Sony 'cautiously optimistic' about holiday retail sales

Plus, Netflix coming to Sony Blu-ray players, and high hopes for the X-Series Walkman.

Despite ongoing problems in the company as a whole, Sony's electronics division is looking on the bright side when it comes to the all-important winter retail season.

Looking ahead to the holidays, Sony Electronics' Executive Vice President Mike Fasulo said Tuesday at a small media gathering in San Francisco that the gadget maker is hopeful about better sales this year than last.

Sony Walkman
Sony has high hopes for its touch-screen Walkman. Corinne Schulze/CNET

"I'm cautiously optimistic about (holiday retail sales). Though I'm cautious about saying I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. Among retailers that sell Sony products, there's also "some notion this will be a better holiday than the previous year."

Sales of consumer electronics sunk 26 percent in the 2008 holiday season, according to one survey.

Fasulo's remarks came on a day filled with announcements from Sony, both on the electronics side, and the video game division, Sony Computer Entertainment America. Although it's only August, the company, like many in its industry, is already gearing up to introduce the products it hopes shoppers will snap up before they head back to school, as well as for holiday gifts.

Sony Electronics introduced a new line of home audio equipment Tuesday, called Altus , that it developed in partnership with Best Buy, though other retailers will eventually offer it too. Altus receivers, speakers, and iPod docks are aimed at a less tech-savvy audience, with minimal setup required.

But the announcements that got the most attention are the new PlayStation 3 Slim and its new, cheaper $299 price tag, and a new game format for the PlayStation Portable.

The natural question is whether Tuesday's $100 price cut for the PS3, which has a Blu-ray player, would in turn put pressure on Sony's standalone Blu-ray players, whose prices range from $250 to more than $700. But Sony executives declined to comment, other than to say that PS3 and Blu-ray are "different products."

Other interesting tidbits revealed during the meeting:

• While Netflix streaming has already been announced for Sony's networked TVs, Blu-ray players are next. Connecting Netflix accounts with Blu-ray players is on Sony's road map, which would put them in the same company as Samsung and LG . "Whatever it is people want--Netflix, Amazon--we're going to make it available," said Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow.

• Blu-ray won't be around forever, but it is the best option for watching high-quality video for now. "Eventually people will download (movies), but broadband installation isn't there yet," Glasgow acknowledged.

• Sony thinks of Apple's iPod as "another format" it wants to support, which is why it's focused on iPod/iPhone connectivity with the new Altus audio products. "We recognize Apple has significant market share in this country," Glasgow said. "They don't have that same market share around the world, though."

Glasgow said he expects X-Series Walkman to grab some market share in the portable audio market, despite the iPod's dominance and mounting curiosity for the new Zune HD from Microsoft.

This story was corrected Thursday, August 20 to reflect that the X-Series Walkman is currently on sale.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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