CES-UPDATE 2-Sony unveils new gadgets in celebrity revue

Thu Jan 8, 2009 4:46pm EST

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(Adds details on flexible screen, Sony structure, Stringer's comments)

By Franklin Paul and Kiyoshi Takenaka

LAS VEGAS Jan 8 (Reuters) - Sony Corp (6758.T) introduced on Thursday a bendable video screen, a Wi-Fi camera and eyeglasses that display movies, saying the industry must keep innovating in the midst of a severe economic slump.

The Japanese firm, which pioneered the Walkman and once dominated the high-end electronics marketplace, is hoping a swathe of new products will spur spending and lift its consumer division out of a business malaise.

On Thursday, Chief Executive Howard Stringer demonstrated a range of new devices at the Consumer Electronics Show [ID:nN05368327] in Las Vegas, including a flexible OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen playing a video of singer Beyonce.

Sony in 2007 launched the world's first OLED TV, which is slimmer, more energy efficient, and offers crispier pictures than liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs. The bendable OLED screen, which is still in the development stage, would offer flexibility in design, making possible such applications as wearable displays.

Stringer and Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks also demonstrated prototype eyeglasses with built-in video screens that can show full-length movies.

Besides Hanks, other celebrities who cameo-ed at Stringer's keynote speech included R&B singer Usher and baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, underscoring a unique business structure that combines the world's leading electronics conglomerate and entertainment group under one roof.

Sony (SNE.N) said on Wednesday sales of some of its best-selling products exceeded expectations during the U.S. holiday season [ID:nN07461498].

"No drop in the economy can change the fact that this is still one of the most innovative industries on the face of the planet," Stringer said during the day's first event.

"If we keep our sails spread high, history tells us the wind will pick up again and it will carry us to places we could barely imagine three years ago."

The maker of Bravia flat TVs, PlayStation 3 video game consoles and Cyber-shot cameras is hoping to breathe life into a struggling consumer electronics division. On Wednesday, it trotted out a new line of environmentally friendly, ultra-slim TVs and the world's lightest 8-inch laptop.

Sony also called the Wi-Fi camera the first of its kind in the world, allowing users to upload videos and photos to Web sites without going through a personal computer.

DIFFICULT TIMES

But the plethora of new devices are arriving in a difficult market.

U.S. consumer electronics spending is expected to slide 0.6 percent in 2009, a dramatic reversal from 5.4 percent growth in 2008, according to the U.S. Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes CES. But the industry group predicted the sector will recover in 2010.

Sony itself is going through a painful restructuring that will shed 16,000 jobs and curb investment to try to save $1 billion. Analysts and media speculate more painful measures are in the works [ID:nT18401].

Since taking the helm in 2005, Stringer has worked hard to break down the barriers among various business groups within the company, which include movies, music, games, consumer electronics, insurance and banking.

The effort, carried out under the "Sony United" slogan, led partly to its victory in the high-definition optical disc format war with Toshiba Corp (6502.T), when its game, movie and electronics divisions threw their full weight behind Blu-ray technology.

Sony is now also trying to develop an online network built on its popular PlayStation gaming consoles, a similar effort to Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) Xbox Live service.

On Thursday, it said it enlisted video game publisher Electronic Arts ERTS.O for its fledgling online PlayStation service, and signed up Viacom Inc's VIAb.N MTV Networks to provide more than 2,000 hours of video programming.

Kaz Hirai, head of Sony computer entertainment, said the company had signed up 2.1 million new users for the online network in the most recent month.

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