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Sony Highlights LCD TV Line

Sony used its 2005 dealer show, held here, to underscore its intention to use LCD technology as a key driver in its future color TV direction.

At the event, the company introduced four direct-view LCD TVs and four Grand Wega 3 LCD-based, high-definition, rear-projection HDTV models, while stating that it will essentially carry over a large percentage of existing products in plasma television, CRT rear-projection TV and a majority of its FD Trinitron WEGA direct-view CRT TVs.

“We believe that LCD offers significant advantages over other display technologies,” said Mike Fidler, Sony’s home products division senior VP. “We are improving contrast, black level and viewing angles. Clearly that is where we are driving our position moving forward.”

In July, Sony expects to ship the first LCD television products to emerge from its joint venture in a seventh-generation LCD manufacturing operation with Samsung, Fidler said.

“Our goal is to build the TV business,” he stated. “If you look at the U.S. market year over year, the TV business in general has been pretty flat. We are looking for growth in TV this year.”

Sony’s silicon crystal reflective display (SXRD) projection system, which is a variety of liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) technology, will stand as the flagship display technology in its display assortment. For this year, however, Sony will carry the previously announced front projector and 70W-inch rear-projection HDTV set based on SXRD. Both models are shipping now through Sony’s high-end QUALIA brand.

The company plans to eventually transition SXRD models into its XBR family, with 70W-inch and 50W-inch models, according to a company representative.

The new additions to the Grand Wega LCD rear-projection line focused mainly on entry-level and step-up models in the company’s E Series lines. The Grand Wega sets all feature integrated ATSC tuning, digital CableCARD slots and HDMI with HDCP inputs. Only previously announced step-up Grand Wega sets will include i.LINK (IEEE-1394) digital interfaces.

Fidler said the new Grand Wega models represent improvements for the price point in black level performance (using Sony’s Cinema Black technology and new iris controls), and feature newly designed cabinets, which allow substantially smaller footprints in the home.

A new 42W-inch Grand Wega rear-projection set will use approximately the same amount of floor space in the home as a 36-inch CRT direct view set, Fidler said, while a new 50W-inch Grand Wega model will essentially fit in the footprint of last year’s 42W-inch model.

Greg Gudorf, Sony Electronics’ television marketing VP, pointed to market data showing Sony with over 41 percent market share of microdisplay televisions in January 2005, and said that rear-projection televisions based on 3LCD technology from all manufacturers comprise about 60 percent of the microdisplay TV market.

The new Grand Wega models start with two entry models in the 42W-inch KDF-E42A10 and 50W-inch KDF-E50A10. Both will ship this summer at prices to be announced later, and feature newly designed cabinetry with a thin, dark black bezel; a compact body (measuring between 14 inches and 16 inches deep); and speakers located at the bottom of the set, instead of the sides. This enables the rear-projection displays to look like flat-panel televisions when viewed head on. Both models have 1,280 by 720 native resolution

The two new step-up Grand Wega models include the 55W-inch KDF-E55A20 and 60W-inch KDF-E60A20. Both models will ship in the spring at prices to be announced. They each incorporate a proprietary LCD Optical Engine with Sony’s Wega Engine system to deliver improved image detail from compatible video sources by minimizing the digital-to-analog conversion process. The models feature 1,366 by 768 native resolution.

All four new Grand Wega models provide access to Sony’s Wega Gate onscreen guide, which allows users to perform a variety of tasks intuitively on a simple control panel. The onscreen guide provides direct access to favorite channels, external inputs and the TV menu.

In direct-view LCD TVs, Sony unveiled three models in 26W-inch and 32W-inch screen sizes.

The 32W-inch KLV-S32A10 ($2,300 suggested retail) and 26W-inch KLV-S26A10 ($1,700) flat-panel LCD-TV monitors will be joined by the 23W-inch KLV-S23A10 ($1,300) and 19W-inch KLV-S19A10 ($1,100) models as part of Sony’s S-Series. The 23W-inch model will ship in April. The 19W-inch model will ship in May, and the 32W-inch and 26W-inch models will ship this summer, according to a Sony representative.

The widescreen 16:9 lineup features an HDMI connection and incorporates a one-chip video processor that integrates a 3D digital comb filter with a motion adaptive I/P converter. Also added is Sony’s “Panel Driver” technology, which is said to improve picture contrast and detail while reducing video noise and image blur during fast action scenes.

A new LightSensor system included in the new panels allows brightness to be automatically adjusted as the lighting in a room changes, with minimal loss of contrast or color fidelity.

The body design includes a thin, sleek look with a tilt and swivel tabletop stand for flexible viewing angles. The new models feature six sets of A/V inputs, three composite and S-Video pairs, one component, one PC and one HDMI.

Meanwhile, Sony said it will ship this spring at a $15,000 suggested retail price its previously announced QUALIA 005 46W-inch direct-view LCD TV that uses Triluminos LED backlight technology. Using Sony’s proprietary HD-to-HD conversion algorithm, the panel recreates standard and HDTV signals to the full 1,920 by 1,080p resolution. It also employs a 100-watt S-Master full digital audio amplifier.

In other display types, Sony said it will carry over two models of CRT-based rear-projection HDTV sets in the 51W-inch and 57W-inch screen sizes from the WS655 series. Both models include ATSC tuners but omit digital CableCARD slots. The company will adjust pricing for the models this summer.

Although Sony said it would carry over a majority of its existing CRT direct-view televisions, the company will add three new models, as it tries to plot a course under the Federal Communications Commission’s digital tuner mandate — which requires half of all televisions sold in the 27-inch to 35-inch screen sizes to include digital ATSC tuning after July 1, 2005. However, Sony is awaiting word on whether or not the FCC will accept the Consumer Electronics Association’s petition to push back the phased in portion of the mandate for those screen sizes, and instead require all 27-inch to 35-inch sets to include digital tuning after March 1, 2006.

The new Wega models include the 32-inch (4:3 aspect ratio) KV-32FS130 ($649 suggested retail) and the 36-inch KV-36FS130 ($899), which would include ATSC tuning. Also introduced was the 32-inch KD-32XS945 ($1,199) fully integrated, digital CableCARD-ready television. The sets include HDMI/HDCP inputs but omit i.LINK interfaces.

Sony will carry over all five of its widescreen 30W-inch and 34W-inch FD Trinitron Wega models next year, with price repositioning planned for July. Meanwhile, Gudorf said Sony could ship this year fully integrated WEGA TVs with standard-definition (480i) resolution, but is awaiting word on the FCC’s decision to delay the phased-in portion of the DTV tuner mandate for 27-inch to 35-inch sets first. The lower-resolution DTV sets would help Sony offer more affordable price point options for consumers.