San Diego-Based Sony Electronics Ready to Talk About 3D And Other Innovations

Sony Electronics usually maintains a low corporate profile at its North American headquarters, even though it ranks among San Diego’s biggest private employers—with roughly 2,000 workers here. That seemed especially true after its corporate parent announced a massive reorganization at this time last year, which included hundreds of Sony layoffs in San Diego.

So it seemed unusual when Sony Electronics recently broke radio silence. The consumer electronics business organized an open house at its new 11-story building here—and invited hundreds of dealers, less than two months after courting them at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The unexpected glasnost even extended to some journalists like me, who were invited to join the trade press for a Q&A session with two of Sony Electronics’ top executives. We also got briefing on Sony’s push into 3D technologies.

The session included a demonstration of the new “Dash—a personal Internet appliance, alarm clock, and online media-streaming device based on technology that Sony licensed from San Diego-based Chumby Industries, the startup behind the soft-and-cuddly Chumby web terminal.

Stan Glasgow

Stan Glasgow

Stan Glasgow, Sony Electronics’ president and chief operating officer, says the Dash is an example of the company’s renewed focus on consumer trends and demographics. Women, in particular, influenced its development, according to Edgar Tu, president of Sony TV Engineering of America. Sony says more than 1,000 free apps are available for the device, which connects to an existing home or office wireless network, so people can use it to access websites for recipes, weather, traffic reports, news, and other information. Tu tells me the Dash even features a 7-inch waterproof LCD touch screen, so people can use it in the bathroom and kitchen. It will be available in April for $199.

Sony’s new focus on consumer trends has grown so keen, in fact, that Glasgow says Sony and CBS have established a market research laboratory in Las Vegas to study consumer adoption of 3D technologies. “Consumers are showing strong interest in 3D, and they’re doing it with their wallet in the theater,” says Sony Electronics’ chief marketing officer, Michael Fasulo, who joined Glasgow in the Q&A session.

Sony also has created a 3D technology center in Los Angeles, where it is working with Hollywood’s cinematographer’s guild and USC’s School of Cinematic Arts to maintain high-standards in 3D filmmaking throughout the film industry.

Consumer interest has been stoked chiefly by the box office success of Avatar, but innovations also were a factor, according to Chris Cookson, who oversees 3D development as president of Sony Pictures Technologies. While the ability to create an illusion of depth perception by using stereoscopic imaging has been around for decades, Cookson says, “the instability of 35 millimeter film created a workload on your brain. So the stability of modern projection systems really smoothed that out.”

The afternoon yielded some other interesting insights as well:

—Last week, Sony Electronics announced it was launching its first 3D-ready Blu-ray player, and the company plans to begin aggressively marketing its 3D capabilities in televisions and other home electronics by this summer. Still, Glasgow says he believes consumer adoption of 3D technology will be very weak in 2010. How many 3D TVs will be sold this year? “I have seen numbers as high as 5 million and as low as 1 million,” Glasgow says. “I think it’s going to be on the low side, and I think it’s going to take a little time. So if sales are expected to be so low, why will Sony be marketing its 3D technologies so aggressively? Even if they don’t buy right away, Glasgow says, “It makes sense to make Sony the brand that consumers want to buy.”

—Sony has been revising its entire process of engineering development, which has traditionally been Tokyo-based. “We’ve built a software development team across the whole company,” Glasgow says. “Have we solved everything? No. Are we a lot better than we were a year ago? Absolutely.” He adds that the point is that Sony “is not going to continue doing everything in Japan.” For example, he says the Sony Reader headquarters was established in San Diego chiefly because of the heavy competition posed by Amazon’s Kindle, the new Apple iPad, and other wireless reading devices.

—The reorganization led by Sony Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer has focused in particular on integrating Sony’s “3D ecosystem,” which stretches from the camera lens in terms of 3D film production expertise at Sony Pictures Entertainment to the living room in terms of 3D playback expertise in consumer electronics at Sony Electronics. “Whether it’s Bravia TVs, PSPs, or Blu-ray disks, we’re involved in the whole production process,” says Stuart Redson, Sony’s senior vice president of corporate marketing.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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