Sony Expands SACD Selection, Upgrades Systems, Receivers

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East Rutherford, N.J. — Home audio had its ups and downs here during Sony’s East Coast line show, where the company upsized its selection of SACD players and ATRAC3plus CD Walkman portables but downsized its selection of two-channel shelf systems.

The company also:

  • returned to the SACD-only changer market with two models, one billed as the market’s most affordable SACD changer at an expected everyday price as low as $149.
  •  launched its first home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) system with DVD-recorder.
  • added HDMI output for the first time to a DVD player, which also plays SACDs.
  • added Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES 6.1-channel decoding for the first time to home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems in the Dream Systems series and HTS series.
  •  added such features as component-video upconversion and 7.1-channel upconversion to its mainstream HiFi receiver series for the first time.

The company didn’t outline a roadmap for home HD Radio or home satellite radio, nor did it announce plans to re-enter the home hard-disc-drive jukebox business, having dropped a single on-wall hard-disc-equipped audio system.

Here’s what marketing executives revealed in select product categories:

SACD: The company expanded its selection of combination SACD/DVD-Video players and changers to six SKUs from two in the premium ES audio series, the mainstream HiFi audio series, and the mainstream video series.

Four new models are combination SACD/DVD-Video players and changers, and two are SACD-only changers. The SACD-only changers mark the company’s return to SACD-only changers and increase Sony’s SACD-only selection to three models from one.

Sony targets the SACD-only changers to consumers who own a DVD-Video player and want to replace their CD changer, said senior corporate marketing VP Mark Viken. The two models are the HiFi series SCD-CE595, expected to retail as low as $149, and the $399 SCDC-2000ES in the ES series. Viken called the $149 model the 'most affordable SACD changer on the market.'

The two SACD changers will join the ES series SCDX-A9000, a $3,000 single-disc SACD-only changer that’s the company’s only SACD player with 1394 output. It recently shipped to replace another single-disc ES series model.

In combination SACD/DVD-Video players and changers, Sony unveiled the $300 DVP-NS975V, a single-disc model with HDMI output that upscales DVD-Video to 720p or 1080i. It also features playback of the following formats: DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-R/RW, jpeg, and MP3.

The opening-price SACD/DVD player is the single-disc DVP-N577SD at $130. The new five-disc combo is the $150 DVP-NC875, which delivers progressive output and playback of the following formats: DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-R/RW, jpeg, and MP3.

Also new: the first ES series 400-disc SACD/DVD-Video changer, which will complement a current non-ES 400-disc version. The DVP-CX777ES recently shipped at $799. Features include RS-232 port for integration with distributed-audio and integrated home systems.

Receivers: The low- to mid-end HiFi series picks up multiple new features. All four multichannel modes, for example, upconvert 5.1- and 6.1-channel sources to 7.1 channels. Sony calls the feature 'channel grouping.' Other first-time HiFi-series features include component-video upconversion in one model and Dolby Pro Logic IIx in another model.

In other changes, all multichannel receivers now feature Dolby Digital EX/ DTS ES 6.1-channel decoding, which now starts at $199 instead of $299.

Also new:

  • two-zone models with independent source selection of two (TWO OR MORE??) source components starting at $399 instead of $499.
  • S-video upconversion starting at $399 versus $499.

The $200 STR-DE597 features one-source/two-zone capability, EX/ES decoding with six-channel amplifier, 80MHz component-video output, and channel grouping.

The step-up $300 STR-DE697 add seven-channel amplification. The $400 DE897 adds DTS’s Neo:6, higher power amp, upconversion of composite to S video, and independent source selection in two separate zones. It’s available in black or silver.

The top-end $400 DE997 adds more power, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, preprogrammed LCD remote, and upconversion of composite and S video to component video.

