Tag: 3D

Windows 8.1 to feature native 3D printer support

It seems Microsoft is getting a bit desperate. The company has announced that one of the big new features in Windows 8.1 will be native support for 3D printers.

The OS update will feature device-specific APIs for 3D printers, which means that sooner or later 3D printing will work out of the box, with any Windows 8.1 box and a commercially available 3D printer. It will no doubt come as a shot in the arm for the 3D printing industry, which has a lot of potential as it is.

However, 3D printing is not mainstream yet and it won’t be for years to come. 3D printers will remain prohibitively expensive and most people just won’t need one. Microsoft wants to tell the world that it still has foresight and that its products will be future-proof, which is always a good thing.

Microsoft sees 3D printing as a huge opportunity – and it should. However, in the short term native 3D printer support doesn’t really mean much, since Windows 8.x will be eclipsed by a new OS well before we see 3D printers in average homes and offices. Microsoft claims 70 percent of 3D printing is done on the Windows platform already, so it views the decision to integrate native support as strategically prudent.

Although the OS and PC might be ready for 3D printing, 3D printers themselves still have a long way to go. The cheapest units still cost well over $1,000 and they are rather limited. For serious work, users have to dish out a lot more and go for pricier models.

Applied Materials continues to suffer

Troubled US chipmaker Applied Materials is continuing to suffer and said that it will cut its workforce by between six and nine percent to reduce costs.

According to Reuters, the company has been suffering from some major headaches as it faces a slowdown in its chip manufacturing equipment business and troubles at its solar and display groups.

The company is bringing in a voluntary retirement programme and other measures to cull 900 to 1,300 positions. This is on top of a fair few redundancies earlier in the year.

The company has been hit by slow economies, tepid PC shipments and declining sales in its non-core display and solar businesses.

Applied Materials warned in August that its revenue would fall more than expected.

Recently the outfit told Gary Dickerson, recently appointed president of Applied Materials, to review the effectiveness of its investments in its different businesses.

According to former workers who spoke to TechEye, many think that moves to get into non-core businesses like solar power had proved to be a costly mistake.

It is fairly likely that Dickerson could order the company to get out of its non-core markets to focus on developing more competitive chip manufacturing gear.

Applied Materials said that when the cuts are implemented in the third quarter of fiscal 2013, it should save between $140 million and $190 million annually.

Dickerson was previously Chief Executive of Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates, which Applied Materials bought in 2011.

The workers who spoke to TechEye were gutted by the move, many of them had not expected to be made redundant at all. Some had moved to different departments in an attempt for more job security, but to no avail. 

Toshiba and Sony seek to rescue TV sales with 'ultra-definition' sets

Among the announcements  at German trade show IFA this week has been the release of new ‘ultra-definition’ 4K TVs from Sony and Toshiba, as vendors look away from 3D to boost sales.

Both firms have unveiled 84-inch screens featuring the latest technologically wizardry intended to entice customers into shelling out on new sets, with Sony’s Bravia version slated for a UK release this autumn.

The two 4k LCD sets have high resolutions of 3840 x 2160. 4K is not necessarily new, but Sony has decided to market its mammoth TV around its increased resolution, making less noise about its 3D capabilities.

The price tag is likely to be suitably astronomical when the first devices hit the UK later this year.

So are Sony and Toshiba onto a money spinner that will help the beleaguered TV business? Hardware retailers could certainly do with a new gimmick to spur on sales in a way that 3D has failed to achieve on a large scale.

Nigh on all TV vendors are operating at losses, and most have been for some time – even the seemingly unstoppable Samsung has been struggling with its TV sales.  Part of the reason is that consumers in markets such as the UK have, in many cases, already upgraded to flat screen LCDs, so replacement sales remain slow.

