Sony is using CES in part to continue the "revitalization" of its high-end XBR TV brand with the introductions of the company's first 30W-inch high-definition LCD TV monitor and a pair of HD direct-view Wega sets using a the company's new Super Fine Pitch aperture grill technology.
Tim Baxter, visual network products division senior VP, said the new products are examples of Sony's goal this year to build momentum for its video display businesses by applying the highly successful Wega brand for flat direct-view TVs across high-end display platforms.
As part of that process, Sony will unveil the first model in a new LCD TV series — the KLV-30XBR900. It features a 30W-inch 16:9 screen size, DVI/HDCP input, Sony's new "Wega Engine" image processing system, and a MemoryStick slot for digital image viewing. Resolution is listed at 1,280 by 768 pixels. It will ship in February at a $6,000 street price.
"LCD is one of the big growth categories right now," Baxter said. "Our engineers are looking at larger screen size solutions, and in Japan they've already introduced a number of screen sizes. For the U.S. we are looking at introducing a number of other screens, both larger and smaller, in the future."
Baxter said that although Sony doesn't manufacturer the LCD panel itself, it elected to enter the market at the request of dealers. Sony, he said, will use the Wega Engine to differentiate its products in the field.
Sony will apply the Wega brand name to a wide range of display categories by incorporating "the Wega Engine" image processing technology to plasma displays, new LCD TVs, Grand Wega LCD rear projection TVs, select step-up CRT rear projection TVs and XBR direct view TVs, Baxter said.
"Wega Engine is a collection of picture processing technologies centered around Digital Reality Creation (DRC), but with some new functionality, including our Direct Digital system," Baxter said. "The main benefit is that there is less D-to-A and A-to-D conversions in the signal path. It can control resolution and noise reduction and improve the scaling process for panels. The benefit is over all better picture quality, and in fixed pixel devices it adds the ability to do things like picture-in-picture that before only a scanning-type display could do."
Among the improvements in the Wega Engine are the following:
Replaces an analog chroma decoder with a digital chroma decoder that bypasses two conversion steps when used with analog signals.
Adds a new block noise reduction circuit called Smooth Screen, which applies an algorithm to MPEG digital blocking artifacts, smoothing out the overall image.
This year, the company "will take another step forward in technology," with the introduction of its Super Fine Pitch FD Trintron Wega picture tube.
Baxter said the technology fits more apertures on the FD Trintron aperture grill by reducing aperture width. This, he said, virtually eliminates vertical scan lines and stair-stepping artifacts. The system will work as a complement to a new fine focus electron gun, while adding an improved deflection yoke and new luminescent phosphors to present very clean, clear static and motion images.
The Super Fine Pitch technology, he said, is especially effective on HDTV content.
By comparison, the current 34W-inch XBR Hi-Scan monitor offers 847 lines of vertical resolution, while the new Super Fine Pitch model will offer 1,401 vertical lines.
New Super Fine Pitch models will be found in a pair of XBR widescreen direct view models — the 34W-inch KV-34XBR900 and a new 30W-inch screen sizes — the KV-30XBR900. Both include DVI with HDCP connections.
Baxter said Sony's marketing efforts in the past year helped the brand take "almost two points of market share" in the traditional CRT color television business. In the time period, Sony dropped conventional "curved glass" Trinitron tubes in favor of an all-flat glass FD Trinitron Wega approach.
In rear-projection TV, Baxter said Sony recaptured its market share leadership in 2002 with the introduction of six new 16:9 models. He acknowledged Sony is still "a couple of points behind the market leader in 16:9 rear projection, but we are on the rise."
Sony, he said, also enjoys a No. 1 position in the home-theater plasma display market, following the successful introductions of 32W-inch and 42W-inch models in the TS Series, which launched in February 2002.
The next step in plasma was the previously announced introduction of the XBR plasma series, which included the first products to use the Wega Engine. The high-end PDPs, which started shipping last month, feature a floating-glass design.
In extending the Wega brand this year, Baxter said Sony would give dealers an unusual ability to bolster profitability, with margins that "are almost double those of the industry," based on average selling prices.
At CES, Sony will also show the Grand Wega LCD rear projection sets and XBR-series PDPs that were announced last summer, as well as stress the packaging approach to both high-end video and home theater afforded by the marriage of the XBR TV and ES audio systems brands.