Sony's TV strategy: the bigger picture

Tue, 14 Feb 2012, 3:17pm

Sony HQ

Sony has committed itself to focusing on picture quality as the No.1 priority in developing its 2012 TVs.

The shift in focus follows research by the Japanese electronics giant, which is putting picture and sound quality back at the heart of its TV strategy.

“Frankly we were shocked that customers rated 3D and web browsing lower than expected when we asked them what their key buying motivations were,” says Hiroshi Sakamoto, deputy senior general manager, home entertainment business planning and strategy division at Sony.

Speaking at a press briefing at Sony’s Tokyo HQ earlier today, Sakamoto said: “Everyone expects our TVs to produce a beautiful picture – sometimes we didn’t focus enough on that aspect.”

In a global survey, web browsing was ranked last in a list of consumer requirements when buying a new TV – and 3D barely got a mention at all. Picture quality was ranked No.1, followed by screen size, price and then sound quality.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, brand loyalty is becoming less important when buying a TV than it used to be, with Sony no longer an automatic choice (and Korean companies Samsung and LG snapping at its heels).  That’s clearly taken Sony by surprise too.

The global recession isn’t helping either. Although 208 million LCD TVs were sold in 2011, Sakamoto admits that the market for flatscreen TVs in Europe, and particularly the UK, is flat: “We can’t expect the double digit growth we had a few years ago.”

And then there’s the fact that Sony is losing money on every TV it sells, according to outgoing CEO and president Sir Howard Stringer. Couple that with projected losses at the TV division for the current financial year of Y175bn (£1.45bn), and it’s clear radical surgery is needed.

Sony Crystal LED

Cutting losses is essential to survival
Sony has already said it will halve TV production from 40 million units to 20 million in an attempt to reduce those losses, and realises it must radically rethink its TV strategy to survive.

That strategy is now beginning to take shape. “We have the hardware, software, content and distribution to enable us to revitalise again,” says Sakamoto.  “We see the TV as the centre, the hub, of home entertainment. There are 900 million connected devices in the world – our challenge is to help people watch, listen and share.”

With Sony Pictures, Sony Music and Sony Home Entertainment all living under the corporate umbrella, bringing all that content together on multiple devices is a key priority. Like Apple and others, Sony wants to lock customers into its own eco system. “We have to leverage all our content across our platforms, that’s the task of our new CEO Kazuo Hirai.”

But first, the company knows it has to get its TVs right. Its core focus is on providing “the best sound and picture ever”, using the Bravia X-Reality /X-Reality Pro Engine, Full HD resolution, Intelligent Peak LED backlighting and active-shutter 3D technology.

Picture resolution, colour, contrast, sound, design and usability are the new key words. Unlike its Korean rivals, Sony doesn’t seem to be putting too much emphasis on new gimmicks such as voice and motion control, but rather returning to basics.

Sony 3D specs

Committed to active-shutter 3D

And despite lukewarm consumer reaction to 3D in general, the firm remains committed to active-shutter 3D.  “We don’t deny the advantages of passive 3D technology,” says Sakamoto. “It’s cheap, the glasses are light and affordable.

"But passive only gives half the resolution. We believe that the best picture quality for true Full HD (1080p) 3D comes from the active-shutter type.”

For 2012, a key aim is to reduce crosstalk when viewing 3D material. “With a 100Hz panel we can’t eliminate crosstalk completely, some ghosting still remains. Some of our 2011 TVs were criticised for being great for 2D, but not so good for 3D.”

That appears to be a criticism Sony has taken on board. So it is now introducing a new 4x high-speed 200Hz panel to produce “ultra-smooth motion and better 3D quality”, combined with auto 3D depth adjustment for a more comfortable viewing experience.

And with more films coming in 3D – among them Men in Black 3, Star Wars Episode 1 and Titanic – plus a growing catalogue of PS3 3D games, Sony believes the content to bring 3D to life is finally coming through.

Its 2012 TVs will also be compatible with YouTube HD and 3D content.

Sony Tablet S

Intelligent connectivity
The other key part of Sony’s TV strategy is what it calls ‘intelligent connect’. This is basically the ability to share and control all your digital content between devices, be it the TV, tablet or smartphone.

