Live-blogging CES: Sony announces super-thin TVs, and a dancing speaker system by Jon Fortt @FortuneMagazine January 7, 2008, 12:27 AM EST E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Journalists prepare for the start of the Sony pre-CES press conference. Image: Jon Fortt LAS VEGAS – Fresh from its news that Warner has backed its Blu-ray format for high definition, Sony (SNE) is vying to show that it is still an electronics innovator, and isn’t languishing in the shadow of iPod maker Apple (AAPL). To that end, the electronics giant said it will immediately begin selling an 11-inch version of a super-slim TV in the United States. The TV uses OLED techonology, which allows devices to be thinner than today’s LCDs and more power efficient. Sony also showed off new cell phones, cameras and the Rolly speaker system, a novel egg-shaped robotic speaker system that actually moves to the sound of the music it plays. Below, the way the Sony press conference unfolded: The press conference has begun. In a video, Sony is showing its Rolly, an odd speaker system that sort of dances and rolls on the floor. The senior VP of the digital imaging and audio division is taking the stage. He’s making the case that in digital entertainment and devices, all roads lead to Sony. “Rolly is a sophisticated piece of entertainment technology,” he says, and the camera turns to one dancing around on stage. “Simply stated, it provides a new way to listen and enjoy music out of the box.” A push of the button gets things started he says, allowing it todance to its own beat. It will be available in limited quantities at the beginning of the year. He’s now talking about the Walkman video players, saying Sony kept its fingers crossed when it launched. He’s calling the reaction tremendous in the U.S., saying it’s getting Sony recognized in the audio and video space again – but he doesn’t give numbers to prove that Son’y gaining on Apple. Next he quickly touts the PSP, Playstation Portable. Now he’s announcing the mylo personal communicator, a wireless handheld with a keyboard that allows you to IM, take photos, and use Adobe (ADBE) Flash. Also, there are new VAIOs. Sony doesn’t do desktops, so these are all laptops. He doesn’t go into much detail. Now he’s describing the VAIO TP, a high-def device for the home theater that we’ll have to find out more about later. He moves on to talk about Sony’s noise-canceling headphones and its Sony Reader, an e-book reading device that competes with Amazon’s (AMZN) offering. Sony’s device now supports PDF. New iPod nano: up close (Photos 1-5) Nokia’s answer to the iPhone (Photos 1-7) Game-changing cell phones (Photos 1-7) Now he’s moving on to navigation devices – a Nav-U, with 4.8- and 4.3-inch displays. They feature Position Plus, a system that estimates where your vehicle is, even if the GPS signal is lost. They will have Bluetooth included, and will ship next month. Now the VP marketing for Sony Ericsson is taking the stage to talk about phones. Sony has done well with the Walkman phone, selling 45 million worldwide as of September, she says. The w760 has an FM radio, stereo speakers, and a slider design. It also has tilt gaming controls, so that you can control action by tilting your wrist. It will be available in q1 2008. It’s 3G (Sony Ericsson’s first 3G Walkman device), with a 3.2 megapixel camera. The w350 is an interesting black phone with a gold disk controller in the center that slides down to reveal the keyboard. It’s 10 millimeters thin, with a 1.3 megapixel camera. This one could challenge the RAZR’s old coolness factor. The z555 has a diamond-inspired desgin that’s sort of garish, but fits today’s youth fashions. The coolest feature – you can wave your hand over the phone to silence a ring or snooze an alarm. It comes in two colors: “dusted rose” and “diamond black.” Now Sony’s talking about the DVDDirect recorder, an appliance that lets you easily archive images to DVD. An executive is going through the Cyber-shot camera features, face detection and smile detection. Camcorders. Sony’s got 16 new models tonight, including HD models with solid-state memory built in. These have face detection technology as well. They’ll all go on sale this spring. Some will capture 1920 x 1080 resolution. There will be hard disk drive and DVD formats as well. Now, SLRs. Smaller, faster, steadyshot and dynamic range optimizer. This is more for the pros and semi-pros, as these are bulkier than the point-and-shoots – they’re available later this month. Sony is demonstrating TransferJet, a near-field wireless technology for moving data. (This is yet another proprietary format choice from Sony, and it’s having glitches. It’s not working at the moment, which is embarrassing for the company. Why does Sony keep building products based on proprietary formats? Didn’t they learn from ATRAC3?) Sony is now touting its experience with HD technology. They’re talking up Blu-ray’s progress over the past year, including the standalone players and computers. He’s announcing an external Blu-ray drive that connects to PCs – it will cost less than $200. He’s touting the 2-1 ratio in which Blu-ray is outselling rival HD DVD, and predicts that Blu-ray’s lead with expand throughout the year. He touts Warner’s move in recent days to distribute HD movies exclusively on Blu-ray by May 2008. “We believe this decision will further strengthen and accelerate the adoption of Blu-ray disk technology,” he says. Now, TVs. Bravias will have an Internet Video Link that will sport walled-garden content from a number of providers. Also, a DMex link will allow you to connect other devices to the TV. The most impressive: wireless HDMI through Bravia Wireless Link. Components can be up to 200 feet away, Sony says. There’s a new series of Bravias today with thin bezels and new colors. Two new models is particular are being shown off now. (Some of this is making be rethink my earlier criticism of Sony’s proprietary format choices. Sometimes you have to invent something and put it out there if you want to innovate. The question is whether Sony will license it on friendly terms, or drop it if a more broadly adopted format comes out.) Stan Glasgow, the head of Sony Electronics, has taken the stage. He says Sony’s sales have grown by double digits compared to the year before, and in part it owes to Sony listening to consumers – something the company hasn’t done as well in the past. (Two examples of this that he has mentioned to me in the past: the way Sony has moved its music players to open formats, and has begun pricing TVs low enough to be sold in mainstream retailers like Target (TGT) and Wal-Mart (WMT). He says Sony has not been affected by talk about a U.S. recession.) Glasgow also said Sony will immediately begin selling an 11-inch, 3-millimeter-thick OLED TV in the U.S. for about $2,500. OLED has advantages over the LCD technology now used in most flat-panel televisions; OLED displays are brighter, the images crisper, and the power demands lower. Sony probably won’t sell many of the displays at that price – for $2,500 consumers can buy a $42-inch LCD TV. But by beginning to manufacture the panels in volume, Sony can hope to bring down prices over time. The strategy might yield results for Sony, however; if portable televisions take off, for example, OLED could be the favored technology because its thin dimensions and frugal power use would encourage compact devices with longer battery life.