Who says Sony's a sinking ship? Santa and I would beg to differ. Here's the deal: For years, people have been beating Sony up for its inability to refresh its lineup with latter-day Walkmans. Now, the commoditization of the flat-screen TV business is wreaking havoc with the consumer-electronics giant's revenue model.
Well, I'm here to tell you not to talk smack about Sony. That's because Santa put a new Sony Blu-ray DVD player next to my Menorah, and it was a revelation. (The DVD player, that is. My candles burned out after half an hour.)
Sony's trio of Blu-ray boxes, which begin at under $100, present as lowly DVD players. What they really are is streaming video-entertainment portals. You wouldn't know that, though, because Apple and Roku have sucked up all the media oxygen in the streaming space.
In contrast, Sony has created a killer device that it's unfortunately messaging to consumers at mouse-like volume. So, yes, Virginia, if you're looking for a way to watch Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Instant Video, Sony's the ticket. Actually, it's better, because you're getting what amounts to a DVD player thrown in for free.
I'm going to break my admonition from above, and do the trash talking myself: Hey Sony, how come your technology is so good yet your marketing so bad? Did you know that your S390 DVD player is number nine of Amazon's list of electronics best sellers? And that it's spent a Beatlesque 229 days on the top 100 chart?
On the entertainment front, Sony may still be reeling from the nearly month-long outage of its Playstation Network in mid 2011. (For those unfamiliar, PSN is the single most mission-critical connection for teenaged boys of all ages.) And its Sony Entertainment Network seems unlike to unseat the aforementioned Netflixes and Amazons of the world. Indeed, there' s a cogent case to be made that those streaming content providers are themselves in the process of killing cable television, but that's for another post.
Mostly, Sony is screwed -- can I write that? -- by its financials. Sony lost almost $200 million in its recently reported fiscal quarter. To climb out of its hole, Sony is amidst a major restructuring, driving by the tanking of the HDTV television business. You can't cull cash out of a commodity market, and manufacturing flat-screen displays -- which is what TVs essentially are--is a low-margin loser.
So Sony is trying is refocus on cameras, video games, and mobile devices. However, as our own Junko Yoshida has reported, this isn't going to be an easy row to hoe. Remember though that Sony had $79 billion in revenue for last fiscal years, which ended March 31, 2012. Difficult as times are right now, this is a company that I believe is fixable. However, a correction will only come if the Japanese ethos of consensus is infused with the type of boldness Sony's late co-founder Akio Morita used to bring to the table.
To loop back to where Santa and I came in, my Christmas DVD unboxing led me to the thought that, as regards Sony, everyone's putting the financial cart before the product horse. And it should really be the other way around.
I don't know if streaming video technology smarts will breathe new life into Bravias. I'm also guessing that the margins of video and DVD boxes must be pretty poor. Finally, I realize that an also-ran captive entertainment network can't be the blades to one's DVD-player razors if no one's interested in said network.
Still, to say that Sony can't do legendary products is to ignore the instruction sheet which didn't come with my S390 Blu-ray player. Actually, it did have an "operating instructions" manual, but that pamphlet made no mention of any of the available streaming network options, other than the one no one wants. Btw, as another example of Sony's tech brilliance, you don't need the manual to successfully set up the player. It sets itself up, and if not, just ask any kid living in your house if they've got 10 minutes to spare.
I'll close with a catty, but true, piece of revenue-generating advice for Sony: When you have great products, try to stock them in your stores. The Sony Style store in Long Island's Roosevelt Field mall was out of DVD players over the holidays. I found that out after the clerk I was talking finished clicking away on a keyboard, and asked whether he could order one for me, off of Sony's Web site.
So I bought the player at Best Buy, proving that showroom aesthetics don't trump suboptimum supply chain management.
Last year I bought "last years" Samsung Blue ray that had the same smart hub that's in their TV's. The thing had Wifi, plays stuff on USB drives (hard drive or flash), downloads my Windows media from my pc over wifi and essentially rendered my PS3 redundant (I'm not a big gamer, other than rock band and the like). It also can access Youtube and all of the other junk. The price? $89. It's hard to beat that.
My Roku lists HBO Go as an available channel.
Also, though Roku doesn't provide access to YouTube directly, there are supposedly Roku channels that provide this access.
Note that I haven't tried either one, however.
Right, Alex, and there's also not much excuse for these obvious shortcomings.
The average person today needs simply this: make the entire Internet accessible from my TV set. Just as it is from my sit-up-to-it PC, or smartphone, or tablet.
Why is this difficult?
And by the way, this average consumer already knows how to search and how to browse, how to add bookmarks, load Adobe Flash, how to keep Adobe Flash up to date, and all the rest.
This should be way, way easier to solve than cramming Internet access onto tiny smartphones or tablets.
Bert- You're correct in pointing out the browser, and there's another interface issue I neglected to mention (and it's not just Sony at fault here. I'm talking about the ersatz on-screen imitations of keyboards. Makes searching/accessing content on all the services a pain. Re the browser, the Sony one isn't horrendous, but of course it doesn't support flash so it's not much use.
I guess I don't get why this should be so hard.
Perhaps 3 years ago now, I saw a really cool Sony Vaio TV box. It could do Internet access, BluRay player, and PVR functions. It came with all the standard TV interconnects (HDMI and analog), and with a wireless keyboard and a wireless remote. Too bad it retailed for $1600. The OS was Microsoft Vista, at the time. And it allowed one to install a TV tuner for over the air broadcasts.
Not long after seeing that, I built essentially the same thing, out of a standard PC with Win7. *Anyone* can do this. My TV has RGB interface, so I used that vs buying an HDMI adapter card. Wireless remote keyboard and mouse. Cost way less than $1600, and I can use it for anything I use a typical PC to do, and also watch Internet TV, watch music videos, whatever, on my 42" HD set and decent audio system. Not to mention, Win7 Home Premium comes with a really nice Microsoft Media Center, in case you install a TV tuner card into the PC (I did not, mainly because TVs and PVRs already have built-in tuners).
Point being, if Sony could build that Vaio box so many years ago, why does Sony find it so difficult AT LEAST to build a proper Internet browser into it "connected TV" products?
Aside from Sony and other TV manufacturers, I really don't get why consumers, who by now have become so adept at anything Internet related, have this insurmountable mental block when it comes to TV content. There are plenty of Internet TV sites out there. Starting with the networks themselves, e.g. abc.com, cbs.com, nbc.com, etc. (each one offering full-length episodes), your own local TV broadcasters offer content online, Hulu and Hulu Plus, Amazon, Netflix, not to mention a vast amount of YouTube content and lots of other more obscure web sites, with movies and videos.
No need to be slaved to one portal, one search engine, AppleTv, iTunes, or subscriptions. C'mon people, wake up.
It would be great to see Sony get its mojo back.
IMHO, Apple has been a huge imitator of Sony's minimalist style and marketing as well as its bent for classy industrial design and a trend-setting sense of what's possible and cool.
Amazing to think there once was a day when we laughed at M'soft's early attempts at video game consoles in the face of the strength of Sony and Nintendo.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.