LAS VEGAS Positioning Sony Corp. as a "broadband entertainment company," Sony president Nobuyuki Idei rolled out at Comdex two high-end digital cameras and a set of agreements that will smooth the company's path to Internet audio. Idei also announced Sony's plans to extend its Vaio PC line with a family of handheld devices that will use Palm Computing Inc.'s Palm OS.
"What we are and what we will be is a broadband entertainment company," said Idei, addressing the Comdex trade show here. To that end, Idei rolled out a high-end consumer digital camera that will enable "personal broadcasting" of video over the Net, and a prototype professional digital camera that director George Lucas will use to shoot his next Star Wars installment beginning next year.
Sony's handheld MD Discam sports a redesigned MiniDisc magneto-optical drive that can hold 650 Mbytes of data room enough for about 20 minutes of MPEG-2 video. The disk uses a narrower track pitch and finer pickup wavelength than the existing MiniDisc, which holds 140 Mbytes.
Sony has made the Discam Internet ready by equipping it with its own Ethernet port and DHCP dynamic addressing, which allows a PC to link to the camera over the 10-Mbit/second line and view its contents via a Web browser pointing to the camera's own URL. In this way, the $2,299 Discam conforms to Idei's belief that Sony must make products which tap into Web distribution of content.
"We will give people the tools to create full-motion video and upload it to the Net as personal broadcasting," Idei said.
The Discam uses PersonalJava from Sun Microsystems Inc. as its underlying systems software. Sun's chief scientist, Bill Joy, was one of several guests who joined Idei on stage at the keynote.
"My view is that anything that has electricity could be on the network," Joy said. "I don't think there is any one center of the network. There are many centers."
For his part, Idei said Sony will pursue three strategic gateways to the Web: its Vaio PCs; digital television; and its Playstation 2 gaming console.
At the other end of the digital camera spectrum, Sony showed a prototype professional high-definition digital camera that is being delivered this week to the Industrial Light and Magic production company. The camera is the first to capture professional-quality movies digitally.
"We'll finally catch up with the amateur consumer camera market," quipped filmmaker Lucas, who also joined Idei on stage. "I haven't had anything to do with editing film in the last several years, and I look forward to doing an entire film completely digital. It's very difficult going back and forth between analog and digital. Millions are spent just to get the film into the computer."
Digital technology "allows me to open up as a writer and do things I would not have thought of before," said Lucas, who is now writing the script for the follow-on to last summer's The Phantom Menace. "I can go into any weird brain space I want."
The camera uses a Sony body that supports 24-frame/second, 1,920 x 1,080 progressive scanning with a new set of lenses from Panavision Inc. Sony and Panavision have been working on the digital camera for about four years.
Separately, Sony struck agreements under which its OpenMG copyright protection software for Internet audio will be made interoperable with products from InterTrust Technologies, Liquid Audio, Microsoft, Preview Systems, Real Networks and Reciprocal. Sony was already working with IBM Corp. on a secure means of electronic music distribution in the so-called Madison project.
Sony also agreed to support Microsoft's Windows Media Audio codec in addition to Sony's own Atrac3 format. "We don't care what sort of codec is used" for Web audio, said Idei. "What is important is that the content is copyright protected."
"We are looking to expand the world of electronic music distribution," said Howard Stringer, chief executive of Sony America.
Sony also struck a deal to license the PalmOS for use in a new line of handheld devices that will be part of the Sony Vaio PC line. Idei would not provide details of Sony's pans for handhelds, saying only that the devices would focus on wireless communications and multimedia. As part of the deal, Palm will support Sony's MemoryStick flash cards.
Sony's last foray into the PDA market involved the ill-fated technology from General Magic Inc. in the early 1990's. Sony reorganized its hardware division in March, rolling digital camera and cellular phone units into its Vaio PC division.
Idei said the deals show that Sony wants to promote open platforms and is ready to work with a variety of partners. Indeed, with its ties to Sun's Java and its strong presence in the PC business, Sony is trying to cut a neutral position that embraces technology from both Sun and Microsoft. "We want to be equally distant from Sun and Microsoft," said Idei.