The Holy Grail of Ultra High-Definition TV entertainment lies in the ability to view native 4K content at home, and though it will take a little longer to make that ability broadly available, a few solutions have already started to pop up.
Upon arrival, the first Ultra HD sets already had a wealthy of home-brewed high-resolution still images and 4K movie clips available from a large installed base of high-megapixel digital cameras that produce pictures at a level few monitors could fully resolve.
Similarly, a number of 4K professional or prosumer-level video cameras have been available for a while offering the ability to capture moving images at 4Kquality levels.
Sony recently brought that closer to the consumer level by unveiling its FDR-AX1 ($4,500 retail) 4K camcorder, which records 3,840 by 2,160/60 fps video, using a back-illuminated 8.3-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor and incorporating HDMI 2.0 support.
As for prerecorded content, the delivery of 4K over broadcast, satellite or cable services, or even streamed via the Internet will require new compression systems (such as HEVC) to fit all of the extra picture information in available bandwidth, and will require significant infrastructure costs. But the interest is there.
A spokesman for DirecTV told TWICE: “We believe 4K will have broad appeal when there’s a convergence of reasonably priced 4K sets and more 4K content — similar to circumstances that sparked the HD revolution. DirecTV is proud to have been a strong driver in that HD revolution, and we plan to play the same role in the Ultra HD transformation.”
Meanwhile, Blu-ray Discs have the physical capability to accommodate Ultra HD content, but additional disc layers are required to provide enough space to handle a full-length movie. That means a new Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc specification is needed, along with Ultra HD BD players to playback the beefier discs.
Andy Parsons, a spokesman for the Blu-ray Disc Association, told TWICE that as for work on the 4K spec, “there is a great deal of activity going on within BDA, but it’s still a work in progress.”
However, disc-duplication equipment manufacturer Singulus recently hinted that something may be coming soon when it revealed it has completed the design and testing of a 100GB disc-duplication facility, adding that “triple-layer Blu-ray Discs with 100GB storage capacity is the preferred playback medium for the new 4K technology.”
In the meantime, several manufacturers are already offering Blu-ray Disc players with built-in Ultra HD up-scaling capability that will enable playing current Blu-ray Discs on some new Ultra HD TV models. But most Ultra HD sets and even a few A/V receivers already have similar built-in up-scaling systems.
More immediately, both Sony and a company called Red have developed Ultra HD media players that can playback native Ultra HD content downloaded to settop hard-drive-equipped servers.
Sony’s 4K Ultra HD Media Player, model FMP-X1 ($699), has a 2TB hard drive and includes a USB port to add more capacity with external drives. Movies and videos are offered at 3,820 by 2,160/24p and 30p frame rates (10 movies ship preloaded on the device), but the FMP-X1 will only work with Sony Ultra HD TVs at this time.
Meanwhile, a Video Unlimited 4K Ultra HD service for the Sony 4K Media Player launched at the end of August with 70 native Ultra HD movies and TV programs (mostly from Sony Pictures), with plans to ramp the assortment up to 100 titles by the end of the year.
Shows and movies available for download in Ultra HD include “Breaking Bad,” “Moneyball,” “Ghostbusters” and “The Guns of Navarone.” The Video Unlimited 4K Ultra HD download service will offer 4K titles for rent and purchase, at prices ranging from $3.99 to $7.99 for 24-hour rentals to an average of $29.99 for a movie purchase.
“Sony Pictures has been working in 4K for several years,” said Chris Cookson, president of Sony Pictures Technologies. “4K mastering and restoration allows us to capture and convey more of the information from a film’s original 35mm negative, while new 4K cameras like the F65 offer higher resolution and expanded color palettes to help us create ever-more immersive experiences for audiences in theaters and at home.”
The Video Unlimited 4K download service is part of a larger 4K ecosystem Sony has built that includes 4K cameras and production technology, and Ultra HD TVs and projectors.
Similarly, a company called Red is offering the Redray 4K Cinema player, which retails for about $1,750 and ties into a 4K-content delivery system called Odemax that is still in beta testing.
Pricing on an Odemax subscription or video-on-demand plans were not available; however, Redray will also take user-generated content from 4K video cameras, such as models available from Red.
The Redray player is about the size of a Blu-ray Disc player and can display 4K images on two Ultra HD TVs, or up to four 1080p images on four HDTV displays, simultaneously.
The player is equipped with a 1TB hard drive (expandable with external drives) and includes four 4Kand 3D-compatible HDMI outputs, and two additional 2D- and audio-compatible HDMI outputs.
The player is said to be compatible with most brands of 4K Ultra HD TVs.
Meanwhile, other manufacturers said other support for native Ultra HD is in the works.