IFA 2008: Sony Q&A Session

David Mackenzie

IFAFollowing the Sony Press Conference at IFA 2008, the company invited select journalists, bloggers, and members of the online media back to a hotel conference room for a Q&A session. Present were Tim Page, involved with the BRAVIA LCD TV line; Eric Kingdon, involved with technical, marketing and development tasks for Sony Home Audio and Video products; and Taka Miyama, involved with Marketing and Product Strategy relating to Blu-ray Disc in Europe.

To ensure the questions and answers were unaffected by outside influences, no cameras were present at the event. What follows is a summary of the session, with questions being asked by a variety of journalists. Illustrations are taken from other IFA events and exhibitions.

[The first question involves Sony’s wireless video solution]. What is the range like, and can it work through walls?

Tim: With this sort of thing, there’s always a compromise between data rate, distance, range, etc. It can’t always be guaranteed that high data rate content will be streamable. The range is about 25-30 metres, and yes, it goes through walls. It should also work through floors, but it’s not been tested.

Can you have one base station and multiple screens?
Each screen has its own media receiver, and each receiver can work on one of four channels. [In theory then, you should be able to set two receivers to access the same channel. –DM].

The 200hz Motionflow feature on the new BRAVIA range – can you explain the frame interpolation system that’s going to be used?
Tim: Yes, Motionflow 200hz is the next step from Motionflow 100hz. It doesn’t just copy frames to up the refresh rate, it generates new in-betweens [Tim explains motion interpolation here]. The system is aggressive in terms of motion compensation. Unlike competitors, Sony is detecting motion in all directions (JVC only use the horizontal plane), so Sony’s system is less susceptible to artefacts.

What have you got in place to keep the image as natural as possible to avoid sharpness/artefacts?
Bravia Engine 2 does a lot of enhancement (noise reduction, black enhance, comb filter); motion compensation is then a separate part. Sony wants the most natural picture as possible.

We haven’t heard any information on calibrating these screens. Other manufacturers (for example, Pioneer) are looking at THX or ISF certification. What’s Sony doing?
We don’t have any built-in test patterns or anything like that, but we do offer the consumer a level of control (for example, how aggressive Motionflow is, how defined the Bravia Engine processing is, a gamma control, and so on). A few years ago we had a lot of detailed fine-tuning options, but it was almost a service menu. We thinned this down.

Are you going to add ISF C3 control?
We’ll look into it.

You just mentioned high end picture customisation features which you no longer incorporate – will this functionality remain on high end models like the X-Series?
Yes, we have things like Bravia Engine 2, detail enhancement features, etc, and that stuff is controllable.

What about customers who just want accuracy, can you turn off such features to get a 1:1, as-is picture?
There’s always an Off setting. But at the same time, we want to improve the picture, hence the BRAVIA Engine 2 process.

[The new ultra-slim Sony ZX-1 TV is mentioned. In order to retain the slim profile, it features LEDs around the edge, facing inwards. It was a technical challenge to implement.]

How does the EDGE LED technoloy affect black levels?
Tim: With EDGE LED, you can’t selectively un-light areas of the screen to acheive pure black. There’s still a Dynamic Contrast feature, but no regional “on and off” with EDGE LED.

On the X-Series LED backlights on 46 and 55 inches, we use RGB LEDs instead of white [Samsung are using white-coated LEDs]. This provides better white balance.

Is Sony’s upcoming display technology pronounced “oh-led” or “O L E D”?
[All laugh]. Eric: That’s a very good question. We normally say “O L E D”.

Obviously, OLED technology is still only in small screen sizes. How do you see this situation progressing?
Tim: Hopefully you saw the 27 inch model at IFA. We had it at CES too, there’s only two of those in the world, so feel lucky!

Sony is opening a new factory for the production of OLED. We’d expect 32 and 40 inch models to appear in 2010. WIthin a few years after that, we’ll likely have more in “living room sizes”.

What’s the lifespan of OLED like?
Tim: Right now, 30,000 hours is being quoted. By that, we mean that the display drops to 50% brightness after this time. There have been other numbers, but 30,000 is the official line.