According to display market analyst, Bob Raikes, who is present at IFA, the superlative technology should firmly grasp the attention of gamers and film buffs, but mass market appeal could be hampered by difficulties in receiving 4K signals

“4K will not be a big driver of purchases for watching broadcast content because of the barriers to transmissions,” Raikes said, speaking with TechEye. “Even carriers that have plenty of bandwidth will need new set top boxes and transmission equipment and the new generation of codecs such as the new H.264 HEVC will need time to mature and be built into lower cost chips.”

However, Raikes points out that Toshiba is already showing some 4K game content from PCs using native 4K content at IFA, and describes them as “simply stunning”.

“The feeling is so immersive that I found I was getting genuine motion sickness watching a driving game,” Raikes said.

He added that using Blu-ray discs using content shot on 4K cameras works well when upscaled onto 4K sets.

“So, Sony is probably thinking more about Blu-ray and the next generation PlayStation,” he said, adding “if that ran at 4K natively, I’d be very tempted to upgrade my TV”.

DisplaySeach analyst Paul Gray, also at IFA, highlights one of the of the major drawbacks with 4K at this time – the lack of available content – and he does not anticipate 4k sets seeing major sales, at least in the short term.

“We do not anticipate them tunneling rapidly down the product ranges,” Gray said.  “The critical issue is no content in 4k2k at present. If the PC industry starts a pixel war (Apple are already increasing Mac resolutions) and the next generation of games machines have higher resolutions then they could catalyse growth.”

“However there are some unsolved steps in panel technology that need to be fixed first. For example, 4k2k displays currently have a limit on refresh at 120Hz,” Gray said.

MIT dumps glasses for true-3D LCD system

MIT has developed a glasses-free 3D system using three liquid crystal display (LCD) screens to create moving holographic images.

Everyone knows that while 3D can at times be impressive, it is mostly a gimmicky diversion that involves wearing cumbersome glasses in dark rooms.

While 3D sets may be selling better than the biggest cynics expected, the general consensus seems to be that glasses-free is the only way it will go truly mainstream. MIT points out that the depth achieved by the 3D blockbuster screens is just a facsimile of true 3D. To answer this problem, a team at MIT thinks they have developed a method that simplifies producing holographic 3D images.

The MIT Media Lab has constructed a system which relies on several layers of readily available LCD panels already found in most flat screens.

Creating a holographic picture requires pixels that are far tinier than current technology can handle. But by cleverly combining a number of screens researchers could soon offer working displays that operate at refresh rates that are not far off those currently available, and they have developed a prototype device.

Using a similar approach to the glasses free Nintendo 3DS, the team found a way of filtering the light emitted through an extra LCD, which allowed them to create an image which appeared different when viewed from other angles.

To make sense of all the information when three screens are building up a moving holographic – and reduce the refresh rate from 1,000 hertz to a more manageable 360 hertz – the team used software similar to that used to build up 3D images in a CAT scan.

This stitched the picture into a holographic image viewable from 20 degree viewing angle.

 

Applied Materials builds vertically stacked, 3D transistors

Applied Materials has been showing off its new etching system which it claims can create vertically stacked, three-dimensional transistors. The Centura Avatar process is supposed to fix problems facing manufacturers who are interested in 3D NAND.

According to Extremetechone of the biggest problems is that few of them have the gear to build the kit.

3D chip stacking is expected to be the next big thing to hit NAND manufacturing in the next ten years. This is because it solves the problem of scale planar manufacturing effectively below 20nm.

The technology appears simple – you take conventional 2D NAND and fold it over and stand it on edge.

But Applied Materials said to do this in real life is like trying to dig a mile deep and three mile long trench with walls exactly three meters apart, through interleaved rock strata.

At the moment etching systems deal with aspect ratios of 3:1 – 4:1 but 3D etching requires an aspect ratio of 20:1 or more.

Applied Materials’ Centura Avatar can apparently make smooth vertical sidewalls without bending or warping.

This allows a smooth transition between alternate stack layers. It can also stop at the right point without punching through into the next layer or underlying substrate, ruining the cells.

