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Category: Sony

Ice Cream Sandwich coming to 11 Sony Ericsson Androids

Android Ice Cream Sandwich logo

Android Ice Cream Sandwich is coming to 11 Sony Ericsson Xperia smartphones released in 2011.

While this is without a doubt good news for Xperia owners, Sony Ericsson hasn't said just when its Xperia handsets will get the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. Many hardware makers such as HTC and Motorola have said Ice Cream Sandwich will hit their handsets early next year sometime.

"There have been a few questions here on the blog and in our support forums regarding our upgrade plans beyond Gingerbread," wrote Martina Johansson, a Sony Ericsson spokeswoman, on the company's product blog Tuesday. "We can today confirm that we plan to upgrade the entire 2011 Xperia portfolio to the next version of Android known as Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich.

"We are working on merging our current Xperia experience with the new features in Android 4.0. More detailed information regarding this upgrade, timing and global availability will be communicated in due course here on the blog."

While Sony Ericsson does make many phones, most running Android wear the Xperia brand.

The 11 handsets set for Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades are the "2011 Xperia portfolio," consisting of the Xperia Play (which features a slide-out gaming controller), the Xperia Arc and Arc S, Xperia Neo and Neo V, the Xperia Mini and Mini Pro, Xperia Pro, Xperia Active, Xperia Ray and the non-Xperia-branded Live with Walkman.

Ice Cream Sandwich, which Google's Android team designed to work on both tablets and smartphones, is set to make its phone debut on the Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus, which is expected to hit Verizon Wireless at some point before the end of the year.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: Google's Android Ice Cream Sandwich logo. Credit: Google / Sony Ericsson

First look: Sony's 3-D TV worn on your head [Video]

Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer

Sony is making a bet that it can succeed where others have failed -- TVs strapped to your head.

The Japanese consumer electronics giant has begun selling the Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer, a viewfinder-looking gadget that sells for $799.99 and will arrive to retailers next week.

The HMZ-T1 is the product of a prototype head-mounted personal 3-D TV shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. When I first saw the prototype at CES, visions of Cyclops from the X-Men and Geordi La Forge from Star Trek were the first things that popped into my mind.

Quickly after that, I thought of the many failed attempts to sell consumers personal TVs and 3-D viewers over the years. Much of the mainstream has not shown a want or need for something like Nintendo's Virtual Boy.

On Thursday, Sony spokesman Aaron Levine stopped by the Los Angeles Times to give us a bit of hands-on time with the HMZ-T1.

I tried it out for about 20 minutes and I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed watching a 3-D trailer for the new "Amazing Spider-Man" movie (the trailer was on a Blu-ray disc) and playing Gran Turismo 5 in 3-D on the PlayStation 3 into which the headset was plugged.

Frankly, the idea of having a small TV set in front of my eyes was one I thought I wouldn't enjoy at all. But, in my brief time with the TMZ-1, the experience was novel, enjoyable and not bothersome as I expected. The picture was clear, the 3-D was crisp and colors were bright. I'm not a big fan of 3-D TVs -- the glasses can be uncomfortable and the picture often looks dim. So far, this was a different experience altogether.

A few colleagues who also gave the headset a shot weren't as impressed and described a slight feeling of "car sickness" from playing Gran Turismo with the headset on. This isn't a product for everyone based on experience alone, not to mention that $800 price tag.

I'll have to reserve any final judgments on the HMZ-T1 before Sony sends over a review unit and I can put the device through its paces, watch a full-length film or two and play more PlayStation games.

It should be noted though, that the HMZ-T1 can display 2-D and 3-D video in 720p high-definition and features two tiny 0.7-inch OLED screens (one for each eye) and a set of headphones pumping audio in 5.1 surround sound into your ears.

Sony formally launched the HMZ-T1 on Thursday, just before Levine stopped by The Times, not at one of its Sony Style stores but at a local Southern California retailer, Video and Audio Center, in Lawndale.

Video and Audio Center spokesman Tom Campbell said it spawned a line of more than 100 "looky loos and early adopters."

Neither Sony officials nor Campbell would say just how many of the headsets have been sold so far, but the first HMZ-T1 did sell at Video and Audio Center on Thursday.

