Sony Annual Product Sneak Peek: Our Favorites

Sony put on a big bash in Las Vegas this week, showing off its latest wares in its Annual Product Showcase, and we were there, snooping around just for you. The company was strutting around like a barnyard rooster, crowing about its Blu-ray victory over the hapless HD DVD format, and showing off a couple of new Blu-ray players that’ll be shipping later this year.

Sony’s also expanding its LCD TV line, now at a mind-numbing 51 choices, and all are LCD panels with nary a plasma display in sight. Noticeably absent were the rear-projection TVs Sony was so adamant about sticking with last year at this time, but hey, time marches on. Looking forward to the future, click Continue and read all about our faves we picked from the scores of products on display at Sony's mega-demo.

Brave New Bravias: Front and center were dozens of super-pretty Bravia LCD TVs, most stuffed with the latest 1080p-ness and many sporting helpful, creative and even whimsical program menu systems that resemble a PlayStation. Some of the smaller TVs, such as the S-Series you see pictured above, will soon be available in candy colors, too. There was also an impressive demo of how 120Hz refresh rates can make a big difference in moving video, along with the announcement that the fast 120Hz screen tech is moving downmarket into about a dozen more Sony models.

Blu-ray Strut: Of course, Sony wanted to push Blu-ray and showed off two new players that are great-looking and unusually thin and narrow. The new BDP-S350 (picture at top, both look almost identical) ships this summer for about $400, and will be capable of picture-in-picture (but there are no discs using this yet) and will be “BD-Live ready,” meaning it’s capable of downloading content from the web if you add flash storage to it.

The higher-end BDP-S550 Blu-ray player ships this fall for $499, and it actually includes a gig of storage for that web downloading thing, all part of the new Blu-ray Profile 2.0 standard that brings the tech up to the standard held by the dead HD DVD since its beginning. A-V-ophiles will love this one’s DTS-HD Master Audio Decoding and 7.1 analog outputs. What we really wanted to know about these two new players was the load times, but the Sony reps weren’t willing to demo that. Let’s hope it takes less than the leisurely minute-plus of Sony’s current models.

Microvault Click Drive: Here’s a trifle, but it shows that Sony still has some creativity left: This Microvault Click is a new take on the thumb drive. It isn’t the first capless design, but it’s the first to work just like a ball-point pen. Neat.

Phave Phones: Our favorite part of the show was the fabulous noise-canceling headphones that Sony announced last month and ships in a few weeks. The guy who designed the $400 cans was standing right there, and we talked with him about these superphones — take a look at our rave review.

Sub-$3000 projector, looking good: The Sony VPL-VW40 front projector spits out 1080p with aplomb, using its Bravia engine that digitally enhances each frame in real time. The result was a razor-sharp image on the 100-inch screen hidden away in a pitch-dark viewing area. It’s not the brightest projector we’ve ever seen, but its 15,000:1 contrast ratio and super-quiet operation caught our attention. To our eyes, this is the best sub-$3000 1080p projector we’ve seen yet.

Titanium jewel: Amid all the noise about face detection, smile detection and now a goofy in-camera smile repair feature, this new $350 DSC-W300 was the standout. This is one gorgeous point-and-shoot camera, festooned with a swanky-looking titanium coating. Remarkably, it can fire off five frames per second. If it’s megapixels you want, the W300’s loaded with 13.6 of them. Never mind all those numbers; it’s simply the prettiest point-and-shoot camera ever. Behold its beauty: