October 5, 2004 9:02 AM PDT

Sony hones its TV efforts

TOKYO--With a bevy of competitors such as Dell jumping into the TV market, Sony plans to lean more heavily on its core strengths in industrial design and semiconductors.

The Japanese giant is raising the stakes in the TV market by incorporating silicon developed in-house to improve its picture and sound quality. At the same time, the company is tinkering with items like the remote control, the TV stand and the interface to set itself apart.

Evidence for the amplified effort can be seen in the sets that the company is showing off at CEATEC, a large IT show taking place here this week.

For example, the Qualia 006, which is destined for the U.S. market, is a 70-inch rear projection TV powered by a liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) chip created by Sony. Intel and others have had to postpone their LCOS chips because of technological problems.

The set, which will cost under $10,000, is slated for release early in 2005. "Hopefully, before the Super Bowl," said Mina Naito, a Sony spokeswoman.

Then there's the Qualia 005. The light source in this set consists of a specially designed array of light emitting diodes--called Triluminos--that Sony claims provides a far wider spectrum of color than standard LCD TVs. The Qualia 005 will hit Japan in November and the United States in spring 2005.

Other new higher-end TV lines don't come with Triluminos, but they do come with some of the other Qualia 005 features, including the Wega Engine, a Sony-designed signal processor for assembling high-definition signals; the Emotion Engine, the graphics chip used in PlayStation 2; and the S Master, an audio chip. A navigation interface adopted from the PSX is also featured with these TVs.

These sets also all feature a remote control that looks something like a flip phone. When the remote is folded up, the user can only access four buttons (controling volume, channel and power; the fourth is a "mute" button) and a knob that lets consumers switch from TV to DVD, or other devices. Flip it open, and the morass of the modern-day channel changer comes into view.

"The important things for us are good picture quality, good sound and ease of use," Naito said. "The old one (remote control) was too complicated."

Other industrial design tidbits revolve around new chassis that give a furniture-like look to the TVs.

Right now, Sony trails rival Sharp in market share for TVs in Japan. Sony holds about 20 percent of the market but wants to boost it to 30 to 35 percent. In the United States, a variety of companies have begun to make LCD TVs as a result of the consumer electronics explosion.

Unlike most other manufacturers, Sony makes a substantial number of the internal components for its TVs and manufactures the sets itself. Still, not everything is homegrown. Sony obtains its LCD glass from outside manufacturers, Naito said. A Samsung-Sony joint venture on LCD panels will start to crank out panels next year, but Sony will continue to also buy panels from third parties, Naito added.

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