Sony wouldn't leave the HMZ-T1 with us, but a review unit is coming soon, so stay tuned into the Technology blog for a deeper look at the Personal 3D Viewer.

Until then, feel free to sound off in the comments and share your impressions so far.

Do you think this is the type of product that will ever catch on with consumers? Is $800 a fair price for a such a new device? Would you be willing to try and watch TV, a movie or play video games on such a headset, particularly for an extended period of time?

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer wearable TV set. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

twitter.com/emamd

Sony to take over Sony Ericsson

Sony Ericsson

Sony has agreed to buy Ericsson's half of the Sony Ericsson smartphone-making joint venture, the two companies announced on Thursday.

Sony will pay Ericsson about $1.5 billion for its stake in the company, which makes a wide range of smartphones with some Google Android handsets among its offering.

The move will make Sony Ericsson a "wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony and integrated into Sony's broad platform of network-connected consumer electronics products," the companies said in a statement on the deal, which has been rumored for months.

Sony's connected products include desktop and laptop PCs, tablets, TVs, digital cameras, Blu-ray players and PlayStation gaming consoles, as well as online services such as the PlayStation Network or Sony Online Entertainment. The tech giant also owns the Sony Pictures film studio and record labels as well.

As a part of the deal, Sony and Ericsson will also cross-license and share in ownership of "five essential patent families "relating to wireless handset technology."

The patent segment of this deal reflects the growing concern handset makers have for growing their respective patent portfolios.

Sony teamed with Apple, Microsoft and three others to buy more than 6,000 patents from the bankrupt Canadian tech company Nortel earlier this year for $4.5 billion.

Google is known for having one of the weaker patent portfolios in the mobile technology space, and Microsoft and Apple have ended up in patent battles with various companies using the Android operating system on smartphones and tablets.

A number of companies are paying Microsoft royalties to use Android, which Google gives away for free. Google has been working on beefing up its patent holdings. The company purchased Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion as part of that effort.

"With a vibrant smartphone business and by gaining access to important strategic IP, notably a broad cross-license agreement, our four-screen strategy is in place," said Howard Stringer, Sony's chairman, chief executive and president in a statement. "We can more rapidly and more widely offer consumers smartphones, laptops, tablets and televisions that seamlessly connect with one another and open up new worlds of online entertainment."

Sony Ericsson was launched on Oct. 1, 2001, and at that time combined "the unprofitable handset operations from Ericsson and Sony," the two companies said. "Following a successful turnaround the company has become a market leader in the development of feature phones by integrating Sony's strong consumer products knowledge and Ericsson's telecommunications technology leadership. The Walkman phone and Cyber-shot phone are well-known examples."

But feature phones (or just regular cellphones that can do things such as store and play music, shoot photos and video but not run full-out mobile apps) are less desired nowadays than smartphones and with connectivity and online services becoming increasingly important, Sony sees an opportunity in taking over the company fully.

"Ten years ago when we formed the joint venture ... it was a perfect match to drive the development of feature phones," said Hans Vestberg, chief executive and president of Ericsson. "Today we take an equally logical step as Sony acquires our stake in Sony Ericsson and makes it a part of its broad range of consumer devices. We will now enhance our focus on enabling connectivity for all devices, using our R&D and industry leading patent portfolio to realize a truly connected world."

The boards of both companies have approved the buyout deal, which is subject to regulatory approval. Sony and Ericsson said they expect the deal to close sometime in January.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Image: Sony Ericsson Xperia Play smartphone. Credit: Sony Ericsson

Sony Video Unlimited hits Tablet S; more Android devices planned

Sony Tablet S

Sony launched its Video Unlimited movie and TV rental service on its Tablet S on Thursday, offering the tech giant's answer to Netflix and Apple's iPad as well as a sea of Android tablets.

But such a move is expected of Sony. After all, it's one of the few companies out there involved in so many different industries -- tablets, phones, computers, TVs, TV and film production and distribution, music production and distribution, video games, cameras and many others businesses.

What is a bit less expected, however, is that Sony plans to offer a Video Unlimited app for a number of non-Sony devices running Google's Android, which is the most widely used operating system in the world.

Video Unlimited offers more than 6,500 films and over 40,000 TV episodes from just about all the major studios and networks and many indies, and can be found on Sony Ericsson phones, Sony Blu-ray players, PCs, TVs and the company's PlayStation gaming consoles.

