What in the Ultra HD World?
Dick De Jong
July 10, 2013
As soon as Sony released the 84-inch XBR-84X900 4K Ultra HD TV late last year, the knee jerk reaction was, "Where's the native 4K content?"
To Sony's credit, they quickly responded with an offer to loan 84X900 owners a media server with ten 4K movies loaded on the hard drive. The plan was also a savvy customer satisfaction strategy considering these early adopters were ponying up 25 large to be the first in their borough to own this ultra large TV.
Now that Sony has released the slightly more diminutive XBR-55X900A (55-inch) and XBR-65X900A (65-inch) 4K Ultra HD TVs, ($4,999 and $6,999 respectively), they have announced the availability of the FMP-X1 4K Ultra HD Media Player ($699).
Sony FMP-X1 4K Media Player
If you have already bought one of Sony's X900A 4K Ultra HD TVs, you are eligible for a $200 introductory discount on the 4K Media Player.
Though Sony warns that currently the FMP-X1 is "exclusively for use with Sony 55" and 65" 4K UHD TV models."
That means that it will not work with the 84-inch XBR-84X900A nor with the Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector. Sony Customer Service states that Sony is "developing a solution path to provide in-home, native 4K content for those customers. We anticipate a public announcement of details to coincide with the launch of Video Unlimited 4K."
Also, "Select units of Sony's XBR-55/65X900A, 4K Ultra HD TVs will require the in-home evaluation and activation visit from an authorized technician to ensure compatibility between the TV and FMP-X1. Owners are encouraged to visit www.4kactivation.com to check if they have one of the qualifying TVs."
Obviously, Sony has a few kinks to work out with the implementation of this 4K media player. It can be frustrating to be an early adopter, but Sony seems to be responding to the situation.
With those caveats, here's what you get with the FMP-X1. Its two terabyte hard drive is pre-loaded with these ten movies:
- The Amazing Spider-Man
- Bad Teacher, featuring Cameron Diaz
- The Karate Kid, featuring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith
- The Other Guys, featuring Will Farrell
- Battle: Los Angeles
- That's My Boy, featuring Adam Sandler
- Salt, featuring Angelina Jolie
- Total Recall 2012, featuring Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale
- Taxi Driver
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
For me, the real gems are the last two films. The Bridge on the River Kwai garnered seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Seeing this 1957 classic re-mastered in 4K is worth the price of admission. And to watch a young De Niro tearing up the scenery in Ultra HD, that should be unnerving.
Importantly, as a Sony representative confirmed, "The feature films on the box and from the forthcoming service were either shot in or mastered in true 4K which incorporates the expanded color gamut which can be rendered on our TVs with TRILUMINOS Display." Both the 55-inch and 65-inch 4K models feature TRILUMINOS displays.
As I wrote in a previous article, for Ultra HD TVs to really stand out from HDTVs, they need content (with features like wider color gamut) that highlight the Ultra HD display's capabilities.
Sony is also implementing the Video Unlimited 4K Ultra HD service, which should be available "later this summer with many more feature films, TV episodes and a variety of short-form video - all with 4K native picture quality and wider color gamut. The cost for downloads of feature film titles as 24-hour rentals or for purchase will start at $7.99 and $29.99."
The Sony rep offered Breaking Bad as an example of the TV programs on the service.
Sony has restored and re-mastered in 4K not only Taxi Driver but also David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. We can only hope that those two classics will quickly be added to the Video Unlimited 4K Ultra HD catalog.
The epic Lawrence of Arabia in 4K should be stunning and the B&W Dr. Strangelove should prove a great showcase for the TV's dynamic range.
Now for some technical housekeeping details. First, this is not a streaming service like Netflix. The movies physically reside on the FMP-X1's hard drive. If you want to watch a movie that is not already on the hard drive, you need to download it.
Download times can vary, but the Sony rep suggests four times download to playback. Therefore a two hour movie would take eight hours to download. Or in other words, plan ahead and download when you are sleeping.
Sony has licensed Eye IO's Ultra HD compression encoding technology, but a two hour movie file is still between 30 and 40 GB in size. If the two terabyte hard drive begins to overflow with 4K goodies, you can offload movies to an external hard drive.
Or you can simply delete movies that you have purchased and re-download them from your library on the Sony cloud when you have freed up space on your FMP-X1.
One last point, you need a wired Internet connection for the FMP-X1, not wireless. Therefore this 4K media player must be within wired reach of your network's router, bridge or switch.
Although perhaps a bit clunky in implementation, I think that the FMP-X1 provides a good solution to delivering Ultra HD content into the home. Sony is in an enviable position since Sony Pictures not only produces 4K movies and TV shows but it owns an extensive movie catalog that it can re-master to Ultra HD 2160p resolution.
But that doesn't mean that other Ultra HD TV manufacturers cannot partner with studios to offer their own Ultra HD content. And until either an Ultra HD streaming service or UHD Blu-rays hit the marketplace, a downloadable media server seems like a great alternative.