Thoughts From Sony’s 3D Launch Event

We are on the precipice of a major transformation in technology and entertainment. Perhaps one could call this moment the calm before the storm. We know now that in the early years of the twenty-first century this world became truly connected and the ability to rapidly advance our intelligence became possible. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns that consumer electronics companies gave us an option to escape in immerse worlds in high definition. With infinite complacence, people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, and achieved a serene existence by placing high definition equipment in their domains. The universe was no longer a dark mystery; even the minute elements within the small spinning fragment of solar driftwood that man inherited was now defined in stunning clarity.

Despite an immense effort to transform and catalog the world in HD, minds that to our minds as ours are the creators of this technological utopia – their intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic – regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their ultimate plans for the consumer. In the tenth year of the twenty first century came the most extensive integration of the third dimension in our lives.

Sony is launching a 3D invasion upon us.

If you visit an electronics store you will see products that we have grown accustomed to for nearly a decade – products such as LCD TV’s, point and shoot cameras, video players, notebooks, and movies/video games on disc. Change is coming.

In hindsight, the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show was ground zero for 3D – it was the point on the Earth’s surface where an explosion occurred. Nearly every major consumer electronics manufacturer who has a presence in television showed off 3D capable displays. The world was surprised by such a massive tour de force. Yet for some strange reason, many attendants were kind of underwhelmed by the sudden shift in industry focus; those people were too comfortable with HD and the lull of product evolution that has existed for the last five years.

The 3D invasion is not only an effort to make movies, pictures and games feel truly immersive, but it is also an enormous gamble to galvanize multiple industries that have either gone unchanged for eons, or were lost in an endless cycle of incremental upgrades. 3D is also a powerful angle from companies who have suffered profit losses from pirated content. If you think about it, the profits are back in the hand of the creator; to enjoy 3D you have to buy it.

I believe those who choose to truly open their eyes and minds are becoming inspired by the exceptional collective achievement of releasing 3D from its prison of theater. At first, I didn’t believe it was worth the effort.

And I’ll be honest with you, I have spent a fair amount of time with Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, LG and other 3D TV’s throughout their evolution at trade shows and the finalized versions at retail. I’ve seen all the different types of active shutter glasses and marketing terminology that assures the consumer that their interpretation of 3D is the best option. And after my observations my eyes made the decision what companies I liked best – Sony and Panasonic.

Several days ago, I visited Los Angeles, California to participate in a 3D launch event Sony hosted at the historic Sony Pictures Studios. The event was not just a simple effort by the company to showcase a few televisions, but rather a real attempt to convince those who were still skeptical about whether or not 3D could really be the “next big thing.” The event also served the purpose of showing off the latest innovative 3D content. Sony also wanted the consumer to identify the company is leading 3D with strong content partnerships and education offerings.

3D, whose momentum has been subdued by economic woes and skepticism, is finally starting to accelerate forward. Sony held no reservations about how important this strategy has become for the struggling company, as CEO of Sony Sir Howard Stringer, President and COO Stan Glasgow, CMO Mike Fasulo, Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Michael Lynton, and President/CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Jack Tretton were all on hand to talk 3D, and how it will influence their respective businesses. We will have separate articles about their marketing and movie efforts; we wanted to focus on the consumer electronics portion of the presentation for this post.

Sony is playing a solid hand for the first generation of 3D home theater. There are seven 3D ready (and built-in 3D) televisions Sony will deal to consumers this Summer, starting at $2,099. Let’s take a look at the models:

As you can see, Sony has attractive 3D TV options in screen sizes ranging from 40″ to 60″.

The LX900 (52″ and 60″) series is the most feature rich option of out of the box, as it includes built-in 3D capabilities, MotionFlow Pro 240Hz, a vast array of online video, included active shutter 3D glasses and built-in Wi-Fi. Picture-wise, most consumers will find the ultra-thin LCD panel (with side-lit LED) of the LX900 to offer excellent quality. I sat down with the 60″ LX900 and played several Playstation 3 games in 3D, including Super Star Dust, Wipeout, and Motorstorm. I peeped around on the Playstation 3 and the firmware was 3.30, but it was a special build that had developer options I’d never seen before, allowing the ability to install items and other features.

Super Star Dust 3D was quite impressive, and the game looked fantastic in 3D as my ship flew around dodging asteroids, creating explosions and upgrading its weapons. The neon guns and explosions shined in 3D, creating a rather amazing effect that made such an ordinary game quite extraordinary. I noticed the game had an option to intensify or lessen the 3D effect, which was helpful addition that I actually found useful. Motorstorm 3D was better than the original, and the smoothest looking game of the three but still left something to desired. And finally, I felt Wipeout 3D was the king of the games available to sample, clearly demonstrating that high-speed games did not suffer in 3D, but rather complimented them greatly. I was worried that the high speed element of the vehicles would be too challenging to enjoy in 3D, but it was rather a surprisingly great experience that was truly fun. A well made 3D first person shooter on the PS3 will be a “killer app.”

For more thoughts on Sony’s Playstation 3D efforts at this event, please check out this informative post I helped put together – “PlayStation CEO Talks PS3 And Its 3D Future.”