But although Video Unlimited and its counterpart Music Unlimited (formerly branded together as Qriocity) will be making their way to non-Sony Android gadgets, Video Unlimited won't be available on all non-Sony Android gadgets, said Mike Aragon, Sony's vice president and general manager of video and music services.

"Video is complicated by some of the technical aspects of our deals with the studios," Aragon said in an interview. "Basically, not every Android device out there has the same hardware and can play video at the same level of quality, and we have to make sure that the quality of our service is something that lives up to our standards and is something our studio partners are happy with too."

And don't expect to see Video Unlimited showing up on any iOS devices, such as Apple's iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, any time soon either.

"With video right now, our main objective is to focus on Android," Aragon said. "Other platforms may come later, but with iOS it's a bit more complicated given the 30% you have to give to Apple."

Video Unlimited should show up on select non-Sony Android devices sometime early next year, he said.

"The goal and the strength of Sony is that our services are offered across our hardware, that we can bring together all we do and offer a consistent user experience and high level of quality," Aragon said. "So, obviously our highest priority is on the Tablet S at this point and other Android devices will come after that."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

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Image: A Sony Tablet S running Sony's Video Unlimited service. Credit: Sony

Sony: 93,000 PlayStation, Online Entertainment accounts hacked

Sony PlayStation

Sony's hacking problems aren't over yet.

On Wednesday morning, Philip Reitinger, Sony's newly hired chief information security officer, said that about 93,000 PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment user accounts have been breached in a Web attack.

The attack is merely the latest for Sony, which has been dealing with online assaults on its user accounts most of the year. So far, more than 90 million Sony user accounts across the company's online services have been breached, which led to online video gaming services being suspended for more than a month.

The security breaches haven't been limited to Sony's gaming business either. Sony's cloud-based Qriocity music service, Sony music websites and Sony Pictures websites have been hacked this year too.

Reitinger, whom Sony hired in September, is a veteran of the online security world and formerly was a top security official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Microsoft Corp.'s chief trustworthy infrastructure strategist. He's also worked for the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice and holds a law degree from Yale.

Sony created an entirely new position for Reitinger in hiring him in a bid to show it was serious about changing what is becoming an image of having a weak security system for users of its online services.

In a statement on Sony's PlayStation blog, Reitinger said it is unsure how successful or widespread the most recent attacks have been, but it has "detected attempts" to crack into Sony's Entertainment Network, PlayStation Network and the Sony Online Entertainment services "to test a massive set of sign-in IDs and passwords against our network database."

"These attempts appear to include a large amount of data obtained from one or more compromised lists from other companies, sites or other sources," he said. "In this case, given that the data tested against our network consisted of sign-in ID-password pairs, and that the overwhelming majority of the pairs resulted in failed matching attempts, it is likely the data came from another source and not from our Networks."

Reitinger said that Sony has made moves to fend off the attacks.

"Less than one tenth of one percent (0.1%) of our PSN, SEN and SOE audience may have been affected," he said. "There were approximately 93,000 accounts globally (PSN/SEN: approximately 60,000 accounts; SOE: approximately 33,000) where the attempts succeeded in verifying those accounts' valid sign-in IDs and passwords, and we have temporarily locked these accounts. Only a small fraction of these 93,000 accounts showed additional activity prior to being locked."

The nearly 93,000 accounts that were hacked and then locked down are currently under review by Sony so the company can figure out if an outside party really did access those accounts or not, Reitinger said.

Despite what Sony believes is the likely hacking of the large number of accounts, credit card numbers were not at risk in the security breach, he said. However, Sony "will work with any users whom we confirm have had unauthorized purchases made to restore amounts in the PSN/SEN or SOE wallet," Reitinger said.

"As a preventative measure, we are requiring secure password resets for those PSN/SEN accounts that had both a sign-in ID and password match through this attempt," he said. "If you are in the small group of PSN/SEN users who may have been affected, you will receive an email from us at the address associated with your account that will prompt you to reset your password."

"Similarly, the SOE accounts that were matched have been temporarily turned off. If you are among the small group of affected SOE customers, you will receive an email from us at the address associated with your account that will advise you on next steps in order to validate your account credentials and have your account turned back on."

