New 55-inch and 65-inch models plus a media player from Sony could bring ultra-high definition TV a step closer to the mainstream.
Available for North American consumers to order from April 21, the TVs, which Sony first showcased at January's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, may still be a little expensive for the average consumer -- the 55-inch XBR-55X900A will retail for $4999 and its big brother, the 65-inch XBR-65X900A, for $6999 -- but both seem an absolute bargain compared with the selection of ultra-high definition sets currently available which, although offering significantly larger 80-to-85-inch displays, are also considerably more expensive, retailing for between $20,000 and $40,000.
Each of the new TVs offers a screen resolution four times greater than existing high definition (hence it is often referred to as 4K technology as it has 4000 pixels horizontally, compared with the 1000 found in current HD screens) and a conversion technology that can take non-native content and upscale it to fill the screen while increasing its perceived resolution.
There is no debating the stunning images that UHD TVs offer compared with anything already on the market. However, there are two drawbacks to the technology's more widespread adoption. The first is price: as this is an emerging technology early examples will come at a premium. These TVs, which also support native 3D UHD and ship with passive 3D glasses, plus integrated 65-watt front-facing magnetic fluid speakers (negating the need for a separate soundbar) and wi-fi connectivity, are a step in the right direction in terms of cost. The second constraint, available content, is the biggest obstacle. The first official UHD live TV broadcast is scheduled for July 2014. It will be the FIFA World Cup final and will only be available to UHDTV-owning viewers in Japan.
Which is why, as well as the TV sets, Sony has also announced that it will be launching a 4K Media Player, the FMP-X1 and a dedicated online ultra-high definition web platform for downloading native content to its TVs. Set to go on sale this summer for $699, the FMP-X1 will come bundled with 10 UHD-remastered feature films, including "Taxi Driver" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," and from this autumn will work as a hub for connecting to Sony's own UHD video library. A subscription or fee-based service, Sony claims the site will offer a wide selection of films from a number of studios, and not just its own content.
For owners that prefer not to pay subscription fees, Sony is also launching a a range of "mastered in 4K" Blu-ray discs that work on existing Blu-ray players and are optimized for the technology in its UHD TVs. And, as an added incentive, consumers who purchase either of Sony's new UHD TVs will also get a "mastered in 4K" copy of "Spider-Man" (2002), "Ghostbusters" and "Angels & Demons," free of charge.
Although Sony hasn't confirmed if the same offer will apply to consumers in other territories, it has confirmed that the 55-inch XBR-55X900A and 65-inch XBR-65X900A will debut in Europe this July.