Las Vegas – Sony is making a real push to be the most innovative, and funniest, company at this year's Consumer Electronics Show with a slew of new gadgets, including an internet-connected alarm clock, plus a hilarious turn from movie star Tom Hanks.
The company kicked off the first official day of the show on Thursday with a keynote address from chief executive officer Howard Stringer, who was introduced by a wise-cracking Hanks. The actor, who is starring in the Sony-produced Angels & Demons movie that hits theatres in May, made joke after joke while warming up the crowd for the CEO.
"I'm here because of Betamax regret," Hanks said, referring to Sony's failed VCR format from the 1980s. "I went VHS… I wish I was one of the 600 people who bought Betamax instead."
Hanks deviated from his scripted lines and took some jabs at Sony, including a joke about how the movie cameras he acts in front of are supplied by other manufacturers. Stringer, who has been CEO of Sony since 2005 and was giving his third CES keynote, joined in with some one-liners of his own.
"I took a risk, it failed," he said in regards to hiring Hanks for his introduction.
Stringer got down to business once the actor left the stage and introduced a number of new products that Sony plans to launch this year, including a wi-fi-enabled clock radio for the bedroom that will pipe in news, weather, video and music from the internet.
The "next generation of alarm clock" looks like a digital picture frame and will feature an open operating system so that third-party companies will be able to design software for it, much like the iPhone's App Store.
Stringer also introduced a new line of Cybershot cameras, which have wi-fi capability that will allow for instant publishing of photos to the web. To demonstrate, he published a picture of himself and Hanks on the Flickr photo-sharing website.
"It's a world with more Tom Hanks than you could ever imagine," he joked.
The Cybershot cameras will have free access to AT&T's 10,000-plus hotspots in the United States, Stringer said, which is part of Sony's move toward ubiquitous internet connectivity. The company plans to make 90 per cent of its products internet-capable by 2011, he said.
He didn't announce pricing or availability on either the clock or the cameras.
Stringer also showed off a new Flex OLED prototype television, which features a bendable screen. Sony last year introduced the first commercially available 11-inch Organic Light Emitting Diode television, which features better resolution and energy efficiency than plasma and LCD, but Stringer met industry analyst expectations by holding off on announcing bigger screen sizes.
Consumer electronics manufacturers are not expected to unveil any ground-breaking technologies at this year's annual gadget showcase because of the economic crisis, and will instead play it safe with incremental improvements to existing products.
Springer showed off the tiny Flex prototype — about the size of a playing card — by squeezing it while a music video played. Stringer's announcements were in addition to several others made by Sony at its press conference the previous day.
Sony on Wednesday unveiled its Vaio P series of compact netbook computers, which are ultra-thin and about the size of a business envelope. The P series, which will be available through U.S. retailers next month for about $900 US, can connect to the internet through a built-in cellular connection as well as through wi-fi. The netbook also features a GPS chip that works with or without an internet connection.
The company also introduced a new line of Webbie cameras, specifically designed to film movies in MPEG-4 format for online distribution through YouTube, Facebook and other websites. The Webbie cameras are immediately available for $200 US.