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Sony Unveils New Upscale AV Lines

San Francisco – Sony used the Home Entertainment Expo here to unveil new lines of AV specialty products under the ES, Grand Wega, Plasma Wega, and new XS Plasma Wega sub-brands.

Highlighting the company’s ES offerings was the first Super Audio CD (SACD)-enabled DVD player carrying an IEEE-1394 i.LINK digital output. Model SCD-XA9000ES (shipping in the fall at a $3,000 suggested retail) incorporates the DTCP content protection system, which could be adapted to help prevent copying music onto PC hard drives.

If music producers elect to use DTCP encoding on SACD discs, the system would add an extra layer of protection to the watermarking system that is part of the SACD specification, Sony said.

The unit is designed to match with a new STR-DA9000ES (shipping in the fall at a $4,500 suggested retail) flagship AV receiver with an i.LINK-DTCP input. The combination will enable the DVD player to deliver SACD signals in the digital domain for processing by the receiver’s advanced DSD decoder circuitry. It will also provide equipment interoperability controls.

The STR-DA9000ES can ‘simulate a 9.1-channel experience,’ and includes a DVI-HDCP interface for future HDTV video applications and a two-way touch-panel remote control. Also added are dual power supplies, and a MOSFET output stage with molecular bonding that is said to improve signal integrity.

As for high-end TV lines, Tim Baxter, Sony Home AV Products Group senior VP, said Sony sees ‘a major shift’ in display technology to non-CRT devices.

‘By the year 2005, plasma, LCD and other micro-display TVs will comprise nearly 50 percent of all wholesale television dollars,’ Baxter said.

By the same period, he predicted Digital Television (DTV) products would represent almost 70 percent of industry sales. The total wholesale value of the industry, combining home audio and video sales, will reach nearly $16 billion and 75 million units combined, he said.

Tim Alessi, Sony Home AV Products Group marketing director, said the industry is undergoing ‘dramatic growth’ in displays incorporating micro-display technology.

Plasma and LCD flat panel display sales will more than triple this year, approaching the 1 million unit sales mark, according to CEA and Sony estimates, Alessi said. Specifically, plasma sales should see a doubling of total units shipped this year to over 300,000.

Following the trend, Sony announced it would ship in October three fully integrated HDTV plasma sets as part of its ‘XBR Plasma Wega’ series. Models are based on a two-piece design with removable speakers.

Models include the 42W-inch KDE-42XBR950 ($9,000), the 50W-inch KDE-50XBR950 ($13,000) and new 61W-inch screen size, KDE-61XBR950 ($20,000). All incorporate ATSC over-the-air tuners and QAM digital cable demodulation for ‘unscrambled digital cable signals.’

The package also includes Sony’s ‘Wega Engine’ system with a ‘Direct Digital II’ video processing system that integrates a 3D digital filter and chroma decoder for enhanced signal processing and picture purity. Also added is ‘a more accurate panel driver’ for improved picture performance.

Other XBR Plasma Wega features include enhanced MemoryStick media slots, and i.LINK-DTCP and DVI-HDCP digital interfaces.

Also announced was a new mid-range ‘XS Plasma Wega’ series, which is slated to launch in the fall. Models will include the 37W-inch KE-37SX910 ($6,500) and 42W-inch KE-42SX910 ($7,500). Both will incorporate the Wega Engine system, and feature integrated NTSC tuners and a ‘semi-floating bezel design.’

Citing estimated industry unit sales of 600,000 LCD TVs in 2003, Sony said it would expand its recent entry into the category to five models with the addition in October of a 21-inch 4:3 standard definition display (KLV-21SR2, $1,800) and a 23W-inch 16:9 HD display (KLV-23HR2, $2,700).

Both models will ship with NTSC tuners, speakers and pedestal stands. Models will also add ‘some core Wega Engine technologies’ including Direct Digital II circuitry, Advanced Panel Driver, Advanced Digital Reality Creation and Advanced Cinemotion 3:2 pull down systems.

Alessi cited NPD market research showing Sony with 33 percent market share of industry micro-display rear projection TV sales, resulting from sales last year of its 50W- and 60W-inch Grand Wega LCD-based rear projection monitors.

Pushing its lead in the category further, Sony announced two new Grand Wega models would join the three previously announced for September shipment. The new models will be part of the XBR Grand Wega series and will offer a 60W-inch (KDF-60XBR950, $5,500) and a 70W-inch (KDF-70XBR950, $7,000) screen size. Both will incorporate fully integrated ATSC tuners and i.LINK-DTCP and DVI-HDCP digital interfaces.

Grand Wega models also feature the Wega Engine system, a new optical engine with an ultra-short 11-element lens, 3.2 million pixel resolution, enhanced Memory Stick media slots and a 20 percent increase in contrast. New models will add retractable/removable pedestals and uniform brightness screens.

Also introduced was Sony’s SAT-HD300 DirecTV/ATSC HD decoder box (ships in September at $750), which features 11 aspect ratio control settings, and a new 16-step Cine-Zoom function. Also added is simultaneous output of HD signals in both HD and SD formats for multi-room use or connection to analog VCRs. A ‘native’ variable format mode will seamlessly pass video to display devices from the original resolution format.

In high-performance DVD changers, Sony announced the DVP-NC555ES (ships in August at $600) five-disc DVD carousel and the DVP-CX777ES (ships in September at $800) 400-disc DVD/CD megachanger.

Both offer SACD multi-channel and 2-channel playback compatibility with bass management. For video, the units incorporate Precision Cinema Progressive scan technology for pixel-by-pixel conversion, a Precision Drive II super sub-aliasing system that improves signal to noise ratio, and a vertical edge compensation system to reduce the stair-stepping effect. Both also are said to incorporate ‘the industry’s first 12-bit/216MHz video digital-to-analog converter.

The DVP-CX777ES adds Sony’s Disc Explorer system that uses a graphical user interface with a jacket/picture feature that enables the management of a ‘complete music and video collection’ onscreen.

In total, the Sony ES AV receiver line will offer five models, including the aforementioned STR-DA9000ES.

Suggested retail prices on other four receivers range from $600 for the STR-DA1000ES to $2,000 for the STR-DA5000ES.

All new ES series AV receivers include high-powered seven-channel amplifiers auto-channel grouping that provides optimal signal distribution regardless of the number of speakers employed, and video up conversion from composite to S-video. Two models will add up conversion to component video.

To address the needs of custom installers, all models now have assignable digital inputs, and the top three models incorporate second and third zone AV outputs with independent source selection and electronic volume controls for multi-room operation.

Remotes include learning, pre-programmed and macro-controlled options.

All models also add Digital Drive Amplifiers with S-Master Pro processing, which is said to be ‘ideal for reproducing the latest high-resolution stereo and multi-channel recordings.’

S-Master Pro processing utilizes Sony technologies including Clean Data Cycle and S-Tact, which reduces jitter when processing digital signals.

Among the benefits of the Digital Drive circuitry is simplified signal flow, minimized cross distortion and uniform current and voltage ‘under the most strenuous speaker load conditions,’ Sony said.