So users can ‘catch and throw’ content from an iPad, iPhone, Sony tablet, Android device or Xperia phone to their television whenever they want.

And a direct wi-fi mode allows instant connection of Vaio laptops, Cybershot high-end cameras and Xperia smartphones to your Sony telly.

Sony Google TVFinally, what of Google TV? It’s had a troubled start in the US since the first Google set-top box was launched there in October 2010. Again, Sakamoto is refreshingly frank about this: “Yes, the initial launch was disappointing – Android Marketplace wasn’t ready. But there is plenty of content available now.”

This year will see Sony begin a renewed push on Google TV, with the launch of two set-top boxes in the US and Europe this summer, as announced at CES 2012. One will be a TV streaming box only (NSZ-GS7), the other will include a built-in Blu-ray drive (NSZ-GP9).

And yes, there will be a new touchpad controller with a full, backlit keyboard, motion control and voice search.

But those latter two functions are not, it would seem, the top priority. To get itself back in the TV game, and profitable again, Sony is convinced that picture quality and interconnectivity between devices are the key to success.

It's even ploughing its own route when it comes to developing next-generation screens, having unveiled at CES 2012 its 55in Crystal LED prototype, thus bucking the OLED trend adopted by many of its rivals.

Sony isn't afraid to be different, and the decision to put picture quality back at the heart of its TV strategy is one that will be welcomed by many home cinema enthusiasts. Here's hoping that strategy works.

 

Comments

Sony was once the dominant of the TV industry. Products it manufactured resembles the highest quality and brand name in the ENTERTAINMENT industry.

But since when the said company starting to loose its market share and brand name? For me, I see their battle lose caused by few factors. Ever since the Korean entertainment industry overcome Japanese's such as the Korean TV dramas or actors and actresses, movies, singers or group performers, all these can bit by bit affect the industry and consumer perception towards products that produce by the country. Another areas was the brand packaging and of course the product appearance. The TV model number produced by Samsung is far more easy to recognise by consumers.

SONY might need to focus on the brand packaging and as mentioned that picture quality is what consumers expect to see when we are watching something. Audio in a TV can be complemented by HIFI audio. No big issue.

So, hopefully SONY can create a brand which consumer can easily be called and refer to!

 

 

 

55inch TV's i want to see 37 to 42ich crystal LED and OLED not some stupid oversized TV for the average house

As Andrew notes, bigger is better as far as TV sales go. Sure, there's been slight (6%) growth in @20-24in sets for kitchens etc, but only real growth sector - up 37% from already strong base - is in 46in+ sets. 26-42in sets in double-digit sales decline in Uk last year...

Nice one, Mr C – good to see Sony finally deciding on the obvious and pledging to make TVs that look and sound better (like it assumes anyone would actually announce they were going to make sets that looked and sounded worse!)

But as Clare has said, no groundbreaking insight from Sony's research, and a lot of 'what we have to do' but precious little in concrete solutions.

Very mixed messages, too – the company is shocked how little people are interested in 3D, but at the next turn is saying this could be the year 3D comes good. Hmmm...

Sure I've heard all that 'active 3D is the Way and the Truth and the Light' stuff somewhere before – ah yes, here it is, this time last year from the company that announced passive 3D LCD TVs at CES 2012.

Oh, and if Sony thinks Samsung and LG are snapping at its heels, it should check it has its head on the right way round – latest figures, whichever way you slice and dice them, suggest the two Korean companies, and in particular Samsung, are so far ahead of Sony in TV sales that you really have to ask which is the snapper, and which the snappee.

Well, as for concrete solutions Andrew, we're due to see the new 2012 Sony TVs later today. Unfortunately, anything we do see is under an NDA (non disclosure agreement), so not sure how much I'll be able to report. Frown

And just to emphasise the points  I made in my blog, today's breakout technical sessions are: TV Design Strategy; Picture Quality 1; Network Feature Strategy; and Picture Quality 2. Smile

I wonder how much it cost them to commission that research? Reading all the reviews from the past year - and listening to customers on forums such as these - could have told them that for free Smile

Good to see another major manufacturer putting quality firmly back on the agenda, though. Not that it ever should have been off it...

