Sony Vows Comeback Against Samsung, LG

It was just a few years ago that Samsung Electronics was considered the poor man's Sony. But the balance of power has since shifted, and Samsung officials will use the latest sales figures to suggest that they now have the cooler products and better technology.

Samsung is currently the world's largest electronics maker, building a solid lead in flat-panel televisions and gaining on Nokia for the crown in the mobile phone market. The company is now looking to leverage its strength in its two major markets to other areas such as personal computers, household appliances and digital cameras to add bulk to its massive digital empire.

Of course, Sony, which trails Samsung as the No. 2 television maker, would prefer to prevent that. The Japanese company, not too happy about being forced to look up to its Asian rival, is planning to introduce a series of compelling new products to boost sales and regain its clout as an industry trendsetter. And, naturally, the rebuilding process will begin with the television ― the undisputed king of the living room.

On the sidelines of the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) electronics show in Berlin, Sony executives told reporters that the company will release liquid-crystal display (LCD) televisions capable of 3-D video by the end of next year. Sony's aspirations for 3-D televisions were echoed by Panasonic, another Japanese company looking to strengthen its position in the television market, while other Japanese players such as Sharp and Toshiba plan to challenge Samsung's early lead in light-emitting diode (LED) backlit televisions.

Sony will also launch a Blu-ray player for 3-D content and also make its Vaio laptop computers and PlayStation game machines compatible with 3-D technology. Sony has been losing money in its television division over the past five years, and a return to profitability is critical. However, it's debatable whether 3-D television is ready for primetime. The problem of competing technologies and standards needs to be sorted out, and it could take even longer for 3-D televisions to become affordable. And there isn't a lot of 3-D content at the moment that will motivate consumers to buy the new televisions, and the lesser-than-expected sales of Blu-ray players indicate a reluctance by credit-crunched viewers to spend quickly on new formats. Still, Sony, which also has a huge presence in the entertainment industry, is confident that 3-D television will eventually appeal to consumers and is eager to drive the emerging market.

"When Sony announced it will delay its organic light-emitting diode (OLED) television efforts, the industry took it as a sign that the company is renewing its focus on affordable, market-ready products rather than technology marvels," an industry watcher said.

"But 3-D television could be seen as another technology gamble by Sony, as most consider 3-D televisions to be at least years away. Even if the industry gets to rally around standards and technologies in time, I wonder how much confidence Sony has over the issues of price and content, although its presence in the entertainment and media industry may provide a clear advantage over others."

Although Samsung and LG Electronics, another company that is aiming for Samsung's No. 1 spot in televisions, also unveiled their 3-D televisions at the IFA, the Koreans are clearly focused more on LED backlit televisions. Samsung is the clear leader in this segment, selling more than 1 million units of its high-end LED backlit televisions over the past six months, and expects to sell 2 million units by the end of the year. This accounts for more than half of the 3.7 million LED backlight televisions expected to be sold around the world this year.

However, Simon Kang, who heads LG's home appliances unit, says that Samsung is merely benefiting from having an earlier start. The company, which hopes to overtake Samsung's television crown by 2011, plans to sell more than 29 million flat-panel televisions around the world next year, including around 7 million LED backlit models.

Aside from LG, Phillips, Sharp and Toshiba are also betting heavily on LED backlit televisions. Phillips, considering its brand recognition with European consumers, could be a threat, and the company unveiled a 21:9 "Cinema" television with LED backlighting and 3-D content support at the IFA show.

"The real competition is next year when everybody will be talking about LED backlit televisions ― and selling them," Kang said.

By Kim Tong-hyung, The Korea Times