Junko, you ask about a "value added" box that Sony might create. What I can't figure out is, why can't Sony, or all the other CE companies in the TV business, create TVs or other boxes (e.g. DVD players) that incorporate real honest to goodness web browsing? They could put their own engineers to developing clever UIs optimized toward TV content on the web, for instance, rather than buying a Microsoft or Apple solution. Instead, most "connected TV" products out there are rather pathetic. Mostly, you get access to a handful of pay-TV web portals, and that's it. There are zillions of TV portals out there, and they seem to change all the time.
Remember when the big news of the day was digital TV? Even that was like pulling teeth, to get the CE companies to incorporate decent digital "tuners." It took years, and ultimately an act of Congress, for heaven's sake. It's the same thing all over again, with IP access.
It's almost like these CE companies are happy to make everyone dependent of the proprietary set top boxes that the cable and satellite companies force down peoples' throats. I ended up connecting a PC to the TV, for this purpose, and I find that's how I do most of my TV watching these days. You'd think that would be at least one obvious avenue for TV innovation!
Junko, first of all I would like to thank you for a personal reply. I am very honored as I've been reading your coverage of CE in EE Times (unlike the NY Times, EE Times is still "The Journal of Record") since the mid-'90s, beginning with what evolved into DVD. Your reporting has be amazingly insightful, and you must be expert with using your "feminine wiles" to obtain information that no other journalist can! :)
And I can understand the coming of "4K". By the time you get up to an 84" display, it does make a difference, and those are coming. The other factor was highlighted in the comments in your other linked article talking about "the best picture is what sells". And we have to remember that in the retail outlet, the customer is going to walk right up to within 30 cm of the screen and go, "WOW!", even though when he gets it home and watches it from 300 cm the differences will be negligble...
But there are two separate factors that need to be recognized:
1) The very highest budget Hollywood blockbusters will be filmed in 4K. But does anybody really think that they are going to sell exact duplicates of what is shown in a theater on a 500" screen for $19.99 at Best Buy?
If anybody thinks so, I think they are crazy. Just take a look at how much the compression used by cable and satellite damages the picture quality at:
Yes, they are all "1080p" -- but all 1080p is NOT created equal.
2) I have spoken with some of the top level people at one of the major Japanese CE companies and they have told me that 4K is a MUCH more significant improvement than 3D, plus no silly glasses are required. And I can get that and I can understand that scaling chips will fool enough people that 4K will become the next "big thing".
But 8K??? GMAFB... Where is this all going to end? 16K? 32K? 128K? At what point do people not give a hoot any more? With Detroit muscle cars, it was just over 400 cubic inches. I think we have already passed that spot with processor speeds in computers, at least for the mainstream consumer. Even picky audiophiles would be happy with 192/24 PCM audio files. At some point every field reachs a saturation limit where nobody cares any more. Aren't we there with cameras now? Does anyone really think that they need 50 Mpix instead of 15 Mpix?
Sure there are always some kooky techno-geeks out there that would purchase it (probably due to deficiciencies in, ahem, some other area) but that does not constitute a viable market. And I (for one) am sick of being told that my "latest, greatest, best ever invented" gadget is completly obsolete every two years because the people that design products have completely run out of any meaningful improvements and instead just offer more of the SOS.
Innovative and dynamic companies become too structured and end up losing the resiliency that they once had. We are actually seeing a similar thing ongoing at Apple.
Partially, this is how Apple changed the game rules against the RIAA (and to a certain extent MPAA) Hooligan B*st*rds and their shenanigans. This is a lesson that consumer-oriented companies fail to learn from!
Could the problems at Sony be a simple matter of having the wrong business model in the wrong decade?
It appears like the old adage about the "bigger hammer" syndrome; which usually does not resolve the problem. IMHO, Intel is the best business role model; since they have continually re-adapted and re-invented themselves, time and time again.
We, as engineers, know fully well the consequences of "Peter's principle". But Japan Inc. (aka MITI) is not able to absorb the full ramifications of the spanking lessons they are receiving in the auto industry from the Koreans (Hyundai) and similarly in the electronics industry from their same neighbor (Samsung). Although, there may actually be a silver-lining for them, as MITI had dictated that Toyota work with Subaru and the (hopefully successful) outcome was the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ.
I wish United States had such a cooperative environment as instituted by Japan Inc.'s MITI.
DMcCunney, I used the word TV loosely. Let's call it a display. Without getting into the display business (which is killing everyone), what if you getf into a smart "box" biz (not necessarily a set-top per se -- it could be also the next generation playstation)? You don't need to deal with dumb displays.
You develop a value-added box that can handle everything from 8K to SDTV, optimize "content viewing experience" (not just the number of pixels, but even changing the user interface on the fly) to best fit for whatever screen a consumer happens to be using?
I am just thinking out loud here, so I apologize in advance for my half-baked idea here. But you wouldn't call that box a TV biz, would you?
I think they need to figure out a way to carve out a new revenue stream from content, and for their TV biz -- without them actually manufacturing TVs.
Er, what TV biz? A TV is a TV is a TV. There is an enormous amount of content out there. in broadcast, cable, satellite dish and online streaming sources. If you have a TV and the connection to a source, you can view it.
This isn't like the iPod, where Steve Jobs was able to get the content producers to allow iPod users to get their content and provide stuff they could listen to. And the agreement wasn't significant in allowing iPod users to get content. MP3 players were not new, and content existed for them. What was significant about Apple's deal was the price Apple was allowed to charge through the iTunes store. The content providers were resistant at lowering the price content would cost. Jobs managed to convice them that the volume they would do would more than offset the lower price charged per song, and was proven correct.
Sony is active in production of television content, through its Sony Pictures division, and generates revenue from it. I'm not sure what sort of new revenue stream you see them being able to carve out, and what parts of their business it would benefit..
I can see why the activist hedge fund manager wants Sony to split: he has the possibility of making a lot of money. Whether it's a good idea long-term for Sony is another matter.
I agree on your summary above.
As for your suggestion that Sony should get out of TV business, I also agree. But here's the thing. I think they need to figure out a way to carve out a new revenue stream from content, and for their TV biz -- without them actually manufacturing TVs.
That aside, though, i need to remind you that there were a lot of naysayers, when HDTV was first floated around. Who needs HDTV?, they said.
I don't think CE companies should bet the farm on UHDTV. But we do need to recognize that 4K and 8K are something video experts both in the motion picture and CE industries have been talking about for sometime.
Sony's innovations such as its Trinitron, Walkman, electret microphones, CD, DVD, BluRay, PS2 etc. allowed it to realize healthy profit margins with its "killer apps".
As it's innovations become commodities, that can be quickly reproduced by its competitors at similar high quality but much lower cost, the profit margins that Sony is used to become unattainable. The effect was clearly demonstrated by the Beta VHS battle. Current Sony products do cost more and are less and less "slightly ahead of our time."
In addition, Sony's entertainment division's occasional "next big thing" isn't enough to shore up profits diluted by the shear volume of its so-so products.
Adjusting one's lifestyle lower is very hard if you are used to rolling in dough.
Sony is certainly missing the technical leadership of its founder that gave Sony its glory days, doing what it was exceptionally good at. It appears that Apple is bound for a similar fate.