Sony has unveiled a bevy of networked consumer electronics including a home HiFi with a hard drive, Ethernet, USB and Bluetooth. But will this new strategy fail faster than you can say ATRAC?
Like other big name consumer electronics companies, Sony is making a big song and dance about high definition, and interoperability between its consumer grade products and technologies like Bluetooth and WiFi.
At this week's "Sony. Experience More." expo in Sydney's Darling Harbour exhibition centre, the presentation to the congregated media was thick with hyperbole like 'interoperability' and there was a lot of talk about the 'digital living network alliance' and catch phrases like 'seamlessly slot into your life'. The problem with Sony is they have a history of doing the opposite.
Sony's Australian MD Carl Rose said “High definition is the driving force behind the range of products on show at Sony. This year we saw the HD World become a reality with the launch of Blu-ray in Australia, the launch of new Full HD 1080p BRAVIA TVs and dedicated Blu-ray players, the extension of the Blu-ray VAIO range, as well as a new line-up in HD digital imaging and audio products.”
The HD world may now be a reality but at the moment both Blu-ray and HD DVD are still in their infancy. In fact only 6000 HD movies were sold in Australia in Q1 this year - luckily for Sony, over 90 percent of those were Blu-ray. And the logic goes if only 6000 HD movies were sold in Australia in Q1 then how many players are out in the market. Best case, I'd say about 6000. Even a Mac fanboy like me knows that 6000 isn't enough.
Sony, and other CE companies are hoping for Blu-ray and HD DVD to be the follow on from DVD. But I think they are on the wrong path. Yes, watching a Blu-ray DVD is impressive, but no, it's not enough of a difference for most consumers to justify replacing their DVD player. The convenience of the disc format has already been a reality for the last decade. The next big thing is downloads -- something that is already unofficially happening in the P2P world. Need proof of my theory that there's no need for an update on an already hugely successful format? Just look to the SACD.
Don't get me wrong, most of the hardware that Sony produces is still great. The new line of Bravia TVs, Cyber-Shot cameras, Handy-Cams, and Vaios is enough to make you drool. But some of their latest products are seriously wrong.
Take for instance the DHCAZ77 DBT Bluetooth USB DVD Mini System (say that in one breath). With it, Sony ushers in the age of streaming DRM crippled music from your Bluetooth phone to your home stereo (as if people really have enough music on their phones to bother with this or any actual desire to stream music wirelessly from their mobile).
|The awkward DHCAZ77BT will let you stream music from your mobile.
If you're late to the whole digital music game you could invest in the new NAS-50HDE GIGA JUKE HDD - It comes with an 80Gb hard drive that lets you store many hours of music (up to 40,000 tracks, according to Sony). From the press release; 'it’s easy to release your music – GIGA JUKE can transfer your favourite tunes directly to your Walkman or other portable audio players with no PC required'. I love the wording - 'Release your music' because whenever you load music in to a Sony product it is effectively a prisoner...? At least the default codec on the Giga for CDs ripped using its own CD-ROM is MP3 rather than ATRAC.
The NAS-50HDE has an Ethernet port built in or you can buy an optional Buffalo USB wireless LAN adaptor. Using either method, the hifi can set its clock using an NTP server and update its Gracenote (CDDB) database over the internet automatically. It can also import a music library stored on an SMB-networked PC, but it's not clear whether you can actually access its hard drive from a PC, which may foil its obvious alter-ego usage as a home file server. (You can read the product manual of the GigaJuke (10MB PDF), that shows the capabilities of the unit. There's also an FAQ.)
|Sony GigaJuke: 80GB of hard drive space, a high-res colour screen and networking
Alongside these new products Sony also revamped its component amps and now ships it STR-DA5300ES multi-room AV receiver with no less than six HDMI inputs - more than anyone else on the market. Wow. Now that's real innovation.
|Six HDMI inputs: now that's what we call a home AV receiver
One bright glimpse of the future that Sony did provide was to show off their OLED displays. These super thin displays have a contrast ratio of over a million and are amazingly bright and sharp with extraordinarily luminous colours and totally black blacks.
With all the investment and marketing dollars going in to promoting LCDs don't expect to see these on the market soon. Sony was only showing off displays that were about 10" in size, and wouldn't comment on what they were worth -- presumably a lot since a bouncer and was in force and journalists were only allowed within a metre of them. This sort of paranoia is usually reserved for super-giant prototype LCD/plasma TVs worth $200K.
But when they are released, Sony will be sure to tell you how bad your current LCD is, and why you should be replacing it with an OLED. Nothing like tech-buyer regret!
|Sony OLED displays are simply stunning.