Sony heralds future of television with 84-inch 4K set
Published Oct 4 2012, 23:59 BST | By Andrew Laughlin
Sony has today demonstrated its mammoth new 4K LCD television, which supports the ultra high definition (U-HD) pictures that many in the industry view as the future of television.
The Bravia KD-84X9005 is an 84-inch LCD television - the largest Bravia ever made by Sony - boasting a screen resolution of 3840x2160. As a comparison, the "resolutionary" new iPad released by Apple in March has a display resolution of 2048x1536, and that could not be described as shabby.
Built with the 4K version of Sony's X-Reality Pro processor engine, the new set comes with a 4K LCD panel comprising approximately 8.29 megapixels, which is four times standard full HD resolution (1920x1080 pixels).
The picture engine can reproduce a range of content with different resolutions in the 4K standard, such as HD digital broadcasts, digital images and Blu-ray discs.
The 60-degree viewing angle means people can sit closer to the screen, even just two metres away, and still get an optimum viewing experience.
Audio is handled by a 10-unit live speaker on the sides of the set which outputs 5.1 channel surround sound. Sony has also fitted the set with new 3D audio technology, which "envelops the viewer in position orientating tones, from deep bass to high notes".
The speakers are built in hexagon frames featuring sub woofers at the top and bottom, along with a tweeter in each side. The built-in audio system is a quality set up in itself, but realistically Sony expects anyone why buys the set to already have a pretty decent home cinema set up.
The 4K resolution is handled by three core chips - the X-Reality cleans up and processes the picture; the XCA-7 optimises the picture depending on the content, such as broadcast TV or digital pictures; and the XCA8-4K converts the 2K pictures to 4K, as well as handles the 4K native content.
Herein lies the rub with 4K. Just as with the recent introduction of 3D television, the paucity of content is what will hold 4K back in the near term.
This is partially a technical issue. Sony has worked with ASTRA on the delivery of 4K over satellite, and recently demonstrated at the IBC 2012 event content being played out in Quad Full HD format, encoded in the H.264 standard.
However, this used a data bitrate of 50Mbps. Current HD is broadcast at around a fifth of that capacity, meaning there will have to be improvements in the compression and encoding technology before live 4K TV can really become a reality.
Sony will not discuss the future roadmap for 4K TV availability, but Japanese public broadcaster HNK has invested heavily in Super Hi-Vision, which runs at the higher rate of 8K, equivalent to about 32 megapixels at a screen resolution of 7680x4320.
NHK believes that it will start offering this service, 16 times sharper than normal HD, to Japanese consumers by 2020.> BBC and NHK look to the future with Super Hi-Vision - feature
Japan-based Sony must therefore see a 4K market emerging in the future and knows that it needs to be involved, particularly as LG and Toshiba have also brought 4K models to market recently.
Demonstration of Sony's new 84-inch 4K TV
Moreover, a report by Credit Suisse estimates that broadcasters in the US and Europe will start rolling out U-HD channels in 2015-16. The investment bank feels that there will be 135 such channels worldwide by 2017.
Sony understands that it will need to educate consumers now on why they would want 4K, but certainly seeing is believing. The picture we saw on the 84-inch model (which was just a prototype) was nothing short of stunning.
Still images turned into rich vistas giving the illusion of depth due to their size and detail, while colours were vibrant and there was greater contrast in the blacks.
Videos ran crisply and it was hard to see the pixels without getting close up - although, admittedly, we did not see any really fast-moving content that would have really tested the system.
Sony notes that many films are already being shot in 4K, including The Amazing Spider-Man
and upcoming Bond movie Skyfall
There is currently no Blu-ray technology to offer native 4K discs, but the Bravia KD-84X9005 will up-convert content to the higher resolution.
Improvements coming to the PlayMemories studio, a picture editing system on the PlayStation 3, will soon make it possible to view images in 4K resolution on the set.
Sony would not discuss whether 4K gaming was on the cards in future, and flatly refused to be drawn on rumours of a 4K PlayStation 4 being on the way
Away from the 4K, buyers of the monster new set are also able to watch 3D pictures using the 'passive' format, involving wearing cinema-style glasses and the polarisation being done on the screen. But the difference here is that the format performs as well as 'active' 3D, as the set can deliver full 1080p HD to both the left and right eye.
So, how much does all this cost? Well, brace yourself - its €25,000 (£20,000). So, essentially, you have to be the earliest and wealthiest of early adopters to buy it.
However, what this set does show us is the future of television. Ultra sharp television pictures with 3D audio are coming to a living room near you, but exactly when remains unclear.
According to estimates by IHS iSuppli, consumer demand for ultra-high-definition 4K resolution will "remain negligible for the foreseeable future", meaning shipments of 4K sets are expected to account for just 1% of the global LCD TV market over the next five years.
Worldwide shipments of 4K LCD TVs are expected to rise from just 4,000 this year to 2.1m in 2017, but even then that will account for just 0.8% of total shipments.
Tom Morrod, the director of TV systems and technology research for IHS, said that the market for 4K in the next few years will be "limited to very wealthy consumers or to commercial uses".
"If you have a television that is 60-inches or larger and are watching video that has a 3840x2160 resolution, then a 4K television makes sense," he said.
"However, a very limited amount of content is available at the 4K resolution. Meanwhile, because of high prices and other issues, the market for super-sized, 60-inch and larger sets is very small - at only about 1.5% of total television shipments in 2012.
"Furthermore, for most people, the 1,080p resolution is good enough. Because of these factors, combined with the massive price tags, the market for 4K sets during the next few years will be limited to very wealthy consumers or to commercial uses."
The Sony Bravia KD-84X9005 is available now to pre-order and will go on sale by the end of the year in mostly high-end retailers.