With the Blu-ray Disc format now unchallenged in the high-definition disc space, Sony used its dealer show to introduce two new Blu-ray Disc players, both of which will be compatible with forthcoming BD Live Web-enabled interactive content. The company also showed its spring 2008 Bravia LCD TV lineup, which has been expanded to 21 SKUs in eight model series.
The new TVs will join the previously announced XEL-1 11-inch OLED HDTV set, which started shipping to dealers in January at a $2,500 suggested retail. That technology offers a 3mm-thick panel display with an extremely high contrast ratio (1,000,000:1), high brightness and low power consumption.
The new Blu-ray Disc players include the BDP-S350 (retailing this summer for around $400), which will ship with the ability to play back Bonus View (picture in picture) running commentary tracks, and will be BD Live ready, meaning a forthcoming optional firmware update will allow the player to connect to the Internet to take advantage of Web-enabled extras currently being produced as bonus content for future Blu-ray Disc releases.
To enable the capability, the player will include a built-in Ethernet port, and USB port for external local storage. Other features will include 1080/60p and 24p True Cinema resolution output, 7.1-channel Dolby True HD and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound decoding and bit-stream output, as well as dts-HD high resolution audio and Master Audio bit-stream output.
In the fall, Sony will deliver the step-up BDP-S550 (expected to retail for around $500) Blu-ray Disc player with built-in Bonus View and BD-Live capability, Ethernet port and USB port for external local storage. The unit will ship with a 1GB USB flash drive.
Surround sound audio support will be expanded on the player to include: 7.1-channel Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus decoding and bit-stream output, 7.1-channel dts-HD high resolution audio, dts-HD Master Audio decoding and bit-stream output, and 7.1-channel analog audio output.
In Bravia LCD TVs, Sony's expanded HD lineup was designed to offer consumers a wider range of options as they make the transition to digital in the final year of dual analog and digital terrestrial broadcasting, said Randy Waynick, Sony Home Products marketing senior VP. Model series include the Z4100, W4100, V4100, XBR6, N4000, M4000, S4100 and L4000 lineups.
The Z4100 series will include the 40- and 46-inch screen sizes, both of which will ship this spring at prices to be announced. The sets feature 1080p HD resolution, MotionFlow 120Hz high frame rate technology, x.v.Color and Deep Color compatibility, 24p True Cinema input capability and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) networking support. In addition, the models will include Digital Media Port (DMP) connectivity for optional accessories including audio cradles compatible with select Network Walkman players and iPod products.
The Z series sets will also accept Digital Media Extender (DMeX) set-back modules, including the Bravia Internet Video Link and future expansion modules supporting additional HDMI connectivity, DVD playback and wireless networking with a PC.
Module prices have not been determined yet, Sony said. Sony is quickly ramping up free content offerings available through the Bravia Internet Video Link from 15 streaming SD channels today, with plans to add 10 to 15 more in the next two or three months, plus the addition of HD videos. Content is advertising supported and subscription free.
Among Sony's video content download partners are CBS and FearNet. The latter currently offers four horror movie choices, Sony said.
Set-back module slots will be offered on most of the models in this year's line, with the exception of some entry SKUs. Sony has opted to add on the features through optional modules to help keep adoption costs low, while allowing the ability to add-on in time, Waynick said.
Sony said the approach will help encourage more second and third HDTV set purchases, which the company sees as a large part of its business going forward.
"We are moving down the path of the configure-to-own TV module system," Waynick explained. "If you want Internet, you can buy a module to do that. If you want wireless, you can buy that. You don't have to buy one set with all of these options built-in."
In addition this year, all Z series models and about half of the models in the overall Bravia LCD line (step-up SKUs) will include a new 3-D graphics chip that allows easier feature and content navigation using Sony's Xross Media Bar menu configuration.
The Z series models will also feature a new thin bezel trim design that reduces the gloss-black cabinet size.
The W4100 series will include the 40-, 46- and 52-inch screen sizes, all of which will ship in the spring at prices to be announced. All will have 1080p resolution, MotionFlow 120Hz frame rate technology, 24p True Cinema input, HD 3D graphic user interface, Bravia Engine 2 digital signal processing and DMeX set-back module compatibility.
The V4100 series will also feature the 40-, 46- and 52-inch screen sizes, all of which will ship in the spring at prices to be announced and will include all of the features in the W4100 series except MotionFlow 120Hz frame rates.
Stepping down, the company will offer the S4100 series this spring including the 40- and 46-inch screen sizes. The line will offer entry pricing for 1080p resolution, in addition to 24p True Cinema input, and 1080p input compatibility through three HDMI inputs, two sets of component video and a PC port.
In smaller offerings, Sony unveiled the high-end XBR6 Bravia series, which will ship this summer with models in 32- and 37-inch screen sizes. Both will include 1080p resolution, MotionFlow 120Hz frame rate conversion, DLNA networking support, DMP inputs, 24p True Cinema, a HD 3D graphic user interface and DMeX set-back module support.
The N4000 series will ship this spring in the 26-, 32- and 37-inch screen sizes. All offer 720p HD resolution, DMP inputs, Bravia Engine digital signal processing, and integrated 5.1-channel audio surround with built-in subwoofers.
Models in the M4000 series include the 19-, 26-, 32- and 37-inch screen sizes. All feature 720p resolution (except 19-inch units with 1,440 by 900 pixels), Bravia Engine digital signal processing and two HDMI inputs.
Select M series models will be available in all black or all white cabinet designs, and Sony will also offer a choice of four "playful color accents" (such as pink and lime green) in the white frame trim of 19-inch M series SKUs to allow greater personal expression. The company envisions set placements in secondary rooms, such as bedrooms.
Series models in the 26- and 32-inch screen sizes will include four cabinet color options offering more mineral or "earth" tones, Sony said.
The L4000 series shipping this spring will include the 32- and 37-inch screen sizes, both with 720p resolution, dual HDMI, dual component and PC inputs.
Meanwhile, Jay Vandenbree, Sony sales president, said the company will be working more closely this year in a variety of support programs to help better tie-in dealers with its national advertising campaigns. Efforts will range from in-store displays, to point-of-purchase materials to assisted selling.
"Another thing we are going to focus on more this year are our green initiatives," Vandenbree said. "Today we are talking about vegetable-oil-based plastics, recycling chemicals in our factories and carbon foot-printing of products in a much more sophisticated way than it has ever been. Even our sales force this year will be driving hybrids."
Vandenbree said that since starting Sony's Take Back recycling initiative last year, the company has taken in more than 1 kiloton (1,000 tons) of electronics products, with plans to step up its focus on that project this year.