Sony's 3D TV plans become a little clearer

Sony expects that 3D televisions will make up between 30 percent and 50 percent of all sets it sells in the financial year that begins in April 2012, a senior executive said late last week. The goal further indicates Sony’s confidence in 3D entertainment ahead of a roll-out of the technology next year.

Sony first announced its 3D ambitions in early September when President and CEO Howard Stringer said the company planned to launch 3D-capable Bravia TV sets and Blu-ray Disc players as well as adding 3D to the PlayStation 3. Sony’s plans for the latter two products are already becoming clear: the Blu-ray Disc Association is working on a 3D disc standard while Sony plans to add 3D to all models of the PlayStation 3 via a firmware update.

On the TV side, perhaps the largest and most important part of the picture, Sony hadn’t disclosed many details but now that picture is starting to come into focus.

The 3D-compatible sets will include a small piece of additional hardware that enables them to show 3D content but they’ll also work as conventional television sets, said Hiroshi Yoshioka, executive deputy president of Sony and head of the unit that includes its TV business, in an interview. Yoshioka didn't elaborate on the additional hardware but said it would only add a little to the production cost of the TV set.

By far the biggest expense for 3D viewing will be the glasses that are required to produce the illusion of a three-dimensional image. Those could cost up to around $200 and won’t necessarily be bundled with a television. By selling the glasses separately Sony will be able to keep its 3D-compatible sets competitive with other sets while only requiring a higher outlay from customers who want to experience 3D content.

Yoshioka stressed that Sony has yet to determine the premium for 3D-compatible sets and whether it will bundle the glasses or sell them separately. But the TV business is perhaps the most price-sensitive of all of Sony's product areas, particularly in the U.S. market, so the company will likely want to keep additional costs down.

Sony’s TV business has been losing money for six years but Stringer committed this month to turning a profit on televisions in the next financial year, which runs from April 2010 to March 2011. Success with 3D will be vital if Sony is to accomplish its goal of grabbing a 20 percent share of the LCD TV market within the next three years.

“It’s all up to the contents,” said Yoshioka.

Sony’s 3D plans revolve around gaming, movies and sports. Sony is already working on gaming with the PlayStation 3 upgrade plans and its movies division, Sony Pictures, is already producing 3D movies. If history is any indicator, sports is an additional area where users are willing to pay a little more money for a better experience.

The company’s existing relationship with broadcasters through its movie division and TV production house could serve well in promoting 3D but even if it doesn't there will be a secondary route to 3D-capable sets. Sony is expanding its PlayStation Network service to cover its televisions and will launch a new content delivery service next year that will pump movies, TV shows and other video content directly into Bravia TVs and Blu-ray Disc players from its own servers.

Smaller-scale experiments have already taken place in the U.S., where Sony recently offered its Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie to Internet-linked Bravia TVs ahead of the DVD release.

“So far there is a good response,” said Yoshioka of the trial.

Late last year, Hancock, another Sony movie, was offered via the same route.

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