Standing on the bleeding edge of the Ultra High Definiition TV age, Sony hopes to avoid the "chicken and egg" dilemma that early HDTV adopters suffered. The set maker (and movie studio owner) is delivering content as well as a super new genration display to its well-heeled customers.
Ultra HD will be a big story (maybe the biggest) at this January’s CES , with other major TV makers like Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Toshiba also showing large screen sets capable of displaying at least 8 million active pixels. That is, with four times the resolution of today’s best HD sets.
Major films are now being shot digitally with compatible U-HD (formerly called “4K”) cameras. But pushing even compressed U-HD content through a cable or satellite “pipe” takes way more bandwidth than the carriers are willing to give up. And even “bleeding edge” content sources like ESPN (early in on 3D) won’t push the issue. The sports TV giant has already allowed it's years (maybe 5 or more) away from serving up shows in Ultra HD.
Taking the bull by the horns (and stealing a bit of pre-CES thunder), Sony today announced that it’s going to loan a hard disc-based Ultra High Definition Video Player pre-loaded with movies to all buyers of its first XBR-84X900 4K LED TV. This 84-inch beauty sells for $24,999 – which sounds like an investment only a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates might be willing to make. But let us not forget that the first HD sets in a mere 50-inch form factor sold for about $15,000, the first 60 inch sets for $25g. For the recent Black Friday sales, we spotted similarly sized sets going out the door for well under a grand. As the market expands, the prices plummet.
That’s why the oft-profitless electronics industry is now trying to re-invent the display technology all over again, with the hopes a discerning public will be able to see and appreciate the ultra-difference in bigger (60-inches and up) screens. Just the way some tablet customers now won’t settle for less than Apple’s better-than-HD Retina screen displays.
Sony’s U-HD player will come stocked initially with 10 full length features presented in native 4K – including “The Amazing Spiderman,” “Total Recall” (2012), ”The Karate Kid” (2010),
“Salt,” “Battle Los Angeles,” “The Other Guys,” “Bad Teacher,” “That’s My Boy,” “Taxi Driver” and “The Bridge On the River Kwai.” The “Spiderman” title will likely play in 3D, as this U-HD set is capable of doing 3D with passive glasses, a switch from Sony past practices.
Some pre-loaded 4K video shorts from Red Bull Media House will also get viewers pumped. And Sony plans to update the offerings periodically either through a visit to the set owner’s house by a Sony Concierge “white glove” service specialist or by sending the customer physical media in the form of a BD-ROM disc (the player also has a BD-ROM drive built-in).
It’s unclear whether this same Ultra High Definition Player will also accept downloads from the internet. We’re guessing not, though future devices might. Maybe that’s why Sony is loaning the box to customers, rather than selling it to them?
A comprehensive overview on Ultra HD from PC Magazine says it takes a ”solid 1GB per second (internet) connection for reliable playback” of a 4K video signal. But other industry watchers have speculated that U-HD shows could be streamed in a “trickle down and store” fashion to a hard drive device in the middle of the night without unduly taxing the delivery system. And there is the capacity (but no current standard) to pack a two-hour Ultra-HD movie onto a Blu-ray disc, if movie “extras” are sacrificed.