OLED doesn’t appear to be connected to the BRAVIA brand. Is it an offshoot of BRAVIA? Or it the successor to it?

Tim: At the moment, it tends to be separate. It’s separate in America and in Japan. In the future it might come under the BRAVIA brand (like projectors eventually did). It’s not been decided yet.

Do you have any information on the pricing of the X-Series TVs?
Tim: Well, prices are always falling. It will be at least the same or less than the X3500 was when it launched [last year]. The X4500 has the LED backlight and DNLA client built in (DNLA lets you stream stuff over the network to the TV screen).

A question about general pricing, and how far things have fallen. How far can prices drop before it’s not worth Sony’s while?
Tim: Well, right now, everyone’s playing the “I have more HDMI sockets than you” game. But, we can’t comment on loss and profit.

Does that impact on R&D budget?
Tim: We just opened a new factory in Nitra, which produces 4 million TVs per year (not 3m like Howard said in the presentation!)

We have new products, new lineups, features, technologies… but we obviously still need to be investing in R&D so we can come out with cool products.

With Toshiba pulling out of HD DVD, Blu-ray’s now up against DVD. Where do you see BD penetration going in the next 12 months?
The market itself is growing very rapidly worldwide. Penetration’s not being disclosed. But we can say that hardware and software sell-through are expanding hugely.

Eric: There’s been reports regarding High Def software and content in the USA. They estimated that 45m units of Blu-ray Discs have been sold, and by 2012, they estimate that BD will have overtaken DVD. [He stresses that this is not Sony data]. I was surprised that the format war, “or should I say, the alternative propositon” gave in at the time it did; I thought that HD DVD would go on for a bit longer. There needs to be a cooling period before Sony/BDA can judge marketing growth properly. If you look at the market for TV, there are over 30m HD Ready TVs in Europe, but only 1m of those receiving HD content! That means there’s a massive gap for BD to fill. So as long as we actively work with you and everyone else to promote what we can deliver, we can really do the customer a great service.

I always say, “Listen to the vision”! Never forget the sound capacity of BD as well. In the theatre, you don’t watch a movie in mono, you listen to a multichannel DTS or Dolby system, and watch a screen this big [he gestures]. The whole proposition is what excites people. Provided we do that, you can genuinely have a better than cinematic experience at home. I’m a massive movie-goer, I love going. So, I think there are good times ahead.

Globally talk of the markets are constantly doom and gloom, but once you talk to peole who have had the experience of home entertainment in HD, they’re all smiles.

The new Walkman… the main feature only seems to be that it’s gotten thinner. There doesn’t seem to be any real technological advantages. Does Sony simply not care in an Apple dominated market?
[Explains that it would be better to ask the Walkman people back at IFA, but will provide some insight]. The Walkman brand is really strong (for example, it’s in Sony Ericsson phones). We’re realistic in the sense that you can’t ignore iPod. Ask how many people in this room own one! [I don’t -DM]. But we’ve taken the iPod generation and given them an easy way to enjoy home theatre content with the DM PORT. Hopefully they’ll then go “that sounds great”, and move on to better quality. They are our new customers and we need to look after them, and bring them into the HD World.

[A comment about there being no new projector announcements].
That’s true – but go to the demo room at IFA, there’s a great setup. There’s the 10 [Sony VPL-HW10], a great little video projector… 1080p resolution, [lightweight in terms of video processing].

Anamorphic projection [the process of getting a non-letterboxed 2.35:1 image on a 2.35:1 screen in home theatre] is going to be huge. I saw an anamorphic lens added onto the front of one of your projectors. Is Sony going to offer that themselves in the future?
That lens [isn’t our own]. Yes, we’ve found that a lot of people buying modest projectors like the 60 [Sony VPL-VW60] are using them with anamorphic lenses.

Will Sony provide a way of getting an anamorphic display without expensive additional lenses?
Yes, we’re studying it.

Is there a price for the ZX-1 [the 9.9mm ultra slim TV]?
It’s not been announced. But it won’t be cheap!

Cheaper than the OLED?
Eric: We can’t say! But, the 9-inch OLED in the USA is $2500.

