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Sony Won’t Declare Blu-ray Victory

LAS VEGAS — While happy that Warner Bros. has joined the Blu-ray Disc camp, Sony would not declare an imminent victory in the contentious format war.

“I never put up banners that say ‘Mission Accomplished,’” said Sony chairman Sir Howard Stringer. Stringer declined to say whether Warner Bros. was offered an incentive to jump ship, saying instead, “We have to take their statements at face value, that they acted in the best interests of the consumer.”

He added that the company’s focus would be on growing the overall market for high-definition optical discs.

While many focused on the steep discounting in HD-DVD, stand-alone Blu-ray Disc players actually outsold HD-DVD players during the holidays, said Stan Glasgow, Sony president/CEO.

In OLED, Sony was determined to be first, Stringer said. “We were late to market in LCD TV and in MP3 players. It’s a risk,” he admitted, “but Blu-ray was a risk. You have to take risks if you’re going to be innovative.”

While not discussing the road map for OLED, Sony’s executive deputy president, Katsumi Ihara said the current production capacity for the new 11-inch model is small and the yields on the panel would need to improve before larger sizes are possible. The current 11-inch model could have a viewing life of up to 10 years, depending on use, he said.

Sony’s electronic business is focused around three pillars, Ihara said, “upgrade, simplify and enrich.” While 50 percent of all TVs sold this year were 1080p, there is room to upgrade video capture on the camcorder side, he said. Enrichment will focus on content — particularly Internet delivered content as the bandwidth made possible by wireless and fiber optic lines improves, Ihara said.

The company’s performance in the mobile market in the United States has been disappointing, admitted Dick Komiyama, Sony Ericsson president. “We’re looking to grow this market this year through strong partnerships with the carriers and new 3G products,” he added.

On the gaming front, Sony has been careful not to confuse consumers about the PlayStation3’s capability, only rolling out marketing behind its Blu-ray capability late in 2007, Stringer said. The previously announced PlayStation Network will go online later this year, Stringer added.

In the intense competition with Nintendo’s Wii, Sony is positioning the PS3 as the “premium console that does much more than play games,” said Kazuo Hirai, Sony computer entertainment president. The PS2 also continues to enjoy “terrific support at retail,” he added.

Stringer also noted that the oft-stated pledge to “unite” the company’s disparate divisions had largely been successful. “One of our strengths is that we’re a big company. One of our weaknesses is that we’re a big company,” he said. “But I think we’re getting into the rhythm of innovation.”