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January 7, 2014 at 9:31 AM

CES 2014: Sony’s Hirai on delivering “wow,” video walls and PS4 surge

LAS VEGAS — Sony Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai confessed that his career path was inspired by “Romper Room.”

hirai betamax

In his opening keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show, Hirai recalled seeing the show’s hostess passing out cookies to children on the show as he waited and wondered “where my cookie was.”

“How do these people arrive in my living room each and every day – why couldn’t they hear and see me?” Hirai said. “My curiosity was piqued and has continued to be throughout my life.”

Hirai said he and Sony are still driven to produce “wow” experiences for people using its products, ranging from advanced cameras and displays to skin sensors for consumers and healthcare providers.

After some missteps, Sony has recently “started to deliver that ‘wow’ again,” he said.

The company is doing this with products that engage with stunning visuals, audio and content, he said.

Looking forward, Sony is thinking about ways to wow the next generation of technology consumers who have grown up with digital products. Hirai called this “Generation Remix” and said Sony is working on new experiences for them, such as unconventional ways to display images on surfaces.

Sony is also working on advanced cameras, for instance, with an array of sensors to better capture atmosphere and tone.

hirai camera

The company also is working on sensor-based systems for vehicles, farms and even skincare, the latter capturing data such as blood flow and oxygen saturation to develop treatments.

Hirai spent much of his keynote outlining Sony’s corporate vision and breadth of products before bringing out the sort of entertainment assets that bring the “wow” to CES keynotes. To talk about advances in TV technology and content creation, Hirai brought on stage “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan and Michael Lynton, head of Sony’s entertainment group.

Gilligan said large cameras usually are used to produce the shows, but small, consumer cameras are now good enough to use in some situations, such as mounting on a vehicle or in a situation where the camera may get broken.

Lynton talked about how the market for Sony’s movies and shows has expanded because people can watch them all over on mobile devices, and not just in the home.

Gilligan said it’s fine if people watch it on a phone, but in his mind’s eye he envisions his shows being watched on a giant wide TV screen. Instead of framing shows for a 19-inch set, he’s thinking about sweeping, painterly and cinematic shots.

Hirai brought out Andrew House, head of Sony’s computer entertainment group, for updates on the PlayStation business.

House announced that the PlayStation 4 has sold 4.2 million units through Dec. 28. That’s a big jump ahead of Microsoft’s Xbox One, which sold 3 million units through the holidays.

Also revealed were Sony’s long-awaited plans for the Gaikai streaming game platform, which it acquired in 2012. It will be the foundation of a new game streaming service called “PlayStation Now” that will provide instant access to Sony’s PlayStation game library, including PS2 and PS3 titles, on non-console devices such as phones, tablets and TVs.

Games will be rentable by title or available through a subscription plan. Sony will begin testing the service in the U.S. in January and roll it out fully in the summer, House said.

To start, the service will provide the library to PS3 and PS4 consoles and 2014 Bravia TV sets. It will next come to the PS Vita handheld game device and then extend to non-Sony devices “eventually,” the company said in a release.

house sony

House also announced a new streaming video service that it will begin testing in the U.S. later this year.

Hirai said Sony plans to offer a single source of entertainment that’s less complicated than current offerings.

Then Hirai really began delivering the wow, showing upcoming video devices, including a new system that turns walls into a 147-inch display with 4K resolution.

Hirai said he’s used this “Ultra Short Throw Projector” to create a “window” on the wall of his office with a real-size display of the street scene in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

“Imagine being an avid surfer and having the perfect wall-sized window to see the world’s best surf spots vividly in real-time in your living room,” he said.

The system could also be used to display a skybox view of a live concert on a wall in the home.

Pricing wasn’t revealed but Hirai said the projector will go on sale in the U.S. this summer.

It’s part of a broader effort by Sony to develop “a brand new sensorial experience that utilizes space itself.” Sony calls it “Life Space UX”; the idea is to bring ultra-realistic video experiences to surfaces in the home and office without using framed TVs and video displays.

“Soon the home, the office, the places where you and I need and want to be will be perhaps free from the traditional notions of frames,” Hirai said.

Another upcoming product uses lasers and depth-recognition algorithms to turn tabletops into interactive displays, similar to Microsoft’s Surface tabletop computer, but using a projector above rather than below the table.

hirai projector

Overall spending on consumer electronics is expected to increase 2.4 percent to $208 billion this year, according to a new forecast by the Consumer Electronics Association that hosts CES.

In introducing Hirai, the group’s chief executive, Gary Shapiro, said $6 billion of those sales will come from new categories such as 3-D printing and wireless health.

Comments | Topics: breaking bad, CES 2014, ps4


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