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Sony Sets Aggressive 3D TV Target

If the company hits its sales goals -- 2.5 million 3-D televisions and 67% more TVs overall -- its TV business will be profitable for the first time in seven years.

Sony expects to sell 2.5 million 3-D televisions this fiscal year, as the consumer electronics company gears up all related segments of its business for the technology behind James Cameron's Avatar and other popular Hollywood movies.

Yoshihisa Ishida, head of Sony's TV division, told reporters Tuesday in Tokyo that the company expects to sell a total of 25 million sets in the fiscal year ending March 2011, a 67% increase over the 15 million TVs the company expects to sell during the current year, according to media reports. Sony expects one in 10 of the sets sold over the next fiscal year to be 3-D.

If Sony is successful, then the company is likely to make its TV business profitable for the first time in seven years. Sony is the world's third-largest TV maker in terms of revenue, behind Samsung and LG Electronics, according to DisplaySearch.

TV makers are banking on 3-D to become the next big driver of hardware upgrades in home entertainment. Fueling the vendor excitement is the success Hollywood has had with 3-D in the movie theaters. Avatar, which features the latest advancements in the technology, has become the highest grossing film ever.

Sony rivals Samsung and Panasonic are expected to start selling 3-D sets before Sony, with Panasonic set to launch its first products in the United States this week. However, with very little 3-D content available, Sony has time, at least until Avatar is released on Blu-ray DVD later this year.

Such popular movies are expected to help drive consumer adoption of 3-D. In preparation, Sony has already released 3-D Blu-ray players, and plans to release firmware updates this summer that will make several of its older players capable of playing 3-D. Sony is a major player in Blu-ray, the only DVD storage medium large enough to handle 3-D content.

Sony's movie-making business is also involved in 3-D. The company, for example, said last month that the next movie in its successful Spider-Man franchise would be in 3-D. In addition, Sony plans a software update for its Playstation 3 console to play 3-D games and movies.

In January, Sony announced a joint venture with Discovery Communications and IMAX to build a 24-hour 3-D television network in the United States. The network will feature content from genres that lend themselves to 3-D imagery, such as natural history, space, exploration, adventure, engineering, science and technology, motion pictures, and children's programming. A launch date has not been set.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney's ESPN plans to launch its own 3-D TV network. Called ESPN 3-D, the network will showcase at least 85 live sporting events during its first year, which is scheduled to start with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match June 11 between South Africa and Mexico.

Global 3-D TV shipments will rise to 78 million units by 2015, rising at a compound annual growth rate of 80% from 4.2 million units this year, according to iSuppli. Revenue will increase to $64.4 billion during the same time frame from $7.4 billion this year.

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