It can also etch both mask and dielectric simultaneously which will keep equipment costs lower.

Applied Materials said that it can be used to extend the lifespan of older process geometries by allowing manufacturers to build 3D NAND on 40-50nm processes.

However, it will be ages before 3D chips will be available for manufacturers to buy. At the moment it is too expensive.

But it does give Applied Materials a foot in the door when the technology’s day arrives. 

TV shipments faced steep quarterly decline

TV shipments fell eight percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2012, which is the steepest rate of decline seen since Q2 2009.

A report from NPD Displaysearch, Advanced Quarterly Global TV Shipment and Forecast Report, revealed that total TV shipments for Q1 2012 were 51 million units. The industry can thank a slowdown in LCD TV shipments primarily for the decline, which was the first drop ever in the history of the category. LCD TV shipments decreased three percent, at 43 million units.

The share of LCD TV shipments fell from Q4 2011 thanks to a seasonal shift to emerging markets where the focus for CRT models is higher. Year on year this share is up, however, four percentage points to 84.2 percent. 40″ and larger screen size models have been taking share from plasma TV demand, which dropped 18 percent year on year. Consumers are mostly no longer interested, and when they are, it is low price, 2D HD models that are attractive.

According to NPD Displaysearch, average LCD TV screen sizes increased five percent year on year in the quarter, passing the 35″ mark for the first time. There were gains made in emerging and mature markets. More affordable backlit LED sets contributed to a rise from 51 percent in Q4 2011 to 56 percent in Q1 2012 in the category, a sizeable gain of 20 percentage points year on year.

Of all the markets, China is the top region for demand. It represented 20 percent of all units shipped in the quarter, though this was down slightly from Q4 2011. NPD Displaysearch says flat panel TVs are beginning to saturate higher-income urban markets in the country, but prices are not affordable for upgrades in rural markets. APAC was the second highest region for shipments, then North America, and Western Europe.

Manufacturers who bet the farm on 3D sets in the mature markets could be surprised to hear that demand for 3D in emerging regions outpaced developed regions slightly – 16 percent of flat panel TVs went to emerging markets in the quarter, compared to 15 percent in developed regions.

Samsung ruled the roost in flat panels again, with revenue share hovering around the 26 percent mark, approaching record levels. It was the only brand in the top five to bring in year on year revenue growth for the quarter. It also topped the charts in LCD TV, 40″+ LED-backlit LCD, and 3D TV. LGE was second, topping its market share up significantly to reach 14.5 percent revenue share. Then there was Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic. Sony and Panasonic both posted a significant drop in year-on-year revenues.

Here comes our Intel Core i7 3770K review

Here is our review of the Core i7-3770K processor, Intel’s highest-end Ivy Bridge-based processor. There’s a lot to be discussed about it, but we’ll start from the top.

 

Sandy Bridge exits the scene

Sandy Bridge was a tock in Intel’s design and manufacturing tick-tock strategy. A ‘tock’ is usually a new architecture on a mature process and, as such, normally results in better yields and much better revenues for the manufacturer. Ivy Bridge, its successor, is a tick. It’s a new process on a slightly tweaked architecture so carries with it a risk of lower yields.

Sandy Bridge was a successful move for Intel, in particular in the processor graphics department. The 32nm-built processor fully integrated the graphics core and improved GPU performance over its stepdad, Clarkdale. It introduced an extended instruction set named AVX, video hardware encoding features and an optimized branch prediction amongst other improvements. The now-famous K-series offered unlocked multipliers and some serious overclocking headroom, which proved to be an enthusiast’s delight. It has proved to be a very successful design and was bound to be hard for Intel to do better.

As Sandy Bridge bows out of the market, you’ll see boxes and boxes at heavily discounted prices right now. The brutal slashing began a week before the launch, emptying shelves and making room for the shiny new toy to come. 

