After the settlement of the strike and the successful launch of their ADR stock, Sony had returned to normal (See Part I, Chapter 12). An eventful 1961 drew to a close on December 16, when Sony concluded a contract with Paramount Pictures to provide "technical assistance in the production of a chromatron tube and color television receiver utilizing it."
"The days of radio are over. The future lies in television." Ibuka's simple comment resulted in the birth of Sony's model TV8-301, the world's first portable television. It was, however, a black and white receiver.
"We are surrounded by vivid colors in our daily life. Television, then, must be true to life. A TV set that cannot reproduce color is far from having been perfected." Producing color TVs was the next logical step for anyone involved in television. Sony was no exception. Many people had taken part in the technical research of color TVs from the earliest days of television. Early color receivers used cathode-ray tubes developed by RCA, which employed the three-electron gun shadow mask system. These cathode-ray tubes had three major drawbacks however: they were expensive, difficult to tune and broke down often. In comparison with black and white sets, the images were much darker. Moreover, when viewed in a normally lit room, the beautiful colors did not come through. Colors often ran into one another --- in general it was difficult to attain an accurate picture.
The consensus was that the dark picture and failure to produce true color did not merit the high price. This feeling accounted for the slow sales of color sets. In the U.S., the ratio of B/W TV owners to color TV owners was 50 to 1 (50 million to 1 million). In Japan, the situation was worse, with only 300 color receivers sold in contrast to nine million B/W sets.
Ibuka and the others decided that if they were going to tackle color TV, they would not rely on the shadow mask process with all its drawbacks. The Sony staff was confident that they could come up with a television without precedent. "Sony is an innovator. We do things that no one has done." With this, Sony began the urgent search for a replacement to the shadow mask.
Sony was not alone. Dissatisfaction with the shadow mask screen was widespread. One possible substitute was the "banana tube." Television signals were sent through this long thin tube, followed by RGB signals flashed at timed intervals, shuttered through a striped filter rotated through the beam. The rotating sound made a clattering noise, which in Japanese is onomatopoetically referred to as "karakara." The color television using it was given the dubious, but amusing, name of "karakara television," because of its phonetic closeness to the word "color." The apple tube, which had been developed by Philco, was another possibility. Then there was the chromatron tube. This was the invention of famous American atomic physicist and Nobel laureate, Dr. E. O. Lawrence.
In March 1961, Kihara and his staff took part in the IRE Show which was held at the New York Hilton Hotel and the New York Coliseum. An exhibit of the latest technology and technological applications, this was more like a scientific exposition than the present day trade show. Kihara and his staff had brought along the SV-201, the world's smallest video recorder and Hi-D (high-density) metal powder-coated tape which had been developed for the recorder.
Here at the show, the Sony staff came across the brightest color display they had ever seen. It had originally been conceived as an IFF (Identification of Friend or Foe) display for military use. At one glance, however, Kihara knew that it was what they had been looking for.
As always, the key to developing this new product was designing the transistor. The staff decided to use silicon as much as possible. They also developed a new epitaxial mesa transistor expressly for the 5-inch set. The 8-inch transistorized TV had taught Sony that semiconductors with low performance characteristics overheat. They also result in large losses and require a high voltage. The engineers' task was to develop a smaller semiconductor which was even more efficient in proportion to its size.
Just as Iwama and his semiconductor staff were about to research the semiconductors, Bell Laboratories in the US. announced the development of an epitaxial transistor. The group felt that this was exactly what was needed in the new set. They test manufactured silicon epitaxial mesa transistors for deflection circuits, which required the most power and synchronizing circuits for the first time. Just as they anticipated, this semiconductor was perfect for the 5-inch TV.
Next they began production of the epitaxial crystal. This process was a complete departure from conventional crystal production, requiring much more difficult gas purification, surface treatment, and gas flow control techniques.
Susumu Yoshida and Senri Miyaoka coordinated the design of transistors which were to use the new semiconductors in the deflection circuits of the new 5-inch set. In the spring of 1961, they set up a trial transistor production line, and by autumn everything began to take shape. When production actually got started, however, yield was extremely poor. Even in February 1962, the planned start of production of the TVs, they had yet to attain good production levels.
Transistor problems aside, the miniaturization of the TV presented other unforeseen problems.
Cutting down the size of the set was not merely a matter of down-sizing the components and the outer casing. There were problems in miniaturizing the cathode-ray tubes and glass envelope, redefining the deflection angle, and working on a new antenna. The "portability" of the set was the ultimate issue.
Moreover, since Sony engineers planned to market the 5-inch set as a "car TV," it had to be capable of intercepting shifting radio waves and withstanding the noise generated by the car while it was in motion. This posed a myriad of new problems not encountered with console-type home-use sets. The staff worked nonstop for months tackling these problems, often not returning home until eleven or twelve at night for days on end. For them, there were no weekends or holidays until all problems were resolved. And the management, well aware of the diligence of their underlings, could not leave before their staff. They even felt bad about staying home on Sundays. Everyone was that earnest about the new TV.
