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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 8, 2009 at 9:40 AM

CES: Sony has a vision, headliner Tom Hanks has a Ki…,

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ROBYN BECK / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

Actor Tom Hanks, appearing in the Sony keynote at CES, tries on prototype glasses that allow you watch movies and see through the glasses at the same time.

LAS VEGAS — After making Sony Pictures a few jillion dollars, Tom Hanks can get away with sassing Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer.

Stringer’s keynote here at CES began with a clip of Hanks in the upcoming Sony movie “Angels and Demons.”

Then the actor appeared on stage, parodying the opening remarks by CES boss Gary Shapiro, mocking prepared remarks on the teleprompter and needling Stringer.

Hanks said his first Sony purchase was a used Trinitron he bought from his girlfriend. He said he now has a towering pile of obsolete Sony products in his living room, topped by a “Bluetooth” video player 8 feet up in the air.

Apparently Hanks was supposed to mention seeing Sony’s name on the cameras on movie sets, but he added that “Really, I have yet to see that.”

Describing his electronic book, Hanks pretended to call out Amazon.com’s Kindle instead of Sony’s product, saying he’s using “The Ki …. Sony Digital Reader, which is a fine product in its own right.”

“I took a risk, it failed. but we’ll still be friends, at least until after the movie,” Stringer said when Hanks was done.

On a more serious note, Stringer talked about how the consumer electronics giant will continue to develop new products and services despite the downturn and presented a new set of principles guiding the company.

“If we keep our sails spread high, history tells us the wind will pick up again,” he said.

Among the company’s goals is to have 90 percent of its products connect wirelessly to each other and the Internet by 2011.

The most gee-whiz product on the stage was a hand-sized flexible OLED display screen that Stringer flexed while it was playing a Beyonce video.

“How many people have the opportunity to squeeze Beyonce,” he quipped.

Also new was a prototype wireless bedside clock/information station featuring widgets developed in partnership with Silicon Valley Web appliance maker Chumby, and a set of early prototype glasses that can be used for 3-D movies or watching video while simultaneously looking out at surroundings.

Stringer said Sony is working on offering OLED TVs with screens in the 20- to 30-inch range but he didn’t provide specifics or show a prototype.

On sale shortly is a svelte notebook PC that’s as thin as a deck of cards and fits in a (large) pocket but has an 8-inch screen.

Stringer also defended the progress of the Blu-ray video format, noting sales of Blu-ray discs grew fourfold last year, and talked up the PlayStation 3 despite its slower than expected sales. Kaz Hirai, head of Sony Computer Entertainment, annouced that MTV is offering content on the PlayStation Network’s video service and that Electronic Arts will make major contributions to Sony’s new “Home” virtual world.

A major theme of the keynote was 3-D video, but unlike other major TV makers showing 3-D sets at the show, Sony mostly emphasized 3D movies in theaters, where it provides projection systems.

The company expects 3-D theaters to be widespread across the country by the end of 2009. Content will come from partners such as Disney-Pixar, whose creative director, John Lasseter, said it’s developing new features with 3-D and will releases 3-D versions of its “Toy Story” franchise later this year.

DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg also appeared and talked about how his studio is retooled to produce all of its movies in 3-D now, a shift he called a third major shift in movie presentation technology, similar to the moves from silent to synchronized-sound movies in the 1920s and from black and white to color in the 1930s.

“Three-d represents the opportunity to re-energize our audiences worldwide about the film medium by offering them a new premium experience that can only be seen in the theaters,” he said.

(I’m guessing that the word “premium” means we’ll be paying extra for 3-D movies, at least to start.)

Other big names in the presentation included Usher, who performed a song and chatted with Stringer, baseball’s Reggie Jackson, who gave a muted welcome to the new Yankee Stadium that Sony’s outfitting with 550 Bravia TVs, Vaio PC kiosks, a high-def broadcast room and PlayStations in every suite.

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