 

Ivy Bridge arrives, not late, not early

Lo and behold, the Ivy Bridge, Intel’s 3rd generation Intel Core processor with processor graphics (as the chipmaker calls it). Not really late to the party, nor early, just on time considering it is Intel that’s pushing the market forward. Despite rumours of delays and a bit of crossed lines between some Intel execs, the CPUs officially launched this Monday.

As of now, Intel is introducing 14 new Ivy Bridge-based SKUs. These include one mobile extreme edition, four standard mobile versions, five desktop and four low-power ones. In order, these are:

Core i7-3920XM, Core i7-3820QM, Core i7-3720QM, Core i7-3612QM, Core i7-3610QM, Core i7-3770K, Core i7-3570K, Core i5-3570K, Core i5-3550, Core i5-3450, Core i7-3770T, Core i7-3770S, Core i5-3550S and the Core i5-3450S.

The 3 prefix in the numbering is the generation, ie: 3rd generation Core processors, while the rest of the number represents the model itself. The letter suffixes represent variants. K for multiplier unlocked, S models are low power and T models are ultra-low power. You can see below the full spec sheets.

 

Intel Ivy Bridge desktop CPUs

Low Power Ivy Bridge CPUs

Mobile Ivy Bridge CPUs

Some facts about Ivy Bridge

Ivy Bridge is the successor to Intel’s Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. It isn’t a completely new design, but a spin on its predecessor, built on a smaller process and introducing a few new tweaks to the original recipe… some of them more than just pure performance tweaks. Still, we need to state some facts about Ivy Bridge, even before we start the testing. There are two parts to the Ivy Bridge architecture that need focusing on.

First of all, Intel proudly parades Ivy Bridge as the first 22nm “3D” (ie: tri-gate) transistor-based processor. Yes, 3D is all the rage even on CPUs. Simply put this means it’s stacking the gates on its transistors keeping current leakage down (allowing Intel to scale its CPUs to 22nm and beyond) as well as providing some valuable space savings. Transistors built on this 22nm process also require less power, which has amounted to some substantial power savings on the CPUs.

Ivy Bridge integrates a more advanced graphics core onto the die, the HD 4000, a DirectX 11 (ie: hardware tessellation), DirectCompute capable part, which now shares the CPUs own L3 cache. The Intel HD 4000 processor graphics features 16 Execution Units (let’s call them shaders), Clear Video Technology (to offload video decode) and Quick Sync Video, which is hardware based encoding and decoding, which, we’ll see, works quite well. Intel claims up to twice the performance of the graphics in its Sandy Bridge predecessor.

Ivy Bridge is a 1.4 billion transistor processor with a die size of just 160mm2, by comparison, Sandy Bridge had 1.16 billion transistors and a die size of 216mm2. Despite a higher transistor count, the more efficient power design of the 22nm “3D transistors” still rack up the power savings from 95W on the 2700K to 77W on the 3770K. You can see the “processor graphics” die area has become considerably larger than its predecessor

Sandy Bridge Die, labeled

Ivy Bridge die, labeled

Sandy Bridge (on top) and Ivy Bridge (below), you can see that the processor graphics element has swollen up considerably in the latter.

The new architecture comes hand in hand with a new chipset family, the 7 series, codenamed Panther Point. This chipset is compatible with both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge, but not first generation Core products.

Intel supplied a DZ77GA-70K motherboard which is powered by the Z77 chipset and was launched a week prior to the Ivy Bridge release. The DZ77GA-70K, as most Intel motherboards, have all the shiny LEDs and the looks of a deadly killer, but is very tame when it comes to overclocking and basically stepping out of bounds, even though its EFI BIOS is one of the best we’ve seen to date. From system monitoring to dialing up the clock on the CPU, it’s all dead simple. Our overclocking experiments with the motherboard yielded a humble 1.4GHz overclock (3.5 to 4.9GHz), that we are sure was too easy to achieve, yet too hard to overtake on this particular motherboard – something Asus or Gigabyte will pick up and take to the next level. Still the EFI BIOS is gorgeous and simple to use.