All problems with the 8-inch set were resolved, and the improvements were incorporated into the design of the new 5-inch set. The biggest problem with the 8-inch model was its temperature characteristics.
The temperature characteristics of the transistors, ferrite, iron core, in addition to that of the coils, all vary in accordance with the set's overall temperature. Additionally, heat diffusion naturally gets worse as the set gets smaller. The 5-inch set had to be redesigned countless times with alterations made to the new transistor.
The Semiconductor Department ran a secret trial production run of the cathode-ray tubes. If news of the size of their new tube were to have leaked out, Sony's rivals would have realized what they were doing. Besides, conventional cathode-ray tube glass manufacturers would not consider producing a tube with a 70° deflection angle, something which the Sony staff had decided on after taking into account all aspects of the new set from transistors and the cathode-ray tube to the size of set. After all, their primary concern was mass production of a single standardized tube.
While the deflection angle had been set, difficult problems involved in shortening the electron gun and down-sizing the diameter remained. All components were designed and trial manufacture took place time and time again.
The outer design was also reworked countless times. In the highly selective process, many designs did not get beyond the sketch phase, while some were no more than conceptions in the minds of the designers. Needless to say, all suggestions from TV8-301 model owners were taken into account.
In November 1961, just before mass production, intermediate trial testing on prototype sets was completed. Project staff were told to try the sets out during the New Year's holiday.
The staff had taken extra precautions in testing the new TV. They were determined not to repeat the same bitter mistake they had made with the 8-inch set. This set had gone on sale in May, and as summer set in, rising temperatures altered the transistors' characteristics, and ultimately the synchronization went awry.
This time around, the transistors were rigorously tested for high temperature tolerance. Sony engineers were confident that they had overcome the problem. They had built a plastic hothouse on the factory line, raising internal humidity by boiling water inside. They raised the temperature even further with an electric heater.
The staff's evaluation after returning from the holidays, however, came as a shock. "The picture comes through fine at night, but when you turn it on in the morning, it's out of synch." The engineering staff was so engrossed with high temperature tolerance that they completely overlooked low temperature tolerance. Back to the drawing board.
The set was also tested on the road to see how it would stand up against vibrations. These tests were run secretly on a 600km stretch of expressway. First a TV8-301 set was conspicuously placed high on the jump seat to make it appear as though they were testing the 8-inch model. The TV5-303 was snuggled on the backseat floor so as not to be seen from the outside. There were some hair-raising experiences, however. Truck drivers would peer down into the car. The Sony staff was caught for speeding while testing image deterioration at high speeds, and the police got a good look at the TV5-303. The test results, however, were acceptable.
This television is based on an entirely different concept than conventional console sets. It is expressly for the pleasure of the individual. Forget this, and the set is nothing more than a miniaturized novelty, the pride of the engineers who worked on it." Such was the concern of Ibuka and Morita.
The staff gathered to select a name for the TV5-303. Over thirty suggestions, including "mini-TV," "pico-TV," and "my TV" were brought up. Ultimately the candidates were narrowed down to "the hand-held TV" and "the micro-TV." Finally, Ibuka christened it "the micro-TV." And after much heated debate, it was decided that the catch phrase would be "the transistor that revolutionized TV," rather than the "revolutionary televisions through transistors," originally proposed by Morita.
Sony engineers were earnestly working on the final stages of the 5-303. In 1962, the micro-television was finally nearing completion.
Apart from this, Sony had been busy with guests from the start of the new year. The first guest was US Attorney General Robert Kennedy on February 9. Then it was announced that the Emperor and Empress of Japan were to visit the plant on February 29. Ryutaro Azuma, the Governor of Tokyo, was to act as their guide on a tour of Tokyo Tower and other sites in the city, including Sony.
Because of the need for tight security en route to and from the plant and during the tour, the Sony staff had to run rehearsals of the tour, precisely planning and timing every minute of their visit. In the end, the visit had to be postponed, however, because the Empress came down with a sudden cold. The staff decided to run through the tour rehearsal once more to get things down pat. But the tour was postponed again. The staff from the general affairs section in charge of preparations for the tour debated the need for a third rehearsal. Ibuka and Morita agreed that twice was enough.
Finally, a month later, the Emperor and Empress arrived for their tour of the plant. Ibuka acted as guide for the Emperor and Morita provided commentary for the Empress. Ibuka kept his commentary within the allotted time, but Morita got so carried away with detailed explanations that their party began to fall behind. Often the Emperor's group had to stop and wait for the Empress' group to catch up.
