Sony Year-End Report Card: B+S

Although Sony makes everything from music players to phones to robots to computers to movies, the biggest news of 2007 was made in its gaming and TV lines. Sure, we liked Sony Ericsson W- and K-series' flashy designs and were proud that Vaio PCs joined the increasingly crowded CableCARD home-theater PC market, but nothing topped the PlayStation 3, PSP and Bravia TVs for news coverage or everyday impact. So how did Sony do? Pretty darn well, proving that its learned its lessons from the rootkit massacre of 2005/2006, and that bit of news about exploding batteries.

The PlayStation 3 kicked off a surprisingly strong year with the introduction of folding@home, an app intended to distract people from the thin library of games. If you can't play Final Fantasy, the least you could do is help cure Parkinsons. Then there's the upcoming Second Life-esque Home, along with web browsing and installing Linux—activities which occupy the time that you could be spent gaming.

Good news continued as Sony's XBR5 and XBR4 series of LCD TVs rolled out to critical acclaim. Even the killing off of its rear-projection TVs represented a forward-looking move, and another example of Sony owning up to its problems. We'll miss the 70-inch 70XBR5 for a little while, but by this time next year we'll probably be dazzled by some other sweet set. If Sony still knows how to do one thing, it's manufacture quality hardware.

...But if Sony knows how to do two things, it's make proprietary formats that nobody likes, as evidenced by their killing off the ATRAC format. We're glad to see it go, but many consumers are still peeved at having it forced down their meat hole all these years.

Things were looking good on the home front as the slimmed-down second edition of the PSP sold 1 million in only two months. I even pondered aloud that the PSP might even be able to catch up to the DS someday, although that was somewhat of a fantasy situation.

Sony did manage to beat the Nintendo Wii in sales for four straight weeks, something nobody thought could be done without some sort of Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy injection. Are the hardcore gamers in Japan finally warming up to the PS3 because of its media functionality, or are they snapping it up because of the recent influx of decent games? Probably both.

Despite all the improvements the PS3 has had this year, Sony still managed to slap consumers with one hand while taking money from them with the other. Of course, we're talking about the gradual elimination of backward compatibility. It was first reduced to software-only emulation on the 80GB system, and then eliminated entirely on the 40GB version. If you can't play PS2 games, you're gonna have to buy our PS3 games! Right?

Sony's Blu-ray format pulled out a sizeable lead in 2007 over the rival HD DVD, even though Sony's own CEO Howard Stringer says that the fight isn't that important and the two sides are in a stalemate. Nevertheless, the fact that Blu-ray is kicking butts in terms of players in homes (thanks to the PS3) and titles sold bodes well for the format.

Don't think Sony could pull out an untarnished victory, as Blu-ray wasn't without its gaffes for the year. Not only were there compatibility problems between different Blu-ray players when playing back discs, it happened multiple times. Then there's that whole BD Profile 1.1 mess: bottom line, Sony's standalone players don't support the latest interactive discs, even ones being released by Sony's own home video division. People have to buy a Panasonic (or update the firmware on their PS3) for compatibility.

Overall, they've had a good year. We've seen good product releases from all over the consumer electronics spectrum with no crazy rootkit scandal to speak of. The PlayStation 3 and PSP are finally gaining steam, and the Blu-ray format seems to be doing well for itself. If it weren't for the missteps, Sony would have received an A—but a B+ is nothing to be ashamed of.

Final Grade: B+