Analysis by Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY, NSW: This morning’s substantive release of Sony’s 2010 Bravia range was the true launch of a new era in the nascent sub-brand’s history. Rather than releasing new models with slightly larger screens, a slightly improved engine or a slightly faster refresh rate, Sony this morning gasped the nettle on the future of panels: launching content as the primary release, with the panels a medium for its delivery.

Last week, reported on Panasonic’s quickfire sneakpeak of its 3D prototype. At the time, we said the challenge for Sony was to now take the baton from its Japanese rivals and grow the experience. Today, in a combination press conference and product demonstration, Sony laid the foundation for its all-in-one, end-to-end solution for 3D and, perhaps more importantly, IPTV in the home.

Sony’s new content agreements with 16 IPTV channels provides users with access to specialised content, catch-up television and TV on demand. The two standout partners at launch are Yahoo!7 and SBS. Of the incredible 26 TVs launched, 21 of these will have access to IPTV through the home broadband network for instant access. Some finer details still need to be resolved, however, such as download speeds, uncapped metering and the avoidance of internet video’s greatest curse: buffering.

Although attendees at today’s event rushed to try on the specialised 3D glasses and view the images of gaming, animals and football on Sony’s first consumer 3D models, IPTV was more of the focus during the press conference. Sony Australia MD Carl Rose and deputy general manager Tony Barbour both emphasised the importance of content to increasing consumer uptake of television. It is a sensible conclusion to draw, that with so many TVs only slightly differentiated in the market, the supplier that can also package entertainment into the box will gain the competitive.

Sony’s 3D TVs come in two varieties: integrated and upgradable. The former means the 3D technology is built into the panel, with an infrared sensor talking to the glasses to activate and deactivate the left and right shutters, hence creating a 3D effect. Upgradable means this process is achieved through the purchase of additional hardware: a set-top box-like device to create the extreme depth perception, enhanced motion recognition and improved emotional connection to the action.

This last advantage was best demonstrated by Sony’s exclusive footage of highlights from the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. The images from this match created the illusion that you were watching the game from within the TV – as if you were on the pitch. Whether this effect can be created in live telecasts in yet to be seen, but there was something equally fascinating and unnerving about how close to the players the viewer is transported.

As for the price of Sony’s 3D TVs, no firm details were revealed. But, if one considers that Sony’s most expensive non-3D TV at the launch today was RRP $6,999, it is practical to assume that this will be the base price of the technology at launch in July.

Sony today rose to the challenge set by Panasonic last Friday, but it’s worth remembering how much more time, energy and money was expended. Panasonic’s real test of credentials will come in April when it holds its official launch.

Across the Sea of Japan, Samsung and LG have yet to announce any plans for their Australian 3D releases. One would expect this to change soon because, especially in 3D, time and tide wait for no man.