I agree it's about time they stopped trying to just add more to what a tv can do each year and forgetting all about it's main purpose, also as the 37" size TV is the most desirable for the UK public I find it strange that the major manufacturers do not have more models in this size not just one 37" set in the middle of its line up.

How about a 37" Super LED Sony or even a 37" OLED Samsung / LG and if sound quality which has been very poor on All sets for some years is a customer concern why not add the speakers into the stand god only know's how they think you can get a decent volume from a 4-8mm thick screen, and before you say anything is it to much to ask for on sets over £1000, I for one don't want extra speakers all round the room. When I first saw the Sony monolithic Stand I thought it was to house better quality speakers not just an overpriced stand. Foot in mouth

Stephen Vann wrote:

I agree it's about time they stopped trying to just add more to what a tv can do each year and forgetting all about it's main purpose, also as the 37" size TV is the most desirable for the UK public I find it strange that the major manufacturers do not have more models in this size not just one 37" set in the middle of its line up.

How about a 37" Super LED Sony or even a 37" OLED Samsung / LG and if sound quality which has been very poor on All sets for some years is a customer concern why not add the speakers into the stand god only know's how they think you can get a decent volume from a 4-8mm thick screen, and before you say anything is it to much to ask for on sets over £1000, I for one don't want extra speakers all round the room. When I first saw the Sony monolithic Stand I thought it was to house better quality speakers not just an overpriced stand. Foot in mouth

The reason 37-inch TVs are popular is because of their price. OLED TVs are very expensive to make currently (remember the £1500 11-inch Sony OLED?) so it makes sense to make bigger models as the target clientele will be people who can afford it, & they would most likely go for a 40+ inch model. The smaller sizes will come when the price of production falls.

Market analysis suggests the biggest growth area in TV sales in the UK is the 40in+ sector, Stephen Vann: from around 600,000 sets in 2006, 40in+ sales grew to over 2m in 2010, out of a total of 9.5m sets sold in the UK.

 

The cross talk 3d thing that Sony wants to eliminate, the solution is do a pana, plasma screens- which have got the problem down to 0. Sony's Hx 923 almost perfect but the cross talk...can't justify the purchase.

OK I still favour led/lcd and as a avid photographer I use the screens to proof my shots as the viewer would see it in the final cut.

The bad news for Sony is that Pana is pushing led screens in 2012 almost on an equal footing to plasmas.Great strategy.

The 3d and web portals ability of the 2011 sets have aways been gimmicks bolted on these TVs and I am glad the public opinion reflect that.

Pana and Samsung are riding high in 2012 and Sony needs to snap out of it. 

 

For 2012.....

We want TVs to offer a 10bit  1.08 billion color reproduction, mega beyond your dreams contrast ratios, wide color gamut, bright bright screens with 400cd/m2.

 

The 2012 cream of the crop must perform beyond the Hx 823 at the 3d level  and make an even greater 2d picture than the Hx 923. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gamemaker wrote:

For 2012.....

We want TVs to offer a 10bit  1.08 billion color reproduction, mega beyond your dreams contrast ratios, wide color gamut, bright bright screens with 400cd/m2.

Think I would prefer them all to get the QC right first. Things like un-even backlighting that some LEDs/LCDs seem to suffer from. plus the various problems that some Plasmas seem to be prone to.

Gamemaker wrote:
Pana and Samsung are riding high in 2012 and Sony needs to snap out of it.

Not really: in sales terms Samsung and LG are 'riding high' and everyone else is playing catch-up. Panasonic is some way behind Sony.

interesting to read that so I take it then that 7.5 million out of the total are in the sub 40in + size then. 

Stephen Vann wrote:
interesting to read that so I take it then that 7.5 million out of the total are in the sub 40in + size then.

Yes, but all the evidence is that people are buying bigger screens as the prices fall, and manufacturers are keen to encourage people to buyer bigger screen, bigger-ticket TVs rather than the sub-40in models that are largely down in the bargain basement now. And remember that the 9.5m includes huge numbers of really inexpensive TVs of 20ins and below, mainly sold in supermarkets and the like, from brands you've hardly heard of, and bought as second or even third TVs.