The Bauminator

Priming the 4K Pump

6/21/2013 1:22 PM

While some major programmers like ESPN take a wait-and-see approach to 4K, TV makers are working on ways to supply Ultra HD content that can take advantage of the pricey sets they’re trying to sell to consumers.

Among them is Sony, which will attempt to fill that initial content gap with the FMP-X1, a media player that will come pre-loaded with 10 movies in 4K format, including The Amazing Spider-Man and Total Recall 2012. Sony hasn’t announced  a release date (“coming soon,” according to the company), but the player will set consumers back $699.99.

Count Chuck Pagano, ESPN's EVP and CTO, as a fan of Sony's strategy. "I think they're doing it very rationally and smartly," said. 

Sony will let customers obtain additional titles to the device via broadband and try to keep bandwidth requirements in check by leaning on proprietary compression encoding technology developed by Eye IO, a company that also counts Netflix among its prime customers.

Eye IO declined to say what bit rate Sony is encoding its 4K titles it will prepare for the FMP-X1, but Eye IO CEO and former Microsoft exec Rodolfo Vargas claims that Eye IO’s technology outperforms H.265/High Efficiency Video Coding [HEVC], which is designed to be 50% more efficient than MPEG-4/H.264.

“That was the first rule; we had to beat H.265,” he said of the Sony media player encoding bakeoff, during a recent interview. “It’s a very low bit rate; you’d be surprised.”

My shock and awe will have to wait, as I’m quite certain I will have a difficult convincing my lovely and always understanding wife that we should fork out $5,000 for Sony’s 55-inch XBR 4K Ultra HD TV, let alone $25,000 for Sony’s 84-incher. But a man can dream.

But Sony does point out that 4K Ultra HD titles for the media player will be encoded at 3,840 x 2,160 resolution (about 8 million pixels) versus 1,920 x 1,080 (2 million pixels) for 1080p HD, so it’s at least shooting high when it comes to image quality, not just price.

March