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Gaming key to Sony profit rebound: executive

By Tim Kelly

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Sony Corp's videogaming business, led by its just-launched handheld "Vita," will prove pivotal in returning the company to profitability, Kazuo Hirai, the executive pegged to succeed Howard Stringer as president, said on Tuesday.

But Japan's leading consumer electronics brand remains committed to its TV business despite predicting its eighth straight year of losses, Hirai and Stringer told reporters at a media roundtable at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"The television is the home. We want to sustain the television as the center of the home," Stringer said.

"Television in our four-screen strategy is still the most powerful tool with the audience and we have just got to do a better job of making a profit of it," he added, referring to the company's strategy of offering entertainment across smartphones and tablets as well as personal computers and TVs.

Sony, Stringer added, is prepared to meet a challenge from any move into TV sets by Apple, which a decade ago ousted Sony from its perch at the top of the music-player business, and today outstrips Sony by far in personal and tablet computers.

In November, Sony warned of a fourth consecutive annual net loss in the year ending March 2012, amounting to 90 billion yen ($1.2 billion), hurt by its struggling TV unit.

In Las Vegas, Sony was showcasing its Crystal LED set with better contrast and a wider range of colors than liquid crystal models, while South Korean rivals Samsung Electronics Co and LG Electronics Inc created buzz with OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs that they plan to release to consumers.

Smart Internet-connected TVs and new offerings in 3D hardware and content had prominent space in the exhibits of the leading consumer electronics firms in Las Vegas.

Panasonic Corp President Fumio Ohtsubo said his company was planning to release its own OLED TV as soon as this year, close to when he expects Samsung and LG to begin selling theirs in stores.

"Unfortunately we weren't able to show one at the show this time, but we are certainly developing it," he told reporters at a briefing in Las Vegas. "I can't say exactly when, but if Samsung and LG put theirs out this year we will try and make sure we are not too late."

But Japan's leading LCD panel maker, Sharp Corp, is less enthusiastic about the appeal that ultra-thin but expensive OLED screens will have with consumers, who can buy high picture quality conventional televisions for much less.

OLED "won't create a new market, it will just be replacement of what's already out there," Sharp President Mikio Katayama said at the Sharp booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center. His company has no plans yet to join the OLED market, he said.

Katayama declined to discuss speculation that Sharp will supply Apple with panels for its assault on the TV market. ($1 = 76.7950 Japanese yen)

(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo; Editing by Richard Chang and Chris Gallagher)

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