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CES 2014: Sony finely focuses on its ultra HD vision of the future of TV

The Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE) won an Innovations Design and Engineering award in the video-displays category for its Bravia XBR-65X850A 4K ultra high-definition television (UHDTV) at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas this week, with the light-emitting-diode set described as delivering “the most immersive viewing experience Sony has created.” (So-called 4K UHDTVs have more than 8 million pixels of resolution, four times the resolution of their predecessor HD sets.)

Gliding over all at Sony CEO and President Kazuo Hirai’s CES 2014 keynoter Tuesday is “Breaking Bad’s” Heisenberg, right. Also shown, from left to right, are Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, and Hirai.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

However, Sony made its biggest splash in the area of video displays at the world’s largest annual consumer-electronics technology trade show not by exhibiting the Bravia XBR-65X850A but by painting a picture of the company’s vision of the future of UHDTV. Appropriately enough, Sony CEO and President Kazuo Hirai led this effort, as he delivered a Tech Titans keynote address Tuesday, the opening day of the yearly event that closes Friday. Click here for a transcript and video of Hirai’s speech.

Hirai was joined at various points during his presentation by Vince Gilligan, creator and executive producer of the recently departed “Breaking Bad” and the soon-to-arrive “Better Call Saul,” both produced by Sony Pictures Television; Andrew House, group CEO and president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.; and Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment. One or another of these four employed the terms 4K, Life Space UX, and ultra 13 times, according to my content analysis of the keynoter transcript.

(Of course, the Japanese company’s Life Space UX initiative may merit its own coverage, independent of the UHD component, but let us attempt to stay focused here.)

Sony: We have seen the future, and it is in ultra high-def

Sony being Sony, Hirai ranged far and wide in his keynote address, mentioning by name company products such as the Betacam, Cyber-shot RX1 camera, Little Big Planet game, PlayStation video-game console, and Xperia Z1 smartphone. However, ultra HD was a recurrent theme in the remarks made by the head of the diversified consumer-electronics and entertainment firm.

UHD had its coming-out party at CES 2013 only one year ago, but it already pervades Sony’s operations across industries and regions. The most telling evidence of this fact is the link to a lone company press release at the bottom of the keynoter transcript. Its headline reads, “Enhancing the World of 4K in the Home by Expanding 4K Product Lineup and Enriching 4K Content Environment.”

In its release, Sony said it is bolstering its 4K-compatible product lineup, while boosting the range of viewing environments where 4K content can be consumed.

On the hardware side, Sony noted the Bravia line of 4K TVs would be increased to encompass three series consisting of nine models ranging between 49 and 85 inches this year from three series consisting of five models ranging between 55 and 84 inches last year. The company pointed out two new 4K home-theater projectors, the VPL-VW500ES and VPL-VW1100ES, were added to its product mix in the fall. And the firm said a 4K media player prototype capable of playing back content at a maximum rate of 100 megabits per second would be introduced.

On the software side (not narrowly but broadly defined), Sony said it is making multiple efforts to increase the breadth and depth of 4K content, both alone and together with various partners. Along this line, the above-mentioned 4K media player would be compatible with the company’s Video Unlimited 4K distribution service, which launched last September and offered more than 140 titles as of New Year’s Day. The firm also is planning to provide technical support to enable FIFA to produce the 2014 FIFA World Cup final in 4K. In addition, it is collaborating with Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) and the YouTube unit of Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) on content issues.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (KRX:005935) and LG Electronics Inc. (KRX:066570) may be the top two flat-panel TV brands worldwide, but Sony’s apparently enterprisewide embrace of ultra HD technologies could eventually help it bridge the gap in market share between it and its two South Korea-based competitors.

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