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Did Sony Just Become a Screaming Short?

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Raise your hand if you own a 3-D television. Ouch. That's not many of you. Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) chief executive Sir Howard Stringer aims to change that. In fact, Stringer, who wore a pair of 3-D glasses for much of his presentation at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, may as well be betting the entire company on the commercial success of the technology.

Sony's 3-D introductions at CES included:

  • Content. Sony Pictures this month releases The Green Hornet in 3-D, and stars Seth Rogen and Jay Chou were on hand to celebrate the debut. Forthcoming 3-D releases include a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise and new additions to the Men In Black and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series. Stringer also unveiled 3net, a 24-hour 3-D programming channel created in partnership with Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCK  ) and IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX  ) .
  • Cameras and camcorders. New versions of Sony's digital cameras and camcorders transform panoramic shots into split-screen images. Viewed with special glasses, they display images and video in 3-D.
  • Televisions. But the so-called killer app was glasses-free 3-D television, which showed about as poorly at Sony as it did everywhere else at CES. Why? These TVs layer a lens on top of the screen to force each eye to view a different image. Think of it as the Fisher Price View-Master upgraded for the 21st century.

Stringer's got guts for betting everything on a technology that's early in its transition from hardcore gamers to soft-seated couch potatoes. Pricing for glasses-ready 3-D TVs already ranges in the thousands. What might a glasses-free 3-D set cost? Joe and Jane Oddlot can do better, I think.

On the other hand, if Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic (NYSE: PC  ) don't bet on this technology, who will? As consumers, we need reasons to believe 3-D in the home is a good idea. Perhaps our kids will convince us. But even then, the technology won't succeed without additional research and development into cheaper, crisper form factors.

And that puts Sony in a tough spot. Either spend now to help create a market that may never bear fruit, or hold off and miss out on one of the great tech opportunities of the next 10 years. Judging by his comments at CES, Stringer sees the first alternative as the best -- or perhaps the only. Either way, he's making what in Vegas they call an all-in bet.

Good luck, Sir Howard. You're going to need it.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. What do you think of Sony's big bet on 3-D? Use the comments box below to let us know what you think. You can also rate Sony in Motley Fool CAPS.

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Interested in more info on the stocks mentioned in this story? Add Sony, Discovery Communications, IMAX, or Panasonic to your watchlist.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy is always up close and personal.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2011, at 5:18 PM, Gonzhouse wrote:

    3D continues to be a fad that fades in and out (mostly out) for the last 40 years. It works only for a limited genre of films where showing off the technology adds to the theme (sci-fi and cartoons). Name a comedy or drama that would be enhanced by 3D?

    Sorry, Howard, you've got a solution searching for a problem.

  • Report this Comment On January 16, 2011, at 8:15 PM, 4twocents wrote:

    I am not a huge 3D fan but i think that someone is going to revolutionize 3D. with movies like Avatar, they've already started. And the idea of a 3D enabled television or laptop will go over bigger than a 3D tv. Being the only female in my house I am the one who voted down the 3D television. All the males wanted it for gaming. But since I am the only female I get to veto or pass the final verdict for fairness sake. However, if it had been a 3D enabled television I would probably not have vetod the 3D tv. Everyone would be happy with an option to or to not use the 3D. The only issue left would have been quality. So if Sony doesn't do it someone will. From an investor standpoint, they are going to too many different areas, cameras and pics, which does appeal to me, gaming which appeals to others. This isn't your 40 years ago 3D.

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