Sony details Blu-ray plans, new product releases

Cameras, eBook reader, music phones to be among electronics giant's new offerings. Photos: Sony's coming lineup

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
4 min read
LAS VEGAS--After a year of skirmishing with technology rivals, Sony announced plans Wednesday for its first high-definition Blu-ray DVD players and recorders aimed at the international market. The company also provided a look at its broader 2006 electronics lineup.

Sony's most anticipated high-definition product remains the PlayStation 3, which is still expected to be released this spring, at least in Japan. But the company said Wednesday that it will also release, in the summer, an as-yet-unpriced Blu-ray player called the BDP-S1, and, by the end of the year, an external computer drive that will play and record the high-definition discs.

Photos: Sony's coming lineup

Blu-ray hardware from Sony and others will hit the market at roughly the same time that a rival, and incompatible, high-definition technology from Toshiba called HD DVD will be available to consumers. Toshiba said Wednesday that its first HD DVD players will begin shipping to consumers in March 2006.

Though Sony's Blu-ray technology has gained considerable momentum in recent months, analysts say the uncertainty over which format will ultimately prevail is likely to dampen consumers' enthusiasm for high-definition technology.

"To the degree this is perceived by consumers as a format war, everyone's going to vote by leaving their wallet in their pocket," said Gartner analyst Van Baker. "If any of these guys are expecting to go mainstream, they're going to have to come to agreement, or else someone has to win."

For now, consumers will have a limited number of actual movies to play on these new devices. Studios have said they will release a few dozen high-definition titles for both formats over the course of 2006, with new features such as Java-based games on the discs being introduced slowly.

"All of these (Sony) devices, along with recordable media, PlayStation 3, and the highest quality pre-recorded content from Sony Pictures, Sony BMG and other content creators will surely get the BD format off to a terrific start later this year," Randy Waynick, senior vice president of Sony's Home Products Division, said in a statement.

Beyond Blu-ray
Sony's announcement comes as part of a broad product roadmap unveiled Wednesday evening at the gadget and electronics show, at which executives showed off new products ranging from a prototype 82-inch LCD television to car stereo faceplates that can connect to computers to download and store music for playback on the road.

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Video: Sony's strategy
At CES, Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code," joins Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer to discuss e-books.

Executives said they were aiming to revamp the company's Connect music download service, which launched nearly two years ago, but has had little impact on the market. The new version of the service, which will go live in March, will offer video and movie downloads for the Portable PlayStation device, as well as an expanded catalog of music.

The PSP will also get the ability to play live television, using software that allows a viewer to connect to a home television using Wi-Fi to stream the programming over the Internet.

The company is also focusing heavily on portable electronic devices of various other kinds.

Sony's first camcorder with an iPod-like hard drive, offering 30GB of space for local storage of video, will be available in May and retail for about $1,100, the company said. JVC has had a similar product out for several months.

A portable eBook reader, previously available in the United States, may raise text-lovers' eyebrows. Measuring just a half-inch wide, and using an electronic-paper technology called "E Ink," the device will hold about 80 books at a time. Sony will sell eBooks through its Connect download service, which has previously focused on music sales.

The Portable Reader System will be available in spring 2006 but does not yet have a price tag. A similar device has been marketed overseas as the Librie.

A new Walkman-branded phone from Sony Ericsson, available in the spring, will play MP3 and AAC music files and include a 2 megapixel camera.

Sony's line of digital cameras will also get an update. A new $500, 5.3 megapixel Cybershot will take TV-quality video as well as provide a slide-show display capability similar to that found on a PC, the company said. A 6 megapixel entry is also on the way, priced at $200.

Much of the industry's attention will be focused on Sony's new TV lineup. The company once dominated the television market but has lost ground over the past few years as competitors have taken market share and offered low-cost flat-panel screens.

Sony's latest Bravia line of high-definition televisions will start at $4,500, with a 46-inch LCD HDTV available in May. A 40-inch will be available for $3,000, with a 32-inch version for about $2,000.

As with every year, the company will also release a long list of new home and auto audio products, DVD players, headphones and computer peripherals.

CNET News.com staff writer Daniel Terdiman contributed to this report from Las Vegas.