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Sony Electronics Debuts Upscale A/V Lines

Sony used the Home Entertainment Expo here to unveil new lines of A/V speciality products under the ES, Grand Wega, XBR Plasma Wega and new XS Plasma Wega sub-brands.

Highlighting the company’s ES offerings was the first Super Audio CD (SACD)/CD player that carries 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.

Sony said the 1394-DTCP digital connector was recently adopted as part of the Scarlet Book spec for the SACD standard. Sony is the first to employ the interface for SACD.

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 a new STR-DA9000ES flagship A/V receiver with an IEEE-1394-DTCP (a.k.a. i.LINK) input that will ship in the fall at a $4,500 suggested retail. 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.

As for high-end TV lines, Tim Baxter, Sony Home A/V 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.

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, said Tim Alessi, Sony Home A/V Products Group marketing director. 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 iLINK-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.”

Sony said it would expand its direct-view LCD-TV line 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.”

Sony announced two Grand Wega LCD rear-projection HDTV monitors 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.

Also introduced was Sony’s SAT-HD300 DirecTV/ ATSC HD decoder box (ships in September at $750), which adds simultaneous output of HD signals in both HD and SD formats for multi-room use or connection to analog VCRs.

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 “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 A/V receiver line will offer five models, including the aforementioned STR-DA9000ES.Suggested retail prices on the other four receivers range from $600 for the STR-DA1000ES to $2,000 for the STR-DA5000ES.

All new ES series A/V 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.

All models now have assignable digital inputs, and the top three models incorporate second and third zone A/V 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.”