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Sony gathered more than 400 of its retail partners at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney recently for its first ever conference and exhibition on these shores. No expense was spared: all guests were accommodated at the five-star Westin Hotel and treated to a gala dinner in the evening.

Called ‘Sony. Experience More’, the event was a chance for the vendor’s top brass to outline a vision of the future and, more importantly, for retailers to get their hands on the latest products. These included new models of its VAIO notebooks, CLIE handhelds, camcorders, digital cameras, MP3 players and PlayStation games.

The main message being pedalled at the show was Sony’s idea of a Ubiquitous Value Network (UVN), which will eventually link its vast array of entertainment, computing, mobile and home products into one big happy family of entertainment.

The vendor is calling the period up to 2005 a pre-broadband era and said all of its products would be network compatible by that time.

Sony is a member of the Digital Home Working Group with other vendors such as Sharp, Microsoft, IBM, Panasonic, HP, Fujitsu and Intel. The group is working towards creating interoperability standards for audio, video, mobile and PC products.

National retail channel manager, David Hargreaves, told those present that the convergence of audio/visual with IT products was already a fact of life.

He painted the typical Australian consumer as someone who wanted to be educated and urged retailers to rise to the challenge of increasing customer confidence and comfort in a constantly changing market.

Hargreaves also announced a new program for retailers that wanted to upgrade their shops.

Managing director of Sony Australia, Toshikazu Mashima, said the local operation had achieved record sales of $800 million for the year ending March 2003. Combined group sales hit $1.5 billion.

Mashima highlighted DVD recorders, camcorders and digital cameras as key areas of future growth, predicting Sony Australia would see an 80 per cent increase in digital camera sales during this financial year.

He also noted significant growth in the personal digital assistant market, claiming this would lead consumers into the broadband age.

PlayStation boss, Michael Ephraim, said more than 2.6 million of the original consoles in Australia had been sold by April 2003, with the PS2 having sold 810,000 to the same date.

He attributed the much quicker take up rate of PS2 to its DVD playback capabilities, which gave it much broader appeal.

Ephraim estimated Sony had sold 52 million PS2s worldwide compared to 12 million sales of its nearest rival, Microsoft’s Xbox.

He announced the release of a PS2 network entertainment model later in the year, that will include an Ethernet adaptor and broadband access to enable online gaming with other players around the world.

“This is a big step and Internet service providers are very excited about working with us in taking broadband to another area of the home,” Ephraim said.

Also to be released in the not too distant future will be a PlayStation Portable, PSX — offering games, broadband capability and a television tuner in a single box — as well as PS3.

Sony vice-president and head of its camcorder business, Shoji Nemoto, said a DVD Handycam capable of recording moving images and still pictures directly onto disc would be available later this year.

He said Asia-Pacific excluding Japan had accounted for 14 per cent of the company’s global camcorder sales and, along with South America, highlighted it as a leading growth area.

Nemoto claimed Sony had a 41 per cent share of the global camcorder market in the year ending March 2003.

Also on display at the exhibition were the wares of Aiwa, which was acquired by Sony about a year ago but only launched into the Australian marketplace in recent weeks.

Sony’s group marketing manager, Ian Lowe, urged retailers to think of it as “a key platform for communicating with the youth market” rather than as a cheap alternative.