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Photo: A customer watches a video of a Sony PlayStation 3 video game console at a Tokyo electronics retailer on April 27. Credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP/Reuters

Alleged LulzSec hacker arrested for Sony Pictures attack

Getprev
An alleged member of the hacker group LulzSec was arrested by FBI agents in connection with a massive computer attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment earlier this summer.

Cody Kretsinger, 23, of Phoenix was arrested Thursday morning on charges of conspiracy and the unauthorized impairment of a protected computer, the FBI said in a statement.

Kretsinger, also known by the handle "recursion," is a current or former member of LulzSec, a group of "elite computer hackers" that has attacked various government agencies and businesses, including Sony Pictures in May and June, the FBI said.

Along with other hackers, Kretsinger attacked the Sony Pictures website, swiped confidential information, and later aired that stolen data on the LulzSec website and on other online channels, according to the FBI. While carrying out the Sony hack, Kretsinger tried to mask his digital identity through a proxy server and later permanently erased the hard drive of the computer he used, the FBI said.

LulzSec claimed responsibility for the Sony hack on its Twitter account.

The FBI said that LulzSec is affiliated with an "international group of hackers" known as Anonymous, responsible for cyber crimes on businesses and government entities including PayPal, News Corp. and NATO. In July, the FBI arrested 16 Anonymous and Lulzsec members around the country for cyber crimes.

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Photo: Screen grab of the PBS website after LulzSec infiltrated it. Credit: Associated Press.

Sony to launch PlayStation Vita in Japan in December

Sony Sony Worldwide Studios chief Shuhei Yoshida demonstrates PlayStation Vita
Sony will launch its next-generation handheld gaming console, the PlayStation Vita, in Japan on Dec. 17 and debut it in other countries next year, reports say.

The Vita, expected to be a strong competitor to Nintendo's 3DS gaming console, will reportedly bypass the holiday shopping season in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world, missing out on potentially big sales.

At a Wednesday news conference, Hiroshi Kawano, head of Sony's Japanese game unit, said the device will be "packed with every possible function," according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Indeed, the Vita will contain some fancy specs, including a 5-inch touch-screen display and a touch pad on the rear for controlling games with finger motions, cameras in the front and back (features the Nintendo DS line has had for a while) and wireless capability.

The Vita will also have functions outside of gaming. Kawano said the console will have a music player, its own Web browser, photo and video apps and access to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, according to Dow Jones Newswires. 

The console will be priced at $249 for the Wi-Fi only model and $300 for the 3G/Wi-Fi version.

The Vita could help prop up Sony's gaming business, which was dealt a serious setback this year when hackers dug their way into its PlayStation Network, compromising the personal data of millions of gamers and forcing the Japanese company to temporarily shutter its online gaming service. The consumer electronics giant estimated the cost of repairing the hacker damage at nearly $172 million, only about $30 million less than the damage suffered from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.

By releasing the Vita after the holiday season, Sony will also miss a chance to speed past Nintendo as the leader in sales of portable gaming consoles. Despite fanfare surrounding the device, Nintendo's 3DS console has yet to catch on with consumers in a big way, selling 4.3 million units worldwide so far. Last year, Nintendo sold 27 million units of the previous generations of DS consoles. On Aug. 12, Nintendo dropped the price of the 3DS to $169.99 from $249.99.

Handheld gaming consoles are facing serious competition as people increasingly play games and watch entertainment designed for smart phones, tablet computers and social networks.

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Photo: Sony Worldwide Studios chief Shuhei Yoshida demonstrates the company's new PlayStation Vita during a speech at the Tokyo Game Show on Thursday. Credit: Koji Sasahara / Associated Press

Sony's new security exec is Homeland Security, Microsoft vet

Sony

Sony Corp. has hired a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security official as its new top security executive.

Philip Reitinger, formerly the director of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Center, will join Sony in the newly created position of chief information security officer and a senior vice president.

The hire is a move to strengthen Sony's defenses after more than 90 million Sony user accounts across the company's online services were breached earlier this year.

Among the services hacked into were Sony's PlayStation Network for online video games (which was out of service for more than a month), its cloud-based Qriocity music service, Sony music websites and Sony Pictures websites.

