Xperia Z enters the smartphone arena
Among the highlights of Sony’s CES showcase were the new Xperia Z and Xperia ZL smartphones, both equipped with a Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core 1,5 MHz processor delivering excellent multi-tasking functionality (one day, we predict, most smartphones will go this route). Major goodies include full 1080p HD, a needle-sharp 5-inch touchscreen, a 13-megapixel camera with HDR video, and LTE (naturally).

A very cool feature: Exmor RS for mobile, the world’s first image sensor with High Dynamic Range (HDR) video for smartphones, which allows you to capture videos or stills even in strongly backlit conditions (we tried it for ourselves, and it works like a bomb). But arguably the most impressive of all the new phone’s features is something called Battery Stamina mode, which provides up to four times the standby time of competing models. In essence, it works by shutting down background apps when the phone goes to sleep, and reviving them when you wake it up.

In addition, a combination of familiar Sonymedia applications – Walkman, Album and Movies apps – allows you to find, share and play content with intuitive, common controls via an intuitive interface that can be shared across PC, tablet and smartphone. Oh, and the phone is dust-resistant and water-resistant to a depth of one metre for up to 30 minutes. In other words, if you drop it in the loo, don’t panic. Expect to see the Xperia Z in South Africa sometime in March.

Staying in touch
A compelling technology found in many of the new Sony products at CES 2013 – including the Xperia Z – is One-touch, a function based on NFC (Near Field Communication). This must be the easiest and fastest way to wirelessly connect and enjoy music, photos and videos from a smartphone.  Sony’s range of NFC-enabled devices with built-in One-touch functionality includes a Blu-ray disc home theatre system, a formidable-looking sound bar, wireless speakers, headphones and mobile devices. A new product called the Personal Content Station features 1 TB of storage and connects wirelessly to a home network, allowing you to store, view and share photos and videos from your smartphone or tablet. The One-touch function also connects smartphones with selected Bravia TVs.

Oh, those TVs. If you’ve never experienced ultra-high resolution, be prepared for a viewing experience that will blow you away. With more than four times the resolution of today’s HD TVs, 4K technology delivers a more immersive and dynamic viewing experience. Sony actually launched the 4K revolution with the first commercial 4K projector for cinemas – there are now more than 13 000 4K projectors installed in cinemas around the world – and the first professional camera to produce 4K content, the F65.

The company now offers a 4K home projector and a full line of 4K-capable home entertainment products, including the recently introduced 84-inch 4K LED TV and a pre-loaded 4K content delivery system. If you’d like one, start saving now. Fancy something a little more modest? If you’re prepared to wait a few months, you might be able to buy one of two other 4K LED TV models, these featuring 55- and 65-inch screens, and selling at prices described as “more accessible”.

4K OLED TV prototype
Sony is also combining 4K technology with another display technology it pioneered: OLED (organic light-emitting diode). Sony launched the world’s first 11-inch consumer OLED TV way back in 2007, and followed up this week with a 56-inch prototype 4K. It exhibited a prototype of its first 4K consumer camcorder as well as other 4K digital imaging solutions such as “PlayMemories Studio” and the industry’s first line-up of 4K-mastered Blu-ray discs of existing films.

As Sony tell it, their new TV models reflect changes in the consumer’s TV viewing habits, meeting their desire to simultaneously access information through built-in guides and from secondary devices such as a smartphone, tablet or PC. To make this easier, the new TV SideView application uses second screen connectivity to provide a dynamic graphical interface through which you can interact with your TV, view listings and operate embedded applications on the big screen. It can also extend the social nature of TV, allowing you to share your experiences in real time with others. TV SideView can be used as a universal remote control for a TV or to control other devices via IR, allowing cross-search of content from various sources using voice recognition.

While at the Sony booth, we experienced a new imaging technology called “Triluminos Display”. Designed to deliver truer blues, greens and reds, this will be available on select 2K and 4K television models. Moving beyond TVs, Sony is expanding the colour pallet of its 2013 Cyber-shot, α (Alpha) and Handycam lines with the addition of “Triluminos Display”, and plans to expand it to the Vaio PC family. But the innovation that really impressed as was something called X-Reality Pro, which automatically sharpens and enhances a TVs picture. Viewed alongside a TV without the technology, the difference is amazing.

Digital imaging
Sony is furthering the convergence of digital cameras and smartphones and tablets with new models such as the Cyber-shot DSC-WX80 camera, an impressive little machine that shares (that is, sends) memories directly to a smartphone. Another cool camera is the ruggedly designed Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 – ideal for weekend adventures and family holidays. It’s waterproof (up to 10 m), dust-proof, shock-proof and freeze-proof (you know, just in case you get locked inside a freezer by mistake).

Sony has enhanced its Handycam camcorder lineup with a “Balanced Optical SteadyShot” feature. We watched a demo in which a camera was bounced vigorously alongside a fixed camera, yet delivered a steady image that was almost as good as that of the static cam. The new camcorders are also equipped with a built-in projector, and can be Wi-Fi-enabled with the addition of an optional accessory allowing you to upload images to social networking sites via a smartphone or tablet.