The 7-series chipset includes Intel Rapid Storage Technology 11, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt support, SATA 3.0, PCIe 3.0 and up to 3 independent displays (depending on configuration). It’s what the 6-series could have been, in essence.

7 Series Chipset Overview

 

Benchmarks

Our Engineering Sample Core i7 3770K is the counterpart to Intel’s Core i7 2700K Sandy Bridge, both clocked at 3.5GHz and both sport four cores / eight threads. Both have the same Turbo Boost speed of 3.9GHz and both are in the lab for our Apples to Apples comparison. Intel promised something in the vicinity of 7/15 percent pure CPU performance increase, and almost twice as much in “media” processing, thanks to its new graphics core, so let’s see what we get.

We’ll begin with a few CPU benchmarks. We aren’t holding our breaths on this, to be fair, Ivy Bridge didn’t introduce any revolutionary new magic tricks.

Cinebench R11.5 score

In Cinebench R11.5, the HD 4000 GPU is clearly marking the difference. The 3770K pulls ahead of its predecessor by a comfy margin.

Passmark Int/FPU score

Passmark is a simple fire’n’forget benchmark that assesses PC performance on several levels. We’ve focused on FPU and Integer performance. The Ivy Bridge FPU is tremendously more efficient than its predecessor, beating it by a 67 percent margin. Overclocked, the 3770K scales very well.

PCMark7 Computation score

The PC Mark 7 benchmark suite tests all PC subsystems, but we’re actually interested in the Computation score, here. Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge are almost 1-for-1.

POV-Ray Biscuit

POV-Ray is a ray tracing benchmark that relies on CPU muscle to render its target image.

SuperPI score

Purely mathematical in nature, Super PI maxes out single-threaded performance to calculate PI, in this case to the 2 millionth place.

SANDRA 2010 AES 256 bandwidth

The 3770K features a new encryption engine that allows it to squeeze a lot more data down the pipe.

SANDRA 2010 Arithmetic score

WinRAR Compression 320MB time

WinRAR Compression shows the minor edge the 3770K offers over the Core i7 2700K. A bit meh, if you ask us.

Now onto some strictly graphics-oriented benchmarks.

The HD 4000 end of business warrants its own analysis. With its 16 Execution Units and CPU-shared LLC (Last Level Cache) the HD 4000 is now spelling out some doom and gloom for the low-end discrete graphics business.

3DMark Vantage score

The inevitable 3DMark Vantage benchmark shows off DirectX 10 performance for the HD 4000 graphics. Granted it’s nothing to write home about, but it seems Intel is finally getting somewhere with its graphics processors.

3DMark 11 Performance score

3DMark 11 performance is nothing to sneeze at, considering that DirectX 11 support is brand new to the Intel lineup. We did get some artifacts in some scenes, but we believe this to be a driver issue, more than the hardware getting uncomfortable with the benchmark.

Dirt 3

We put Dirt 3 at max settings and Intel’s processor graphics survived the ordeal. If you scale down AA, you can game quite well on Intel’s new toy.

Metro 2033

We threw Metro 2033 at it as a crash test. The Metro 2033 – Frontline benchmark, running in DX 11 mode with Very High details, was like a slide-fest at times, but, again, scale back the details and image quality just a little bit and you’ll find something playable.

ComputeMark score

Considering Intel’s HD 4000 is now a OpenCL/DirectCompute capable part, we ran ComputeMark on it. The HD4000 part scored a quarter of the discrete competition.

TechARP x264 Benchmark

Finally, our media encoding test is where Intel’s HD graphics part stretches its legs. The HD 4000 graphics with its new media encoding engine chews away at frames almost as well as a discrete part.

