Sony throws down gauntlet in next-generation TV war

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Sony throws down gauntlet in next-generation TV war

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Left: Models show off Samsung’s 110-inch UHDTV, the largest of its kind in the world, at the 2013 edition of CES in Las Vegas. Provided by the company Center: LG OLED TVs are displayed at its booth. LG was the first company to successfully launch a 55-inch OLED TV for commercial sale. [AP/YONHAP] Right: Kazuo Hirai, president and CEO of Sony, looks at a prototype OLED TV after it lost the video signal during a news conference on Monday. [REUTERS]


LAS VEGAS - Here at the 2013 edition of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, TVs are the main topic of conversation. The world’s two top TV producers Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics were to show off their technological prowess with a handful of new, large TVs that feature either organic light-emitting diode (OLED), or ultra high-definition (UHD) panels running on liquid crystal displays sized at least 55 inches. OLED and UHD are believed to play a pivotal role in replacing today’s most prevalent high-definition, LCD TVs.

But on Monday, a day before the official start of the major technology-related trade show that is held each January, Japan’s Sony made an epic debut at a press conference for the prototype of the world’s first UHD OLED TV, stealing the thunder from its Korean rivals.

Combining two of the most advanced technologies into a single TV, the 56-inch TV appears to have the potential to usher in yet another technological advancement and help Sony regain some of its lost leadership, although the new product only ended up seeing the screen color turn blue as it lost a video signal during Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai’s demonstration. Whether the foul-up was just bad luck or originated from a critical error remains to be seen. The red-faced CEO, who assumed the post last April, said the TV set is more a proof of concept than a product ready to be commercialized. Sony was, in fact, the world’s first tech firm to commercialize an 11-inch OLED TV in 2007.

Should it be commercialized, however, it will be one inch bigger than LG and Samsung’s 55-inch OLED TVs, becoming the first to take one step further in setting a new resolution standard. UHDTVs offer over eight million pixels, or four times as many as their full HD counterparts, while OLED delivers an especially bright and crisp picture.

Hirai did not announce the prices either but they are expected to be expensive given that LG’s 55-inch OLED TV, launched on Jan. 2 in Korea and set to go on sale globally in March, costs over $10,000. Sony also added 55- and 65-inch models it will start selling this spring to its UHDTV lineup, which was initiated last year with an 85-inch screen.



Getting ‘more human’

Samsung unveiled here for the first time a 110-inch UHDTV, the largest in the world, to pip No, 2 player LG, which last year came up with an 84-inch model, then the largest of its kind in the world. The world’s top smartphone, TV and computer memory chip manufacturer also took the wraps off an 85-inch UHDTV at the exhibition’s largest booth spanning 2,602 cubic square meters (4,451 cubic square feet).

Under the “Journey of Wonder” theme, the booth has a big screen zone at the gate, which consists of its gigantic TVs sized between 85 and 110 inches, to boast its leadership in size. Products with cutting-edge functionality and design are also on display, including a sound bar (model named HW-F750) that has embedded a vacuum tube - for the first time in the industry - as well as countless other cutting-edge consumer electronics ranging from cameras to laptops, monitors, refrigerators and washing machines.

Almost 1,500 members of the media gathered for Samsung’s press conference Monday afternoon and many of them were waiting in lengthy queues for hours prior to the event, reflecting the strong level of interest in the Korean tech king.

LG is presenting around 500 electronics gadgets. Its focus on TVs is underscored by an array of various TVs on display. These range from its 55-inch OLED TV to UHDTVs with 55-, 65- and 84-inch screens, a 100-inch TV projector, which is known in Korea as “Cinema Beam TV,” and the latest smartphones and motion-detecting devices.

Ultra high-definition touch screen and wireless 3-D mobile game playing-enabled TVs, which have yet to be commercialized, were also on display.

Technological progress aside, both tech bellwethers appear to have migrated their attention toward putting themselves in the shoes of their consumers to understand their behavioral patterns - going beyond simply offering “smart” gadgets.

“From gesture and voice control in TVs to 10-point multi-touch screens on tablets and smartphones, you saw us create new, more human ways for people and devices to interact,” said BK Yoon, Samsung’s president for visual display, during an hour-long conference.

“Those innovations reflect our philosophy. At Samsung, we see technology in human terms - enhancing people’s experience.”

Tom Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America, added that TVs are becoming more human, as users can now ask their TV to make movie suggestions and request films starring their favorite actors.

LG’s Chief Technology Officer Skott Ahn emphasized simplicity and natural interfaces.

“Connectivity at home is a very old topic,” he said at the press conference Monday morning,

“But consumers are not embracing it until now. So to make connectivity feel more natural, we have created one touch connection - to share content among smart devices with just a single touch.”

For instance, people can connect their smartphone to an LG gadget by placing their handset on top of its attached near field communication (NFC) device. This corresponds with comments made by Shawn Dubravac, CES’s chief economic director of research, in a pre-show keynote speech.

“We are moving into the ‘post-smartphone era’ and smartphones have become ‘the viewfinder of your digital life,’?” he said.



Record number of exhibitors

Late in 2011, Microsoft declared that it would stop attending the Las Vegas tech show after 2012. Rivals including Samsung, LG and other emerging Asian producers have taken this as an opportunity to snap up more exhibition floor space.

Samsung’s archrival Apple has never been present at the annual event.
The show, which runs until Friday, is being held at the largest venue in its history, one that spans 43 acres, and has the largest-ever number of participating exhibitors at 3,000.

Eight automakers including Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, Lexus, Audi and Ford are participating, signaling the increasing importance of integrating IT and cars.

Audi and Toyota are showing off automobiles with driverless technology. Only Google has been known to be working on driverless cars in recent years.

By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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