The security units became uneasy, saying, "If you run overtime, we'll have to readjust all the traffic lights along the route back, so please stay within the time limits!" After touring each production line, they reached the eighth floor auditorium where Sony's radio, tape recorder, television, VTR and new Chromatron color television were displayed. By that time, however, they were running overtime. The security personnel gave up.
It turned out that their Imperial Majesties returned fifteen minutes late.
The two rehearsals had not been much help.
At the climax of the tour, Ibuka and Morita showed the micro-TV set, which was still under wraps, in the room reserved for honored guests. At the time, they informed the Emperor and Empress that the set had not yet been announced to the public.
This made the headlines of the major weeklies. "Emperor is Hushed Up!" The article read, "Sony's postcard-sized television, produced under top secret conditions, was displayed before the Emperor and Empress in the honored guests' room, while the attention of the other guests was diverted to their color TV set. Their Imperial Majesties were asked to maintain confidentiality."
With the cooperation of the Emperor and Empress, Sony's secret was indeed protected. On April 17, the TV5-303, the world's smallest and lightest micro-television was announced to the press. On the following day, the major dailies and industry papers including Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri and Sankei gave the TV5-303 a generous 3-column coverage complete with a photo. The micro-TV made a splashing debut.
Frank Sinatra was so impressed with the TV5-303, which he saw during his visit to Sony in late April, that he asked Ibuka for one to take back to the United States. Since channels differ in Japan and the US, Morita promised to deliver Sinatra one as soon as they were made to American specifications. Six months later in October, the micro-television went on sale in the US. At the time, Morita was busily coordinating the marketing activities for the TV5-303, but on the day after the sets went on sale, he went to Paramount Pictures where Sinatra was filming to deliver the television, as promised.
Sony's New York showroom was opened on October 1, 1962, just prior to the sales debut of the micro-TV. The showroom was situated in an ideal location, the most fashionable section of 5th Avenue, Manhattan's main thoroughfare.
In September, an old building had finally been torn down to make way for the showroom. This marked the start of the rush construction job --- after all, there was less than a month until the opening date. It was a difficult construction job. In downtown Manhattan, where space is at a premium and mere inches separate one building from the next, it was impossible to build a temporary outdoor structure. The cement was mixed and poured on the building site itself, and they worked until they had finally pushed themselves into a corner. In other words, the construction site and the building were one and the same.
And unlike Japan, the builder did not subcontract interior work. The electrician, plasterer, wallpaper hanger and carpet layer had to be contracted separately. The showroom was in utter confusion, with each contractor working at his own pace. It was impossible to tell the overall progress of the work.
The confusion was further aggravated by the language gap between the Japanese and the Americans. Although some members of the Sony staff could understand English, that did not mean that their English was understandable to Americans. In one instance, a member of the design department of Sony head office in Tokyo came to offer support for the construction and suggested that the wallpaper hanger use "biniru." No one could understand what he was talking about. Thinking his pronunciation was not right, he tried accenting the first syllable but to no avail. Then he emphasized the second syllable. The Americans still did not understand him. Finally in desperation he brought a piece of vinyl for the workers to see. "Zis, zis!" he reiterated. The workers responded by exaggeratedly gesticulating and exclaiming, "Oh.... vinyl!" Naturally, mispronouncing V as B would make it impossible for any American to understand. Such chaos escalated as the opening day drew closer.
At last the opening day arrived. With over 400 guests, including the Consul General of New York, crowding the opening ceremony, the 170-square-meter showroom was in utter pandemonium.
Naturally the TV5-303, which was soon to go on sale, grabbed all the attention. The micro-television's popularity was not limited to opening day. From the next day on, an average of 7,000 people crowded the showroom for a glimpse of the revolutionary television. The showroom was deluged with cries of "When will it go on sale?" When the TV5-303 did go on sale on October 4, and it sold out in a flash.
In no time the micro-TV had created a boom in the US. It was by far a greater success than Morita and the others had initially anticipated. Tokyo was shipping them by sea as fast as they came off the assembly line, but this did not begin to meet the overwhelming American demand. Sony Corporation of America called Tokyo daily requesting them to speed up production and delivery. "Not only retailers, but our walk-in customers are pressing to get a hold of the sets.
Still, Sony could not afford to revel in its good fortune. Less than Six months later, other companies had begun to imitate the micro-TV. Among them, Hayakawa Electric had already begun sending samples to the US market. The time was now or never for Sony to keep its competition down and lead the world market with its micro-TVs. On November 7, Sony chartered a Pan American plane to deliver the products to the US.
Thanks to the micro-TV, Sony Corporation of America (SONAM) was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Until then, Sony's most profitable product, the tape recorder, was being handled by Superscope. The main product which SONAM marketed independently was the transistor radio, and its sales were only comparable to those of the Sony Shoji branch in Nagoya.