Before working at the federal government, Reitinger was Microsoft Corp.'s chief trustworthy infrastructure strategist "where he was responsible for improving IT protection and security while coordinating closely with government agencies and private partners in order to build trustworthy computing systems worldwide," according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

Reitinger will take a similar role at Sony and be "responsible for assuring the security of Sony's information assets and services," the Japanese tech giant said in a statement. "He will oversee information security, privacy and internet safety across the company, coordinating closely with key headquarters groups and working in partnership with the information security community to bring the best ideas and approaches to Sony."

Nicole Seligman, a Sony executive vice president and the company's general counsel and corporate executive officer, will be Reitinger's boss.

Reitinger has also worked for the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice and holds a law degree from Yale, Sony said.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

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Photo: Visitors walk past a Sony logo at a showroom in Tokyo on July 28, 2011. Credit: Franck Robichon/EPA

Sony Tablet S: starting at $499.99, arriving September

S1_02_0726_2011_LowRes_lg

Sony's first tablet, now officially called the Tablet S, is set to hit stores in the middle of September at a price of $499.99.

The Tablet S will feature a 9.4-inch touchscreen, a unique wedge-like shape and run on Google's Android Honeycomb operating system -- which is also featured on competing Motorola Xoom and Samsung GalaxyTab 10.1 tablets.

The $500 price matches that of the entry-level, wi-fi-only, 16-gigabyte Apple iPad. And for that price, Sony's Tablet S will come with an iPad-matching 16 gigabytes of storage and wi-fi-only connections to the Internet. A 32-gigabyte model is set to be released as well at a cost of $599.99.

Both the 16-gigabyte and 32-gigabyte Tablet S units became available for pre-order on Wednesday with a listed release date of "on or about" Sept. 16.

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e88168102970d-800wi The Tablet S was first given the code name of the Sony S1 in April when Sony debuted the device alongside a second tablet, the Sony S2. Well, the S2 has a new name too -- the Sony Tablet P.

But unlike the Tablet S, the Tablet P isn't arriving in September, but rather some not-yet-announced date later this year. It's also not yet available for pre-order and a price hasn't been disclosed either.

The Tablet P also features a look unlike any other tablet on the market, with dual screens and a clamshell-like ability to open and close on itself.

The two touchscreens are 5.5-inch displays and the Tablet P will run on both wi-fi networks and AT&T's 4G network.

Both the Tablet S and Tablet P will be equipped with front and rear cameras for video and photo taking.

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Photos, from top: A side view of the Sony Tablet S; the Tablet S, left, and Tablet P. Credit: Sony

Sony slices price of PlayStation 3 game console

Sony PlayStation 3

In a move that could give video-game sales a much-needed adrenaline boost, Sony Corp. has knocked $50 off the price of its PlayStation 3 game console.

The price drop, announced at the Gamescon conference in Germany, applies to both the 160-gigabyte and the 320-gig version, which will sell for $249.99 and $299.99 respectively. The console launched in November 2006 at $499.99 for a 20-gig model and $599.99 for a 60-gig machine.

"The new price will make the PS3 more accessible than ever before," said Jack Tretton, president of Sony's PlayStation business, in a company blog post.

It's also expected to help sales of video games, which have been hammered by an anemic global economy that has caused consumers to pull back on discretionary spending. In July, for example, U.S. sales of console and computer games hit their lowest mark since October 2006, according to market research firm NPD Group.

Among the three major console manufacturers, Nintendo Co. has been hit hardest as demand for its Wii has dried up. Sales of Nintendo's newest console, the handheld 3DS launched in March at $349.95, have been so lackluster that the Japanese company has been forced to chop the price twice, down to $169.99. That prompted complaints from buyers who paid full price just a few months earlier, and led to a formal apology from Nintendo Chief Executive Satoru Iwata.

Though sales of the PS3 have grown steadily since its introduction five years ago, Sony has not been immune to the current weakness in consumer spending. The company sold 145,000 PS3s in July, down from 215,000 a year earlier, when the platform got a sales lift from its last price cut in June 2010.

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Photo: A person plays a video game at a Sony Playstation in the Sony's flagship store in Berlin, April 27, 2011. Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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