Sony Looks Beyond HD

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After being a pioneer
in high-definition production equipment, Sony is now working to take an early
lead in 3D, where its equipment and cameras have been installed in several
3D-capable trucks. In a lengthy interview with HD Update contributor George Winslow, Alec Shapiro, senior vice
president, sales and marketing, Professional Solutions of America, Sony
Electronics talked about the improving state of the broadcast business, some of
Sony's newer products and the emerging 3D marketplace.

MCN: How did you see the National Association
of Broadcasters convention this year?

Alec Shapiro: We
were very encouraged about the customer turnout to NAB
this year. From our vantage point, it was certainly significantly up compared
to last year and I thought the overall business mood was upbeat. I think the
worst is over.

Alec Shapiro

Certainly, areas of interest also seemed to change. Our
Media Backbone solutions [describe] drew a great deal of interest from our
traditional broadcast and production customers as well as customers outside the
traditional core market -- educational institutions and some government
customers as well. So we felt good about that.

We also saw much greater interest in workflow solutions than
individual pieces of hardware.

MCN: Are you seeing
more interest in HD upgrades from the people who might have slowed down their transition
last year because of the economy?

AS: Yes. But to
be honest with you, SD for us seems like a long time ago. Compared to 3D, even
HD this year seemed to be like SD. With the array of low-cost HD acquisition
solutions, there is little or no reason for any station to stay SD. There is
really a HD solution available now for every budget and frankly, there are HD
solutions that cost far less than their SD counterparts did five years ago.

MCN: How will your
new Media Backbone help people working in high def?

AS: For
production facilities today -- whether it's a studio or TV station or network --
the biggest challenge that everyone has to deal with taking a variety of
formats ranging from SD to the various flavors of HD, and then easily
outputting them for distribution in a variety of formats.

What we showed for that was a solution was called Media Backbone
that we think will be the glue that can tie together a very diverse array of
components in a facility that are not only Sony components, but third-party
components.

All of this is based on many conversations we've had with
our customer over the past two years. The common story we heard from all of
them was that it was hard to get products from one manufacturer to work with
any other manufacturer. So this is a solution that easily integrates everyone's
products and technology and works to make them transparent to each other in the
workflow process. We demonstrated that for everything from 4k acquisition workflow
all the way down to distribution of content to portable devices.

MCN: You launched a number of 3D products at NAB. How do you see the demand for 3D
developing? Is it from people who are planning to do 3D production or is it
coming from people who want to future-proof themselves if the technology takes
over?

AS: I think it is
a combination of both. Starting with the movie Avatar that generated $2 billion [at the] box office, everyone is
fascinated by the potential business model for 3D content to the home and certainly
this summer a number of companies, Sony included, will be introducing 3DTVs at retail.
So, everyone is trying to understand how do you really make 3D content? Can you
make 3D and 2D at the same time? What is the potential return on the investment?
How is 3D going to be distributed to the home?

There are lots of interesting questions and a lot of
interest in being able to acquire 3D content more efficiently than the current
production system that utilize 3D rigs. There is a lot of interest in when producers
are going to be able to buy one piece 3D cameras and use them to produce shows
for Discovery or Nat Geo or some other network.

So, 3D is really interesting in that from our vantage point.
Sony is unquestionably the leader in 3D production in terms of everything that
has been released and commercially successful including Avatar, which was shot with our cameras.

But even though we are a 3D leader, we just introduced some
of our 3D products at NAB. One was MPE-200 3D
processor, which is a processor that can be used to converge camera lenses in a
3D rig. We also introduced the HDC-P1 which is designed to mount very
efficiently into smaller, more efficient 3D rigs.

MCN: Did you have a longer
list of new products at NAB this year than last year?

AS: That's hard
to say. I think the maybe the number of model changes was about the same, but
the technology breakthroughs were much more significant this year. The P1 camera
I just mentioned for $30,000 is a real breakthrough in terms of high-end
acquisition.

Companies were shooting 3D using two of our HDC-1500 cameras
in a rig and those cameras are about $80,000 a piece. Now they can outfit a 3D
rig with two P1 cameras for $60,000. So that is a breakthrough in terms of the price
of entry.

We also showed the PVM740, which is our first OLED [Organic
Light-Emitting Diode] monitor. Ever since we started to phase-out our CRT
monitors, our customers have been asking for the next technology. LCD has been
acceptable up to a point but for color correction and for critical picture
evaluation, OLED is a leap ahead from where we are in LCD and there is a great
deal of excitement over OLED.

The first one we are delivering is only 7.5 inches but we
have plans for two larger sizes in the course of the next 12 months.

This is a category Sony used to dominate with CRT. We are
one of pack in LCD but I think OLED will again separate us from everyone else.

MCN: You mentioned
that business has been picking up. Can you talk about some recent deals?

AS: In the area
of 3D, we've made some significant deals with other truck companies that we
will soon be announcing as well as with rental companies that service the live
production marketplace. So I think that both truck companies as well as rental
companies are gearing up to be able to support 3D live production.

We announced at the show that the end to end solution that
we put together for the Golf Channel. It represents our first customer where
we've addressed the challenges of integrating a great deal of our equipment with
a great deal of equipment from other 3rd party manufacturers into an overall
solution.

We are experiencing very strong sales in sports stadiums and
arenas. In the past year we finished with the [National Basketball Association's]
Miami Heat and I just went over to the new Meadowlands Stadium [in East
Rutherford, N.J., home to the National Football League's New York Giants and
New York Jets]. That was super. There are Sony displays wherever you go and the
control room is all Sony.

In the very high end of the marketplace, our the F35 [CineAlta]
camera has become the de facto standard for high-end primetime dramatic TV production.
We've taken quite a few orders for more of those cameras to satisfy the needs
for the upcoming primetime schedule.

Right before the [NAB] show we closed a very significant
deal with Hearst to supply XDCAM and studio cameras to their stations.

And, the Fox O&Os are standardizing on our
switcher and automation system for their stations. So business is picking up
pretty nicely.

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