 

Conclusion

Overall the Ivy Bridge core offers some meager performance gains over Sandy Bridge, good power savings and some great potential if you like to overclock your CPUs. The Core i7 3770K’s direct competition hails not from AMD (it hasn’t for a while now) but from its direct predecessor, the Core i7 2700K.

Over the next weeks you’ll also see that Ivy Bridge brought with it a bevy of new hardware releases, from motherboards to RAM to SSDs, as one way or another you do get quite unique advantages if you buy hardware that has been optimised for Intel hardware. The optimisations, however, revolve mostly around the motherboard and its chipset rather than the CPU, so if you see Z77 bundles with Core i7 2600K processors at a good price, you might want to consider the deal. As much as HD 4000 graphics are an improvement over their Sandy Bridge predecessor, many will keep on asking why bother with processor graphics in the mid-to-high end of things, considering most discrete GPUs will simply annihilate it. Ivy Bridge does bring DX 11 compute capabilities which we can only expect Intel will leverage down the line. Our media encoding results with the HD 4000 were close to the results we had with a discrete (GTX 460 1GB) GPU, which is nothing short of amazing. Gaming, while it might not be its forte, is definitely on the menu. Add to that the fact that you can combine the processor graphics with a discrete part, it’s up to Intel to bring to the fore some additional features.

Sandy Bridge was, admittedly, a hard act to follow, but Ivy Bridge is more than a speed bump with minor architectural improvements. It’s an important shift in design and manufacturing for Intel. In its own right, Ivy Bridge is a formidable opponent even for some higher-end Extreme Edition CPUs. It happens to also have a great deal of potential for forthcoming software and driver updates, like OpenCL/DirectCompute support. “Potential” is the operative word here, and it might not shake you to your core (no pun intended) and make you rush out to buy it.

If you can do without the power savings, overclocking tweaks and processor graphics, you might be better off picking up a Core i7 2600K/2700K on sale, but if you were about to buy one, this supersedes – dollar for dollar – what the 2700K had on offer, on just about every level. If you already own a Core i7 2600K or 2700K, you needn’t go digging in your pocket for the upgrade money just yet.

Graphics market defies PC downturn

While the PC sales continue to be slow, the graphics market is growing fast, according to figures from Jon Peddie Research.

Jon Peddie said that in 2011, PC sales rose only 0.5 percent over 2010 numbers, but the graphics market grew 8.9 percent year-on-year and have returned to normal seasonal sales.

He said that graphics were a good indicator for the health of the PC market, because there are one or two GPUs in every PC sold.

The figures also include the fact that Intel and AMD are shipping a GPU in many of their CPUs now. The graphics figures show that Intel is starting to gain ground with a seven percent market share, but AMD gained 2.6 percent. The loser in the market is Nvidia which lost seven percent.

Nvidia’s fall is because the company quit the integrated chipset market – and integrated GPUs on the Sandy Bridge and Fusion processors from Intel and AMD made their products useless.

There is also a healthy add-in board aftermarket for people who upgrade their PC, since GPU technology tends to advance faster than CPUs and gamers are more concerned with a faster video card than CPU.

Consumers bought 16.1 million add-in boards, down from the 18 million sold in Q4 of 2010. Peddie thinks that is because of the weak economic environment and the Thai floods.

What is interesting is that the integrated GPU of Intel’s Sandy Bridge and AMD’s Fusion processors is not hurting the market in general. People are still buying graphics cards because the GPUs in Sandy Bridge and Fusion are not quite up to snuff.

Many expected the low-end graphics card market to be harmed by the rise of Sandy Bridge and Fusion, but that has not happened.

Europe, Asia, and the other BRIC countries value the performance difference you get with discrete, but still have limited budgets and so will buy low-end to midrange add-in boards, Peddie told Desktop Review.

3D solar cells could increase energy output twenty-fold

Researchers believe they have found a way to increase the energy generated through solar, and it doesn’t just involve slapping a few more panels on the roof.

