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Sony Debuts Luxury CE Brand, Qualia

New York – What do a $3,900 two-mega pixel digital camera, a $2,600 pair of headphones, a $1,900 handheld MiniDisc player and a $30,000 HDTV projector have in common? They are all part of Sony’s ultra-high end Qualia line that was introduced by Sony here, on April 21.

The Qualia brand name is described by Sony as a “an initiative aimed at touching an emotional cord among consumers through products unique in technology, design and functionality.” It is also designed to fight the “rigid commodization” of the CE business, according to Mike Fasulo, senior VP of Sony Electronics’ eSolutions business, which will manage the brand.

In a prepared statement Sony said that the products, “are subject to a rigorous approval process by Sony’s top management, are a result of cutting edge engineering without any constraints.”

The models announced today include the very-compact Qualia 016 digital still camera, to be available later this spring; the QUALIA 017 MiniDisc player, which is “carved from a block of pure brass,” to ship in June; and the Qualia 010 headphone set, to ship this summer.

Unveiled at CEDIA and began shipping recently, the Qualia 004 SXRD projector is also part of the Neiman-Marcus-type CE lineup. Sony described the SXRD projector as “the industry’s first full high definition home theater front projector.”

Fasulo explained that, “The Qualia initiative enables us to offer an uncompromised approach to product engineering, design and customer experience.”

Qualia will offer consumers the opportunity to enter into on ongoing, personalized relationship with Sony. Customers will receive one-on-one product demonstrations, 24/7 customer service, and special offers and gifts.

Qualia products will be available in the U.S. via a toll free number this summer (1-877-QUALIA3) and through Sony’s Cierge personalized shopping service. Select products, including the Qualia 004 projector, will be sold through Sony Electronics’ network of custom installation dealers.

Fasulo noted that the market for luxury items – whether they are fine wines, homes, boats, cars and the like – have grown “20 to 30 percent” over the past several years and Qualia is an attempt to tap into that market.

Steve Fisher, general manager for Qualia marketing, said that the target audience for the line will be “five million U.S. households, out of a total of 106 million households,” but, he added “over time, we hope to expand the market” for Qualia products.

To market to this upscale clientele, Fisher said that as a group, “They tend to avoid the mass media. We will try to attract them more with a ‘word of mouth’ type of campaign.”

Ken Sugawara, executive VP, U.S. Qualia products division of eSolutions, said that the strategy would involve use of the Qualia web site, the use of the Sony’s Cierge list of consumers, Qualia stores and the expanded Sony Style stores and select distribution.

In Japan there are two Qualia stores, and while Sony did not provide details on how many Qualia stores there would be, there are plans to open one in New York City this summer.

Since education and receiving the “total Qualia experience” is necessary to sell this upscale line, the type of stores Sony is looking to sell this line includes high-end specialty stores and the 100 or so custom installers who are currently selling the Qualia 004 SXRD projector. Independent professional installers will handle installation of the 004 SXRD projectors, and other non-handheld Qualia products. But the Cierge personnel, who will provide “white glove” appointment deliveries of these products, will be Sony employees.

The expansion of the Sony Style stores and the Qualia introduction are “definitely linked” Fasulo said since Qualia needs “a lot of hands-on customer service.” The additional Sony Style stores, which are to be 4,000 square foot locations and will open in ten top markets later this year, will be “put in fashion malls, such as Beverly Hills, to attract a certain type of clientele. This takes Sony Style to another level.” There will be 1,000 square foot Qualia departments in each Sony Style location, he noted.

Here are more details on the luxurious, and quite upscale Qualia products, introduced here today by Sony Electronics.

Qualia 016 digital still camera:

This camera is said to use smallest available class-AF lens unit available. Other new technologies like a thin lithium-ion battery and high packaging density are featured to achieve a body size of 2.7-inches wide by 0.94-inches high and 0.66 inches deep and weighs only two ounces, Sony said.

To stay true to the miniature form factor and produce the best picture quality, the camera is equipped with two mega pixels but uses a larger 1 /2.7-inch CCD, allowing the user to take high quality digital still images.

To achieve the clearest image, four consecutive images are captured in one shot and combined via digital imaging control technology to reduce noise and create the best image. Brightness is also automatically adjusted when conditions are too dark, the firm said.

The 016 is made of forged aluminum for strength and a special paint of blue glass flakes under a resin coating to provide both feel and durability. The lens unit and cover glass feature virtually scratch-proof sapphire glass.

The camera has a built-in .55-inch LCD display, records in JPG or TIFF, has 4x digital zoom, and uses Sony’s Memory Stick Duo flash memory card to store photos. The camera and each of its parts is stored in a black carrying case which includes a flash unit, timer remote control unit, video output unit, wide angle lens, telephoto lens, viewer, lithium battery and battery charger. The camera comes with a Memory Stick Duo card (64MB). Available this spring it is priced at about $3,900.

Qualia 010 headphones:

The Qualia headphones can fully reproduce the sound of the highest quality audio formats – Super Audio CD and DVD Audio – to create the most realistic sound possible, the company said. Using enhanced sound reproducing capabilities these headphones can reproduce sound frequencies exceeding 100kHz.

Sony said that Qualia 010 headphones achieve new heights in comfort. In order to keep the headphones durable yet lightweight, a new frame mechanism is employed resulting in a super lightweight unit. A wide leather headband and pressure-dispersion ear pads made of natural sheep skin for ultra soft texture allow for extended periods of use in complete comfort.

Additional features contributing to the high quality sound include a porous baffle that has been adopted for optimum air flow resistance and reduction of unnecessary sound resonance as well as a 6N grade OFC cord. The cord is covered in cloth and twisted which contributes to the pure sound reproduction.

The QUALIA 010 headphones are customizable for each wearer by offering three fixed choices of headband as well as a choice of red or blue ear pad. They will be available this summer for approximately $2,600.

Qualia 017 MiniDisk player:

This product is individually crafted from a solid brass block and perched on a charging station. Its design significantly reduces seams on the Qualia 017 which in turn provides a more rigid casing, reducing the wear and tear that day to day use can impose on today’s small portable audio devices, Sony said.

Included with this MD player is a set of high quality, low profile ear-bud headphones that feature an extended bass capability. The ear buds fit comfortably in your ear providing rich sound with true-to-source audio reproduction, the company said.

The MD player comes in a carrying case with a magnetic lock and is available in three color options — chrome finish, silver plate or gold plate. Special orders for the Qualia 017 MD player will be taken beginning in June for a base price around $1,900.