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Sony predicts rebirth of television

A key executive at the consumer-electronics giant takes the stage at CES, proclaiming that television is still in its infancy and will be the center of home entertainment networks.

LAS VEGAS--Sony's future may be coming full circle with a product that helped establish the company as a consumer-electronics giant.

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No escape
At the Consumer Electronics Show,
the theme is tech anywhere, anytime.

Sony's televisions have always played a major role not only in its success as a company but also in boosting its brand recognition. During a keynote speech here at the Consumer Electronics Show on Thursday, Sony President and Chief Operating Officer Kunitake Ando predicted the rebirth of the television as he touted new products and strategies that will guide the company throughout the year.

"The first 50 years of color television was just the infancy stage," Ando said. "The PC has been a champion in the industry. But now the television is about to be reborn."

Ando said that future televisions will be the center of home entertainment networks, allowing consumers to access data and services found on other devices connected to the network.

The strategy for televisions echoes similar efforts by Sony to connect all of its products to networks, letting customers access the company's vast supply of entertainment content such as music and movies. Other technology and consumer-electronics companies, such as Microsoft, Intel and Philips, have recently begun exploring similar plans.

One of the major obstacles for Sony and others looking to establish networks and make content more widely available has been the relatively slow adoption of broadband access, but Ando noted that broadband is becoming more popular in countries such as Korea and Japan and is beginning to pick up subscribers in the United States. Ando said Sony will also work to use open standards in future products to make it easier for consumers to more widely access content on devices and urged other companies to help to establish these standards to help the industry progress.

"The pieces are coming together...the broadband wave will wash over us, and it is coming fast. My message is we need to collaborate now in order to realize our broadband dreams," he said.

In an effort to showcase the company's new strategy, Ando brought onstage Sony artists, including actress Drew Barrymore and music group Mary and Mary, to help promote a slew of new computing products, including a Clie handheld with a camera, flash and wireless-networking capabilities.

Gadgets galore
The company's offerings also include new notebook and desktop PCs that support multiple DVD-burning formats, part of Sony's strategy to gain a larger piece of the PC market.

The new Clie--dubbed the PEG-NZ90--will be pricey, but it will serve as a bridge between smaller Sony devices, such as digital cameras and the company's Vaio PCs.

The PEG-NZ90's 2-megapixel camera includes a flash, along with zoom and autofocus features. It's similar to previous Clies in that it offers a flip-and-swivel screen, but it also packs wireless-networking capabilities, including 802.11b and Bluetooth.

The new Clie will cost $800 and will begin shipping at the end of February, Sony representatives said.

The company's new Vaio PCG-GRV680 will include Sony's first notebook combination DVD-RW/DVD+RW drive when it ships in March, Sony said. The desknote machine will feature a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor from Intel, along with a 16-inch screen and a 60GB hard drive. Sony has not announced pricing yet.

Although DVD burning is relatively new for notebooks, Sony has been offering it on desktops for some time, and it's striking the dual-format note there as well.

Like the newly announced notebook, Sony's Vaio PCV-RZ series desktops will offer a combination DVD-RW/DVD+RW drive. These dual format machines will range in price from $1,450, for a PCV-RZ22G, to as much as $2,300, for a PCV-RZ26G model with a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 chip from Intel, Sony said.

Aside from offering users more flexibility, dual formats provide a convenient way for Sony to deal with the ongoing standards battle between the formats.

For people looking for inexpensive DVD burning, Sony announced the new Vaio PCV-RS100, a desktop that offers a built-in DVD burner for a price less than $800, without a monitor.

Sony did not say when any of the new desktop models would be available.

Sony is holding a press conference Thursday to announce its new Memory Stick Pro Media. Details posted on the company's SonyStyle Web site, however, confirmed that the new sticks will be available, as expected, in 256MB, 512MB and 1GB capacities, starting this March. Sony Memory Stick partner SanDisk said that it expects the cards to be available in April priced from $189 to $879.

Sony also announced a host of other products at CES, ranging from camcorders that use DVD-rewritable technology to new Sony Walkman music players.

The company is set to release into the consumer-electronics market a DVD recorder, the RDR-GX7, which supports DVD+RW, DVD-RW and DVD-R formats. The drive will basically serve as a replacement for VCRs, which have become a low-margin business for Sony. The recorder will be released in June for about $800. The device uses similar technology found in its drives for PCs, but instead of focusing on performance, its top feature is picture quality.

Sony also announced it will launch two products in the United States that have already been available in Japan. The company's U.S. release of its home networking device RoomLink is expected in the spring, and its digital video recording device CoCoon will come later this year, depending on when Sony can establish a DVR (digital video recorder) service.

The company said recordable DVD Blu-ray Discs would likely appear this year, initially in Japan. Ando said the technology is ready, but there are some licensing issues that still needed to be worked out.