Sony significantly expanded its 4K and UHD ecosystem with a series of new products the company introduced at a press event held in New York City. The list included two new UHDTVs, a new 4K camcorder, and the launch of the “Video Unlimited 4K” website. In addition to all the 4K news, Sony showed that a curved screen is not exclusive to OLED, by introducing a curved 65″ 1080p edge-lit LED LCD—the KDL-S990A.
Sony Electronics President Phil Molyneux took the stage in the Jazz room at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan. Behind him, there was a TV—hidden underneath a shroud. There was no drama to the show, just a relaxed and straight-forward presentation. Within minutes Molyneux revealed the new Sony XBR-65X850A UHDTV, which forgoes fancy front-facing speakers for a slim profile and a lower price point.
The new 65-incher sells for $5499, and the smaller 55-inch XBR-55X850A costs $3499. Both new UHDTVs are forward compatible with the recently announced HDMI 2.0 standard. In a dig against rival Samsung, Sony’s President pointed out that all of Sony’s UHDTVs have the ability to update to HDMI 2.0 via firmware, negating the need for an external box that requires replacement—a solution that Samsung had touted as a way of future-proofing its UHD offerings.
Sony’s strategy for maintaining its leadership in 4K and UHD relies on content creation as well as delivery. The new Video Unlimited 4K website makes digital download of UHD content a reality, at least for owners of Sony-branded UHDTVs. For now, the service requires the use of a FMP-X1 4K Ultra HD Media Player.
The service debuted with over 70 movies from several studios, as well as AMC’s hit series Breaking Bad in UHD. Sony declared its intention to increase the UHD catalog to over 100 movies before 2013 ends. Rentals cost $7.99 for a 24-hour period. Purchasing a movie costs $29.99 and also includes a UltraViolet copy of the content, for HD or SD playback on other devices.
When it comes to content creation, Hollywood already invested in 4K. Theaters with 4K projectors playing 4K movies are finally becoming mainstream. However, the tools for creating 4K content have thus far cost too much for independent filmmakers to afford. The new Handycam FDR-AX1 4K Camcorder directly addresses this issue, dropping the cost of entry for a 4K video camera to $4499. This is definitely a disruptive price point for a product like this.
During the camcorder demo, Phil Molyneaux noted that the FDR-AX1 was delivering full 60p UHD video to the XBR-65X850A through a HDMI 1.4 connection, a feat that was previously regarded as impossible. Molineux declined to mention how this was achieved. The effect of the increased frame rate and resolution were clearly visible in the sample footage.
Not all of the TV-related news involved UHD. Sony brought a novel TV to the event, a 65″ curved-screen edge-lit LED LCD—the KDL-65S990A. The curve itself was not as pronounced as what I saw on Samsung’s 55″ OLED—the new Sony is a better match for a typical living room setup than the curved 55″ OLEDs from Samsung and LG. Furthermore, the 65S990A negates the notion that a curved screen is a differentiating feature for OLED. While acknowledging that OLED features superior black levels, screen uniformity and motion resolution, LCD allows for a larger curved screen that costs half as much.
Sony put on a good presentation; I left convinced that 4K UHD is not just here to stay; it is about to explode in terms of how much content is out there. For now, Sony’s ecosystem is relatively closed—4K downloads require the FMP-X1 media player, which is only compatible with Sony’s own UHD televisions.
Progress in the 4K UHD segment is coming quickly, with major manufacturers—and some lesser-known brands—introducing new models at a steady pace. Sony’s latest offerings show the company is taking its early lead in the segment seriously, and is pushing the state-of-the-art forward by developing an entire ecosystem for ultra-high definition content creation and consumption.