To complement the receivers’ multichannel-upconversion feature, Sony unveiled a $600 modular speaker system that can be configured for 5.1-, 6.1-, and 7.1-channel systems. It features two front tower speakers, a center -channel speaker, and two surround speakers. Each surround speaker consists of two separate speakers mounted on the same stand. A bracket system lets users remove a speaker from each stand for use as a back-center speaker.

In ES series receivers, the company moved to a two-year product cycle and showed no new models.

HTS series HTiBs: Sony increased the selection of DVD-equipped HTS systems to six in the seven-SKU series, which also includes the company’s firstsystem with DVD-recorder.

Sony also introduced its first two HTS systems with Dolby Digital EX/DTS ES 6.1-channeld decoding and its first with integrated DVD/VCR-receiver.

The line continues to offer a system with receiver and separate DVD/VCR combo.

The HTS series features traditional-looking receivers, DVD players, and DVD-receivers, whereas the Dream System series uses more sculpted designs and features DVD-receivers exclusively.

The top-end HT-8800DP, with an everday retail starting at $999, comes with dual-format DVD recorder that records to DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW discs. It also features 6.1-channel Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES decoding but comes with five-channel amplification, requiring the addition of a powered speaker for the back-center channel.

The second 6.1-channel system, the HT-6800DP, also features back-channel preamp output and retails at $599 and up. The system with integrated DVD-VCR-receiver will start at $379.

In HTS, three systems feature separate receiver and separate DVD player. One features separate receiver and separate DVD/VCR combo. One features integrated DVD/VCR-receiver. And one features integrated DVD-receiver. Like last year, prices start at $200 for a model without DVD.

Dream Systems: The new three-SKU lineup of Dream Systems incorporate Dolby Digital EX/DTS ES for the first time.

Once again, all of the line’s DVD-equipped home theater systems will feature slot-load five-disc SACD/DVD-Video changer, whereas the HTS series lacks SACD playback.

Because all three feature five-channel amplification, a powered speaker must be connected to deliver the EX/ES back-center channel. Sony doesn’t provide a matching speaker for that application, however.

The series starts with the $500 DAV-FR1 with five small satellite speakers and subwoofer enclosure. The step-up $800 DAV-FR8 comes with two floorstanding front speakers, and more power. The top-end $1,000 DAV-FR9 uses four tower speakers and infrared transmission to beam surround-channel information to the two included surround speakers. The IR system makes it unnecessary to run speaker wires from the AV system to the other end of a room.

The IR system works differently than previously described by a company representative. One of the front towers will feature an IR transmitter that beams both surround channels to an IR receiver in one surround speaker. To prevent dropouts when the line-of-sight IR signal is blocked, Sony offers a redundant transmitter that can be mounted above the TV. It’s wired to the system’s main component. A second IR receiver can be mounted high on the rear wall. It’s wired to one of the two powered surround speakers. That surround speaker plugs into a wall for power. A power wire and a signal cable run from that speaker to the second powered surround speaker.

Portable audio: The selection of CD Walkman portables capable of playing ATRAC3plus-encoded CDs grew to 13 from seven at expected retails from $60 to $200. Most of the company’s CD Walkman portables now play the format, which is also used in Hi-MD Walkman portables based around MiniDisc-size 1GB Hi-MD discs. Hi-MD portables were unveiled at CES.

The company also launched its first ATRAC3plus CD-boomboxes, an $89 model in the youth-oriented Psyc series and a $129 model in the S2 sports-style series. NetMD also put in an appearance for the first time in the Psyc series.

The company didn’t launch a home Hi-MD recorder but will keep a single home dual-well CD-recorder and one home MD-recorder.

Minisystems, microsystems: The company significantly scaled back its selection of microsystems to five from 15, reflecting the market’s decline. The company will continue to offer five minisystems.

For the first time, one microsystem will feature built-in 900MHz wireless receiver and included separate transmitter to let users stream music from a PC up to 125 feet away. The system doesn’t remotely control the PC, however. Like last year, one minisystem will offer the wireless feature.

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