Sony Stresses 3D, Connectivity, Pro Install with New ES Receivers
Sony components integrated with a Control4 automation system
Sony borrows from studio biz to build ES receivers with exceptional 3D video and audio; sells exclusively through specialty A/V shops, not big-box retailers.
Sony is rolling out four new 3D products that are so good … only an A/V specialist can sell them.
The new products – three 7.1 A/V receivers and a Blu-ray player—are part of Sony’s Elevated Standard (ES) line, which is “only available to A/V specialty and installation dealers,” says Brian Siegel, vice president of Sony’s home audio and video business.
Siegel and his colleagues introduced the new products to a small group of reporters last week in Los Angeles.
The new 3D-capable devices are the STR-DA5600ES, STR-DA4600ES and STR-DA3600ES receivers, and the BDP-S1700ES Blu-ray player. They will all ship this August or September.
The x600ES receivers (with MSRPs from around $1,100 to $2,000) will replace the x500ES products, but the price points will remain the same.
Compared to their predecessors, the new receivers offer (depending on model):
- 3D pass-through
- improved multiroom features
- enhanced DLNA capabilities
- HDMI 1.4 with audio return channel
- enhanced speaker auto-calibration
- iPhone/iPad control
- integrated Ethernet switch
- richer two-way integration with third-party control systems via IP and RS-232
The new BDP-S1700ES Blu-ray 3D player (around $400) features an IR input jack on the rear panel, Bravia Internet Video, integrated 802.11n, and expanded content options with its built-in 1GB hard drive and DLNA compatibility.
View the complete product line, specs and pricing here.
Thriving on 3D
The “3D” label is hardly a cheap PR ploy, according Siegel.
“Sony’s value proposition in the 3D world,” he says, “is we’re the only ones that can provide everything from actual content creation to in-home and in-theater experience.”
Indeed, during the press event, reporters were led through Sony Pictures Entertainment and the corporation’s new 3D Technology Center. At the studios, Oscar-caliber technicians were hard at work converting old 2D movies to 3D, perfecting 3D film-making, and mixing 7.1 audio for 3D movies.
Through its Imageworks group, Sony “has made more 3D movies than just about anyone,” says Chris Cookson, president of Sony Pictures Technologies.
So it seems fair that Sony would claim 3D superiority in its new receivers and Blu-ray player (not to mention Bravia TVs and other 3D products announced last month).
Siegel says in a statement released today, “Because Sony is involved in every stage of the 3D ecosystem, specialty dealers and installers can rest assured that our A/V components leverage that deep expertise to deliver the most technically advanced experience possible.”
While CE pros might “get it,” though, big-box retailers and online stores probably won’t. Consumers are more likely to enjoy the full 3D splendor of Sony products when demonstrated and/or installed by a specialty shop.
“The experience of the products requires that you go to it – see it, hear it, feel it – that you have that conversation with dealers,” says Siegel.
Sony ES and the Custom Channel
Sony’s own research indicates that most customers who buy ES products off the shelf or online “don’t really know what they’re buying,” Siegel says.
On average, they enjoy key product features much less than those who buy the same products through a specialist.
And that’s why you won’t see the new Sony ES products (with more to come) for sale at mass-market merchants and all over the Internet. In fact, while Sony will generate awareness online for ES products, the company will no longer allow Internet-based transactions for the line.
“The market for ES is much larger than what we’re getting here” in the mass market, says Siegel. “There’s a customer satisfaction element.”
Calling the ES line “mass aspirational products,” he says, “We can promote to a mass audience that we continue to innovate – that we put products out there that are not available readily, that people have to aspire to.”
For years, the ES brand has been the “jewel in the crown for Sony’s home audio and home video,” says Siegel, noting that ES innovations include DVD, SACD and the first Blu-ray mega-changer.
But somewhere along the way, ES lost its cachet and the line was distributed indiscriminately to retailers whose standard for A/V was anything but elevated. As a result, an exceptional product in many cases became, simply, really good.