There’s all this talk of convergence. So, when will I be able to transfer my Blu-ray movies onto my Video Walkman?… without using some sort of hack?
[All laugh]. Eric:
Yes, there is hope. At CES in January, we showed a prototype of such a feature. BD has so much space, so there’s nothing stopping them. In Japan there’s a button on the front of one of Sony’s BD Recorders which allows you to transfer content to the Video Walkman.
Taka: Yes – but that function is for recorded broadcast content, not movies.
Eric: Because BD is Java enabled, there’s a lot that can be done. We have development conferences with Java engineers and work on this kind of thing. There’s lots in the pipeline, things will get more interactive and more flexible. Disney is hugely behind BD Live, they do incredible demos. Some of the content they did with Panasonic recently was stunning. Good luck to them. I can’t wait to get Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty on BD!

Most BD Live stuff has been pretty cheesy, to be honest… there must be something there that can develop from it.
Yes, it’s a bit limited. We’re all waiting for a killer app that excites everyone. We’ll have to wait. The Java side is open ended, so it can be developed. To be honest, we’re learning, it’s basic at the moment… look at how people complained bitterly abut the quality of DVD menus at first – “it’s static!” – but now we’ve run out of space on DVD, since we have so many features. I’ve seen things that will definitely satisfy you. But not yet.

Playstation3 has finally taken off and become a big success, after a slow start. It’s being seen as THE media hub. Where do you see that going?
Eric: I can’t think of another device which has been so representative of the hub as a concept. On September 19th, the PlayTV USB module will make the PS3 a fully functonal PVR, for only £69. That said, I’m convinced there’s also a market for standalones – not everyone wants an entertainment hub.

Toshiba have a prototype TV, which uses the CELL processor to enhance standard-def content. Does Sony plan to?
Sony is not currently using CELL inside a TV. A TV doesn’t really need PS3 style processing power. So no, we don’t.

Out of all the products shown at IFA, which ones are special to you personally?
Tim: For me–

Eric: Bet it’s a TV!

Tim: Well, of course! Mine would be OLED. It has much better contrast and black level.

Eric: Of course my special product is BDP-S5000ES. It has excellent sound and picture quality. And, it has unique Sony tech like Super Bit-Mapping to improve the picture quality.

Speaking of Super Bit-Mapping and other technologies which alter 1080p video. Shouldn’t good 1080p be left alone rather than processed?
Eric: Emm… the answer is two fold. [Eric’s mobile phone rings and Eric tells us about his unusual ringtone, which is the jingle from a Japanese department store].

All things being equal, if everything was perfect, yes… the question is, can you make it any better? With effective DSP [Digital Signal Processing] there is room for further improvement. For example, we don’t currently have Deep Colour Blu-ray Discs. The HD Reality Enhancer and Super Bit-mapping takes the 8-bit video signal and makes it 14. That signal can be output in 12 bit. Most televisions have 8 or 10 bit panels. What the circuit does is noise-shapes the signal, to improve the quality.

So, we’re trying to take BD to the level of what it would be if it were Deep Colour. You can control the processing system and turn parts on or off. I agree, though – don’t process for the sake of it.

Dave and I were talking last night about optical formats. Do you think BD is going to be the last one?
Oh, difficult question. Theoretically, from the physical point of view, it’s the final optical format. Using blue laser is the final format for the optical disc. If, in the future, we have some media, they will change physically, it might not look like an optical disc necessarily. I don’t know what kind of tech we’ll have in the future, but yes, it is the final format to use a laser and an optical disc. That sort of laser wavelength is basically at the limit. So… enjoy it! [Laughs]

Deep Colour and XV Colour… Hollywood keeps saying, don’t expect either of those on software. So, what’s the point of having the features on product?
It’s more a question of providing the ability, of course you need the software. You’ll have to persuade them!

Can Blu-ray Disc even accomodate Deep Colour?
Theoretically, it could. We have XV Colour on certain BRAVIA TVs, and on the AVCHD camcorders. I believe something may also be happening with the gaming market.

Thanks very much.
And thank you for talking to us and sharing your thoughts. You [bloggers] are very important – you speak to an awful lot of people.