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  • Sony Seeks to Create Fun PCs, Idei Says
  • January 8, 1998 (TOKYO) -- Sony Corp. is striving to develop a stronger presence in the markets of personal computers and associated peripheral equipment.

    The Tokyo-based company released its VAIO series of personal computers targeting individual users, and it offers a wide variety of digital cameras, DVDs and other PC peripheral products. The global consumer electronics giant is trying to take advantage of its expertise in audio-video products and PCs.

    Tamio Ohta, Editor-in-Chief of Nikkei Personal Computing, interviewed Sony President Nobuyuki Idei, on the company's digital strategies under the slogan of "Digital Dream Kids."

    The full interview can be found in the December 15/December 29, 1997 edition of Nikkei Personal Computing (in Japanese).

    Ohta: Where is Sony's digital revolution heading?

    Idei: Three types of products need to be digitized.

    First, we plan to digitize our audio-video products such as mini discs (MDs), digital cameras and televisions equipped with flat cathode-ray tubes.

    Secondly, Sony has started digitizing PCs. I had been carrying a notebook PC made by another company and I always wished to have a lighter one. An AC adapter and a notebook PC can be somewhat heavy. The VAIO PCG-505, a thin notebook PC we released recently, uses camcorder technology.

    Thirdly, we will digitize set-top boxes and network televisions. Sony plans to devise a home-use, computer-like product, that isn't Wintel (Windows-Intel)-based. We are starting a division called Digital Network Solution to offer services jointly with Japan Sky Broadcasting Co., Ltd. (JSkyB) and others.

    Windows-based PCs Can't Attract Over 40 Percent of All Households

    Ohta: What kind of PC products do you plan to develop?

    Idei: Sony is launching a virtual company called VAIO Center. The center is an internal task force with employees from various sections. Under the slogan, "If Sony produces it, a PC can be this fun," the center will make full use of ideas from various members to develop a Windows-based PC with advanced audio-video capabilities.

    Ohta: PCs will play an important role in the digital age, right?

    Idei: I think that Windows 95-, Windows 98-, and Windows NT-based PCs won't be purchased by more than 40 percent of all households.

    It is unrealistic to think that every household will have at least one Windows-based PC some day, like televisions and radios.

    The use of a PC is difficult to master, and PCs are not really made for consumers. Because PCs were originally developed for corporate use, they have reinforced capabilities to protect files and data. Consumers, however, do not need such capabilities.

    Recently, I had a chance to talk with Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. I learned that even Gates does not believe that Windows NT- based PCs will be widely used in homes. When digital televisions become more popular in the future, the role of Windows CE will become increasingly important for Microsoft.

    Sony will strengthen its hardware and software development, and we will also strengthen our ties with Microsoft. And we plan to cooperate with Sun Microsystems Inc. in Java technology. Sony will not get involved in fights between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. That is our stance.

    Digital TVs Compatible With Interlace and Progressive Methods

    Ohta: What's your opinion of the PC camp's influence on digital TVs?

    Idei: The whole industry is now witnessing a debate over whether interlace or progressive methods should be adopted for digital TV displays. But I think such a debate is nonsense.

    In the digital age, a producer, transmitter and receiver of images will be able to convert the images as they like. A receiver can convert the images transmitted by an interlace method into a progressive method and vice versa.

    Ohta: Microsoft is promoting the progressive method, though.

    Idei: I assume that Microsoft is not familiar with digital TVs. Why do we have to watch TV programs on a PC screen? The progressive method may be convenient for PC makers, but current TVs would then need to be changed.

    If we could forget about the current TVs, there's no doubt that the progressive method is superior to the interlace method. The progressive method will be the industry standard in the future.

    However, it would be unreasonable for PC makers to stick to the method. It's not a question of ideas and principles. We will make both types of digital TVs. We will manufacture what our customers require.

    Sony welcomes the trend in which PCs are becoming closer to TVs. But it is impossible for us to pay for Windows licenses for TVs as we do for PCs.

    Windows 98-based PCs will enable users to more easily handle motion pictures, and the distinction between PCs and TVs will gradually disappear. Even so, I don't believe that PCs will consolidate with home-use videos in the future.

    DVD-RAM Technology Remains Immature

    Ohta: As concerns your DVD-RAM strategy, what encouraged Sony to decide to take a different stance from other manufacturers?

    Idei: In DVD-ROM read-only memory, it is crucial to be standardized because the DVD-ROM industry is a publishing industry, and movie titles account for 90 percent of that industry.

    However, as for DVD-RAMs, in which we can write, the technology is progressing rapidly. We should not try to standardize the industry now because various methods are still appearing. If a company wants to set the industry standard, it will have to come up with leading technology.

    Judging from the history of VHS and Beta videotape recorders, half-finished products are doomed to die out. It is nonsense to think about being an industry leader with a de facto standard while the technology remains immature.

    Future recording disks must be capable of recording about three hours of high-quality motion pictures. The products will need a minimum capacity of some 20GB. The capacity of 3GB-4GB will not emerge as the de facto standard, and I think that the MPEG2 won't be a standard for the motion picture format.

    Ohta: In terms of putting together hardware and software, what is your next business challenge?

    Idei: Sony has been selling a combination of software and hardware since the 1970s, including the Walkman series, CDs, MDs, and Beta and VHS VTRs. Recording media do not require software products. Camcorders are a recording medium, so they don't need software products. We start with products for recording, but then later, 90 percent of our product lineups will be replaced by those for replaying.

    When consumers try to record things by themselves, the industry's size stays relatively small. The PC industry is a good example of that. The industry is still immature if consumers are struggling to record something by themselves. On the other hand, for devices that play recorded media, the market is huge.


    Nobuyuki Idei, 60, headed Sony's home video products division in 1988, and he decided to terminate manufacturing of Beta videotape recorders. The company then joined the VHS camp. After becoming president of Sony in June 1995, he implemented new management strategies, including organizational reform and capital participation in Japan Sky Broadcasting Co. (JSkyB), a digital satellite broadcaster. (photographer: Meiki Shimizu) (return to news)

    (Nikkei Personal Computing)

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    Nikkei BP BizTech, Inc.
    All Rights Reserved.
    Updated: Wed Jan 7 19:30:05 1998