Sony is not content for consumers to enjoy ES products merely for “what they are, but what they can be,” Siegel explains. “The way we distribute products today, we’ve been challenged to tell the story about all the great technology included.”
The new custom-only program for the ES line could do wonders for Sony’s standing in the channel. Since 2009, the company has worked hard to win back custom electronics pros who defected when Sony forgot about them for several years previously.
The ES products, says Siegel, proves once again that Sony is “completely committed to the specialty channel.”
This business model, he notes, is occurring at a time when Sony competitors are taking an opposite tack—broadening distribution to include any mass-market channel that will have them.
It’s not just about great products and limited distribution, though. Sony is offering a five-year limited warranty on ES products, which Siegel believes from his research to be “industry leading.”
There’s also a 90-day advanced exchange program (two- to three-day expedited replacement unit) and a dedicated installer support line to Sony’s San Diego-based CEDIA-trained product experts.
The new STR-DA x600ES-series receivers will replace Sony’s x500 series, but the retail prices will remain the same. Among the highlights:
3D Video & Audio (all models)
Naturally, 3D pass-through is a serious selling point of Sony’s new receivers. Thanks to its film-making arm, Sony Pictures Entertainment, “we’re the only ones that can provide everything from actual content creation to in-home and in-theater experience,” says Brian Siegel, vice president of Sony’s home audio and video business.
In addition to 3D video quality, Sony is focused on bringing 7.1 sound to the 3D experience. Drawing on work done by Sony’s Greg Russell, a 12-time Oscar-nominated re-recording mixer, the company is able to “create true 3D sound … allow[ing] consumers in the home to have fully immersive theaters,” says Siegel. “When you’re using a Sony Receiver, you’re getting the experience of Sony Pictures’ dubbing studios.”
DCAC EX Calibration (STR-5600ES)
Like its predecessors, Sony’s 600-series receivers feature the company’s Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) with Automatic Phase Matching (APM). Without changing the front reference speakers, APM corrects for phase differentiation between front, center, and surround speakers, ensuring an ideal sound stage regardless of speaker type.
New to the calibration feature set is DCAC EX, which includes speaker relocation. The settings adjust not just for the distance but also the angle of the listening position to create an optimal listening environment.
DLNA Server (STR-5600ES)
The 500ES-series receivers all served as DLNA clients – allowing the products to stream audio, video and photos from any DLNA-compliant device – but the new 5600ES also has DLNA server capabilities. That means the product can stream live audio, like from Shoutcast and Rhapsody, to other DLNA clients on the network.
Multiroom Distribution and Upscaling (DA5600ES and DA4600ES)
Both audio and video can be distributed via a second HDMI output to a second TV zone. In addition, Sony has added a Cat 5 output that can be used to distribute video to the second location.
In addition, the two higher-end receivers have a second Faroudja chip so the units can deliver a TV GUI and upscale the video in a second zone to 1080i (1080p in the main zone).
Integrated Ethernet Switch (all)
Brand new to Sony receivers – and a novel feature for any receiver—is an integrated four-port Ethernet switch that eliminates the need for another black box in the A/V rack.
Richer Two-way Integration with Control Systems (all)
Sony is more serious than ever about integrating with third-party control systems. Receivers can be challenging to fully integrate, but Sony is making sure that all key features are accessible through third-party remotes and touchscreens. The company was the first with a Control4-certified receiver, and is also working with Crestron, AMX (Device Discovery Partner), Savant, URC, RTI and others.
“We’re being very proactive to get drivers out there,” says Amy Lloyd, product manager for Sony’s home audio and video group.
The 2010 ES receivers feature IR input jacks and two-way serial and IP control.
iPhone/iPad Control (all)
While a whole-house control system is nice, you no longer need one to operate Sony receivers and connected components from a second zone. A free Apple app features zone control, a full GUI menu and Sony’s Quick Click remote function that lets users control source components (such as Blu-ray players and settop boxes) from a second TV location.
View the complete product line, specs and pricing here.
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