Rancho Bernardo, Calif. — Sony will introduce this fall the first CableCARD-enabled HDTV cable decoder boxes with built-in hard-drive recorders, and ATSC and digital cable tuners.
The set-top boxes, which Sony introduced to select members of the press visiting its new sales and marketing headquarters here, will be available in two models, differing only by hard-drive capacity. The DHG-HDD250 ($799 suggested retail) will carry a single 250GB hard drive, while the DHG-HDD500 ($999) will add a second 250GB hard drive for a total of 500GBs recording capacity.
The two units will be capable of storing up to 20 hours or 60 hours of high-definition programming at one time, respectively. Users will program recorders via the latest iteration of TV Guide’s subscription-free electronic programming guide, including HDTV program indicators on the grid.
Both set-top boxes will include HD component video and HDMI with HDCP digital video outputs, but lack IEEE-1394 connectivity. The boxes will include selectable resolution output for use with a wide variety of television displays.
Greg Gudorf, Sony Home Products Group television marketing VP, said the company will position the products primarily for retail distribution, although it will also entertain discussions with cable operators interested in carrying the devices.
Gudorf said Sony will use the set-top devices to address the 10 million homes with HDTV monitors that still lack any HDTV tuner solutions, and the 30 million digital cable households that have not yet added HD-boxes.
The company also showed a handful of HDTV products, including a 50W-inch fully integrated, digital-cable-ready high-definition plasma set. The KD-50SX955 ($7,999 suggested retail) features Sony’s float-glass cosmetic design, and features built-in ATSC and NTSC tuners and a digital CableCARD slot for uni-directional cable plug-and-play capability.
The set can be mounted on a wall or placed on the included swivel stand featuring integrated wire management to hide source cables. Other features include a proprietary S-Master Series digital amplifier with 100-watt power, and an included 50-watt subwoofer.
In direct-view LCD TV, Sony will ship in September its M series lineup, including the 23W-inch KLV-23M1 ($1,999), HDTV monitor with below-screen speakers, center-channel input and Sony’s WEGA Engine video processing.
New Grand WEGA rear-projection LCD television family include an entry and set-up series model, including in the step-up WF line an re-engineered chassis that cuts down the height of the cabinet below the screen, where the light engine is housed, to make the set look more like a flat-panel television.
The entry-level WE series features a 17-inch cabinet depth, fully integrated ATSC and NTSC tuners, S-Master Series audio amplification and digital CableCARD slot. The KDF-50WE655 will ship in the fall at a price to be announced.
The step-up WF series features 10 percent improvement in brightness and also adds a CableCARD slot and integrated digital and analog tuning. The 60W-inch KDF-60WF655 will ship in the fall at a price to be announced.
The products include Sony’s WEGA Engine video processing system that is said to provide more detailed resolution, higher contrast, less picture noise in the digital domain and a more realistic picture.
Gudorf said Sony plans to “hit the market hard this fall” with a message that promotes the advantages of LCD-based rear-projection technology over competing microdisplay approaches.
“You are going to hear a technology story from us behind LCD that will once and for all explain why in addition to being an excellent value, LCD technology is a win,” he said.
In developing its current TV display strategy for 2004, Sony looked to compensate for missed opportunities related to an under-forecasted demand for digital television in general, and non-CRT displays, specifically.
At the same time, the company said it would continue to benefit from its strengths in direct-view CRT manufacturing, as the older approach continues to demonstrate picture superiority and resilience in the changing marketplace.
The transition from analog TV to digital is “really happening and it is happening with gathering speed,” Gudorf said. He also said the industry expected digital televisions to represent 54 percent of television sales in 2003, but actually hit 59 percent.
Gudorf acknowledged sales of non-CRT-based television products were also surprisingly strong last year. In 2002, non-CRT products represented 10 percent of industry sales, but in 2003 sales of direct-view plasma and LCD displays, LCD-rear-projection and other fixed-pixel technologies were expected to take 25 percent of television sales in 2003, but they actually topped 30 percent.
“We are looking forward to seeing 2004 results because we expect to see a real surge in non-CRT,” Gudorf said. At the same time, CRT section of the business remains quite strong, particularly in wide-tube models, he said.
Gudorf said the company will focus its digital direct-view CRT models on 16:9 configurations, adding that the company recently received surge in demand from the introduction of a $999 30W-inch model. Currently gone from the lineup are 4:3 40-inch products.
Despite the forecast surprises, Sony’s overall market share in television between January 2003 and April 2004 “dominated all other manufacturers in TV.”
“In order to do that you’ve got to be able to address the market broadly, and you’ve got to have winning strategies in all of those segments,” Gudorf said.