The HX909 series (46″ and 52″) is for the true picture enthusiast, as it offers a LCD panel with direct LED back lighting, and offers picture quality on par or above the famous BRAVIA XBR8. The HX909 also has incredible other features pointed out in the above comparison chart (and this HX909 SonyStyle info page). However, the HX909 is only 3D and Wi-Fi ready, meaning you will have to pony up the extra money for those accessories in order to gain that functionality. So that $3,999 52″ HX909 will be much more expensive if you add on the cost of 3D transmitter and 3D active shutter glasses.

I watched Alice in Wonderland in 3D in a dark room on the 52″ HX909 and it was clearly the best 3D presentation out of all the Sony 3D TV’s currently available. Colors were truly lush, and the black levels were exceptional. The HX909 series truly shines because of the Intelligent Dynamic LED backlighting and the innovative OptiContrast panel. I started to realize after watching the movie for an extended period of time that a set like this could convince nearly anyone that 3D for the home is the real deal.

There was also a brief opportunity for me to see several 3D panoramic pictures on the HX909 taken with the upcoming NEX-5 camera. It was not a gimmick – I felt like I was witnessing the future of photo viewing. Images looked fantastic and detail was very crisp. The sense of dimension was quite noticeable, especially in a group shot of about three dozen people standing together. You are also able to zoom in on the 3D panoramic photo with the remote control. Incredible stuff.

And finally, there is the workhorse HX800 series (40″, 46″, and 55″) which is very similar to the LX900 series as they both have a dynamic edge-lit LED LCD. Read more about the HX800 series at SonyStyle. However, like the HX909, the HX800 series it doesn’t include the 3D emitter, active shutter 3D glasses, or integrated Wi-Fi but can support them.

Sony had the LX900 next to a Panasonic 3D TV, which was quite straightforward for Sony to do at an event like this but it demonstrated how hungry they are to convince the media they are serious about dominating 3D TV at home, as many have considered Panasonic Plasmas to be some of the best first generation 3D TV’s. Yet somehow, in this demonstration, when viewing the LX900 and Panasonic 3D TV next to each other, the LX900 looked better. I found it hard to believe that an edge-lit LED LCD panel could be on par with a Plasma, but it was. The LX900 was very bright, and seemed to solve that “whites aren’t white enough” problem the Panasonic exhibited. I also noticed the colors were not as lush on the Plasma as the LX900, and the power consumption of the Panasonic was nearly double the LX900 (as seen above). Troubling. Here are some comparison pictures of the 3D glasses for Panasonic and Sony:

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09-Jun-2010 12:27, SONY HDR-XR550V, 1.8, 3.8mm, 0.011 sec

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09-Jun-2010 12:26, SONY HDR-XR550V, 1.8, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec

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09-Jun-2010 12:26, SONY HDR-XR550V, 1.8, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec

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09-Jun-2010 12:26, SONY HDR-XR550V, 2.0, 3.9mm, 0.011 sec

 

The 3D Launch event wasn’t just about the newest hardware, though – it was also about how Sony has released a free firmware update that enables 3D functionality in existing 2010 Blu-ray disc players and home theater systems, such as the BDP-S470 and BDP-S570 players and BDV-E570 and BDV-E770W home-theater systems. The firmware update can be directly downloaded and installed over the Internet, or through a USB port. Nice.

Also, after purchasing and registering a 3D BRAVIA TV, you will receive a copy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray 3D title “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” as well as Blu-ray 3D title “Deep Sea.” There is also an included PlayStation Network voucher enabling purchasers to download stereoscopic 3D gaming experiences on the PS3.

There was also a great exposition of 3D content at the event, ranging from sports (golf, basketball, extreme, both types of football), nature clips, action movies, and so much more. Over the last year of trade shows, it seems the quality of the 3D clips have evolved dramatically. Sony is investing incredible energy into creating tools that shoot great 3D and educating others how to use them effectively, and the content is truly starting to reflect that. There were two clips that impressed me the most throughout the presentations. The first clip was in conjunction with the announcement that the next X-Games (ESPN) would be shot and presented in 3D, and they proceeded to show some dirt bikes flying in the air off ramps – it was truly jaw-dropping.

Imagine the motorcycle and rider doing a trick in the air, fifty feet off the ground; the moving image just looked so stunning. The rider was perfectly separated from the crowd behind it in vivid 3D; it was like the third dimension is what has been missing from making extreme sports truly exhilarating to watch. Another clip that grasped the audience was the slow-motion clip from Discovery Channel of an enormous shark capturing a fish in its mouth while jumping high in the water. The near freeze-frame effect of the slow motion perfectly complimented the 3D effect; the rise of the mammoth shark felt so real, and with it being in 3D the true intensity of the moment helped create the most brilliant piece of nature footage I’d ever seen.

Naturally, Sony and the other consumer electronic manufacturers will face hardship trying to convince consumers to spend large amounts of money on a 3D TV. To make matters worse, if you have an old home theater system you will have to buy a 3D compatible receiver. Then there is the matter of accessories – only two of Sony’s 3DTVs come with the 3D emitter and active shutter 3D glasses, adding more cost to the equation if you buy a model that doesn’t include those items. It’s still unclear how much content will really cost. It’s like the beginning of HD all over again, essentially, but this non-believer has been converted. The content looks so amazing. Despite the fact there will only be two 3D channels available for consumers – ESPN 3D and Discovery/IMAX 3D – I feel that live sports and video gaming in 3D will play the biggest role in attracting consumers to the 3D revolution.

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14
Jun 2010
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