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Sony’s Hirai Talks Wow Factor

 BOOTH 14200  Sony CEO and president Kazuo (Kaz) Hirai wistfully reminisced about the wows that impacted him a kid and how he wanted to instill that sense of wonder throughout the myriad layers and divisions of his company, taking his audience on a journey from his childhood to future during his keynote at the Venetian Hotel.

He recounted Sony’s glory days — and clunkers too. “In 1979, the Walkman was introduced and that was a wow … in 1982 the compact disc was introduced and that too was a wow. In 1994, Sony introduced the PlayStation and that was a wow.” In fact, it was so impressive Hirai moved from the music division to the PS division. He then said with the recently introduced PlayStation 4, the market was wowed again as 4.2 million units were sold as of Dec. 28. “These products were the result of curious minds asking what if, what if.”

Hirai, known for self-deprecating ways and public-speaking skills, then got the crowd laughing when he showed an image of a Betamax, the company’s spectacular failure in the early home video days. “There were definitely some challenges on the pathway to wow. Despite being first to market, VHS won the battle,” but all wasn’t lost since the Beta format become the standard for much of the broadcast industry. He also showed a slide of quite a few busts the company had introduced, a rare sign of a proud company realizing the errors of its ways.

But for Hirai, that was old news and he wanted his employees to embrace “kondo,” a Japanese term for emotional value, to imbue a sense of wonder in their products and they had to more than just me too. In fact, he said the new mission was to inspire consumers, to go beyond a world of “just good enough.”  

And it just so happens he feels Sony has many new products at CES that do just that including 4K Ultra HD TVs, high-resolution audio gear, cameras like the RX1 and QX series, the PS4 and Xperia Z1 smartphone.

Hirai said Sony was working on products for the newest generation of consumers he called Generation Remix, the true digital natives. “What will wow them?” He didn’t say but clearly they’re working on it.

At that point, he invited Michael Lynton, chairman, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment and Vince Gilligan, creator of the smash hit TV series “Breaking Bad” on stage. Lynton welcomed the explosion of screens of all sizes that could view his products while Gilligan lauded the fact he could use Sony cameras to create interesting angles for his shows. The fact he could work on a broad canvas like a John Ford as he did in “Breaking Bad” and his work could be seen on a 4K TV was a wonderful development. When he said he was plugging away on the “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” Gilligan got loud applause and he said it would air in about a year.

Shortly afterwards, Andrew House, president, group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, came on stage. After updating the PS4 sales figures, House announced “a new era of streamed gaming” was about to arrive with the 2014 launch of PlayStation Now. Showgoers could experience they system at the Sony CES booth on Bravia TVs and the PlayStation Vita handheld device. With the system, people will have access to the entire library of PlayStation games. Consumers could rent by title or purchase a subscription. The full rollout begins in summer.

House also announced a new cloud-based TV service. It would begin testing in the U.S. this year and combines live TV, VOD and DVR capability across a wide breadth of devices including iPads.

Near the end of his keynote, Hirai unveiled a product that was an entirely new concept, the Life Space UX. This ultra short-throw 4K projector will project an almost life-like 147-inch image on a wall so consumers could change their environments by gazing on a picture-window-size view of the surf or a cityscape. Whether it will be a “wow” product like the CD or a dud like the Betamax, only time will tell.