Undoubtedly the most surprising moment at CES 2020 so far was when Sony drove it’s prototype Vision-S car out onto its stand at the Sony press conference. The Sony Vision-S is a fully operational electric car, which the company has no current plans to release, although the word floating round is that Sony might just be trying to manage expectations.
Even if a fully Sony-built EV like this never makes it into production, we would not be one bit surprised if the technology inside made it into a traditional automotive brand’s car in the not too distant future. Arguably the biggest part of that tech is the in-car entertainment system. We got ourselves into the Vision-S and took it for a spin.
Sony’s mobility concept is, let there be no mistake, a fully operational car. It has a top speed of 149 mph and can do 0-62 mph in 4.8 seconds, and can deliver 2 x 200kW of power. What makes it stand out, though, are the features you don’t get in a normal car.
It’s 5G-enabled for all your data needs including traffic, video, music and even OTA system updates to the car itself. It comes with its own app which will automatically transfer your entertainment preferences, including your Sony 360 Reality Sound profile, and will also work as your key to unlock the Vision-S through NFC.
There are four main cameras around the outside of the vehicle - back, front and the two sides - all fitted with Sony’s high-end CMOS sensors.
The side cameras sit where the wing mirrors would normally go and live stream what they see direct to internal panels on the sides of the Vision-S’s incredible, door-to-door panoramic dashboard screen. Sony’s idea is that these CMOS sensors can provide better visuals than you’d normally get with mirrors in low light situations.
The camera on the rear sends its images to the rear view mirror and the footage from the front cam can be captured as stills or videos to document your road trips.
There are no specs on the panel technology or resolution for the panoramic display but the picture is certainly crisp and clear and the colours as vivid as a top-end tablet. You can’t fail to be impressed from the moment you slide into the white leather of the driver’s seat and have it all laid out in front of you in one continuous sweep.
Through the wheel, the drivers panel displays information on tyre pressure, speed, and battery power but it’s the central and passenger sections of the touchscreen display that are definitely the most fun.
Running what appears to be an Android-based software, the smart-looking UI has sections for navigation, video, music, games and car information too, all of which can slide back and forth between the two sections depending on what the driver or the passenger wants to see.
For example, the passenger can do the mapping and then fling the route over to the driver, then start watching a film and pull the map back when they want to add a stop-off for somewhere to get some food. There’s also a second, smaller screen in the gear stick position which the driver can use for other vehicle functions such as controlling temperature.
There are also big screens set into the backs of the front seats for the passengers in the rear.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the in-car experience is the audio. Sony has not officially said how many speakers it has hidden inside the Vision-S but, counting the dots on the spec diagram, there appear to be a staggering 33. There are two speakers in the headrests of each of the four seats with the others spread about the periphery.
Again, Sony didn't disclose the kinds of speakers it's used but, given the company's use of actuators which turn TV panels and frames into drivers, and the distinct lack of 33 speaker grilles, we’d bet there’s some panel vibration tech going on, not unlike Sennheiser Continetal, which also launched at CES 2020.
Listening to This Feeling by the Chainsmokers in standard two-channel mode, the car comes to life with some typically thumping bass, but there’s more. There’s a good tonal balance and plenty of detail when the strums of the guitar kick in - much more so than you’d expect from a traditional system, but then that’s to be expected when there are 33 speakers.
What really blows us away, though, is when the demo switches to 360 Reality Audio mode and music becomes centred around the driver’s head. We’ve tried 360 Reality Audio before with some of Sony’s other prototype products, such as a soundbar, wireless speaker and headphones, but never has it been so effective as when it hits us square in the face behind the wheel of the Vision-S.
Noises pop in crystal clear clarity all around us and, had we actually been driving, we might well have lost control of the vehicle for a moment. Erm... in a good way.
Our time in the seat with 360 is far too brief to talk about much more than the incredible soundstage but there is one other element which knocks our socks off - the bass.
It leaps from a booming but slightly reverberating beat to some of the tightest, grippiest rhythms we’ve heard in a vehicle. Even if it’s just this feature that makes it into vehicles of the future, then it will be well worth trading in your old motor.
The Vision-S is a triumph of a concept from Sony. We’ve no idea how it handles, corners, grips or grinds, but it could entertain us for days just parked on the drive.
It’s hard to know if it will ever make it into production but, fingers crossed, the in-car 360 Reality Audio system will. With music playback like that, long journeys will fly by in seconds.