Sony to Introduce Cloud-Based TV, Streaming Game Services

In CES keynote, Sony topper Kaz Hirai calls for "wow" in consumer tech

Sony CES 2014
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

New Internet-based entertainment services, including a streaming game service and a cloud-based TV service, highlighted Sony’s Tuesday morning keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show.

The cloud-based TV service, as yet not officially named, was introduced by Andrew House, president and group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, as part of a presentation by Sony topper Kazuo Hirai. The service will include both live TV and recorded programs from streaming VOD services like Netflix. The service will begin testing in the U.S. later this year.

Sony has been exploring the idea of an over-the-top TV service for several years. Last summer, the company reportedly reached a preliminary agreement with Viacom to carry Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and other cable networks on such a service, delivered on PlayStation and other Sony devices.

Sony’s launch of a “virtual cable TV” service would come after Intel spent untold millions on a similar project before deciding to throw in the towel. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich has indicated that the cost of programming deals was prohibitive, saying “we are out looking for a partner that can help us scale that volume at a much quicker rate,” in an interview with tech news site Re/code. The chip maker has been in advanced negotiations with Verizon about selling the Intel Media division to the telco.

House also introduced PlayStation Now, a streaming game service that will deliver games from the PlayStation 1 through 3, to PlayStation 4 consoles and mobile devices. House said the service will begin a closed beta at the end of January and roll out wide this summer. The PlayStation 4, he said, passed 4.2 million units in sales on Dec. 28 and is now the largest console launch in history.

SEE ALSO: Sony Is Keeping PlayStation’s Internet TV Options Open

Hirai’s theme for his keynote was the Japanese concept of “kando”: “(Kando is) emotional involvement. The power to stimulate an emotional response,” he said. “All Sony products must be inspired by kando.” He said the goal is always to deliver a “wow” experience. “No more commodity products, no more just-good-enough products, we have to do better.”

In addition to House, Hirai was also joined onstage by Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton and “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan. Lynton and Gilligan discussed the changes that have come with streaming video on demand (SVOD) services. “When I started in the TV business, the conventional wisdom was serialized storytelling was to be avoided,” Gilligan said. But now that has flipped, thanks in part to binge viewing. “That phrase didn’t exist 4-5 years ago,” he said.

Lynton said that with mobile devices, “people are now watching movies and television shows in places they never would have before. Whether on a bus or a train or even out in the park, you see people watching shows, and that expands the market dramatically because people have more time to do it.” Gilligan added, “We’ll take viewership any way we can get it.”

Gilligan spoke glowingly about the new miniature cameras that allow shots from inside mailboxes and other cramped spaces. “And they’re inexpensive, so we can risk breaking them,” said Gilligan. Lynton interrupted to say good-naturedly, “We don’t encourage that,” but Gilligan said, “If it comes down to a choice between a $300 camera and a million dollar shot, I’ll break the camera every day of the week.”

Hirai also discussed a number of advanced technology projects that have potential to find entertainment applications, notably advanced still cameras that let the user set exposure, focus and depth of field after the shot has been captured. That technology would likely be a boon for filmed entertainment production, though it might make focus pullers obsolete.

Hirai finished up by introducing some advanced products, including a short-throw projector designed to put up 4K images on any wall. He said it can be used to create a virtual window, with live scenes from anywhere, or to turn movie scenes into wall art. The projector will be at retail this summer.

In his introductory remarks, Consumer Electronics Assn. president & CEO Gary Shapiro announced that this year’s CES is the largest ever, with more exhibitors than ever and over 2 million square feet of exhibit space. He noted that the 3D printing area, which is making its debut this year, had to be expanded three times.

Shapiro took credit for encouraging airlines to allow the use of mobile devices throughout flights, but said the CEA is encouraging air carriers to use “common sense” on allowing cellphone conversations in flight. “We are human,” he quipped.

He called on the U.S. Senate to pass legislation, already passed in the House, to limit litigation by patent trolls, which he said is stifling innovation. “Some in the Senate say we should slow down,” said Shapiro. “We say no, this is extortion, it is killing American jobs and it must stop immediately.”