A team at MIT say that you would be better off building 3D cubes or towers constructed from photovoltaic panels, rather than laying them flat on a building.

While the thought of a giant PV cube might look out of place in your average British garden, the MIT engineers think that the countries with cloudier weather and real winters would benefit the most.

For those who don’t mind the strange looks from neighbours, installing a solar structure could mean an increased output from double to 20 times that of a fixed flat panel with the same base area.

While plenty of time and resources go into improving cell efficiencies, there is little investigation into the best way of arranging the cells. Using computer modelling algorithms the team was able to devise a number of shapes that were tested with analytics software to simulate weather conditions and so forth.

Some structures were also tested on MIT’s lab roof to see if the computer had got its predictions right.

They found that while creating a solar structure which would be more at home in the Tate Modern would not be cheap, it was able to give a much more predictable uniform energy output. This is because a vertical 3D structure is able to make much better use of sunlight when the sun is close to the horizon.

Complex shapes were the best, such as a cube with an inwards dimple, so it doesn’t seem like they would be particularly easy to manufacture.  However, computer aided design can be used to simplify shapes for only a small loss in the energy produced.

While the cost might sound prohibitive, the researchers point out that PV panel prices have been dropping substantially over the past decade.

The team thinks that the solar industry is ready for innovation.  Whether this means that it is ready for the accordion-shaped fold out towers just yet is another question. If the researchers are right, though, there are plenty of benefits – such as being constructed in a car park to provide fuel for electric cars.

Sony suffers from a touch of the schisms

Sony is suffering from a bad case of the schisms, a report has claimed.

In an analysis of Sony, Reuters said that Sony boss Kazuo Hirai has his work cut out putting the company’s engineers, mostly in Japan, against the movie studios and other content outfits mostly based in the US.

Apparently this all started in the mid-1990s when company leader Nobuyuki Idei started pushing Sony into content and networks. Idei bought the Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio in 2005, and established New York-based Sony BMG Music Entertainment. He also started the mobile phone venture with Ericsson which did not do so well.

But the problem was that the push to content stuffed up the hardware side of things. The fact that Sony’s music business wanted content protection meant that Sony failed to shift to hard disk drive plays and gave the business to Apple.

To make matters worse, Jobs had asked Sony for an alliance in launching his iTunes store, in part to counter the might of Microsoft. But Sony did not want to upset the Vole and turned him down.

Meanwhile, it was missing other chances. In 2001 it created the Airboard, a pre-tablet tablet that Sony decided to drop in the end. While Sony made shedloads of cash the move away from fabrication toward content was getting up people’s noses. This was true in Japan, where manufacturing and the jobs it creates are considered part of the mission of the country’s major companies.

In 2005, Idei handed over to Howard Stringer, who vowed to bust open Sony’s silos and make content and hardware work together.

He won the Blu-ray war which enabled him to claim that content and hardware were finally working together.

But Stringer has never been sure his managers in Japan listened to what he asked, understood what he said, and would act as he directed. Mostly because he never spoke Japanese.

This happened in 2005 – managers dropped back-lit LED TVs because of costs without telling Stringer. Samsung released its own version in 2009, forcing Sony to play catch-up in 2010 with a product it had first.

Japanese engineers were miffed that Stringer was spending too much time hobnobbing overseas and too little time paying homage to Sony’s roots as a maker of hit gadgets.

In 2008 Stringer laid off 16,000 workers and cut back $3 billion in expenses as he had to deal with the worldwide recession. Japan’s earthquake and tsunami last year unraveled supply chains and then there was the hacking of its online game accounts.

The outfit made staggering loses. Stringer surprised shareholders by announcing Hirai’s promotion to CEO a year earlier than expected.

Hirai differs from his two content-oriented predecessors by being a mixture of engineer and content manager. He is also bilingual and bicultural which should smooth over the cultural differences between the content and hardware sides.