For those who can afford to spend $5,000 or more on an Ultra HD television, another $699 for a 4K media player is probably chump change. Or so the logic goes at Sony.
This summer, Sony will launch its first 4K media player for $699. The exquisitely-named FMP-X1 4K Media Player includes 10 feature films in 4K resolution (also known as Ultra HD): Bad Teacher, Battle: Los Angeles, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Karate Kid (2010), Salt, Taxi Driver, That’s My Boy, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Other Guys and Total Recall (2012). A handful of video shorts will be included as well.
If the idea of watching old and/or mediocre movies in beautiful 3840-by-2160 resolution doesn’t excite you, worry not; Sony promises that users will be able to download more movies to the player this fall, via a “fee-based video distribution service.”
Just don’t get any ideas about using the Media Player with other Ultra HD televisions. A Sony spokesman tells me the FMP-X1 will only work with Sony 4K televisions, and only in the United States.
The good news is that Ultra HD televisions will come a lot cheaper as TV makers start offering them in smaller screen sizes. In addition to the new media player, Sony announced 55- and 65-inch Ultra HD TVs, respectively priced at $4,999 and $6,999. That’s still really expensive–these days you can get a good 55-inch LED HDTV for around $1,000–but not as insanely pricey as Sony’s 85-inch set, which costs $25,000. And even Sony’s largest Ultra HD television isn’t as expensive as Samsung’s 85-inch set, priced at $40,000.
As I’ve said before, the current Ultra HD push from TV makers has a “because we can” feel to it, but Sony’s strategy is broader. As the company churns out more televisions, it’s also tapping its Sony Pictures division to produce Ultra HD content, including native 4K movies and “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray discs, with 1080p video optimized for 4K televisions. The idea is to start putting out content now so there’s a decent library to choose from as the hardware becomes more affordable.
It’ll be at least a few years until Ultra HD makes sense for the average couch potato. Even then, the boost in visual quality will be best-seen in extra-large televisions. My feeling is that Ultra HD will eventually push people to put bigger TVs in their living rooms, just as high-definition televisions did a decade ago. Until that happens, it’s fun to gawk at all the extravagant Ultra HD offerings, and wonder who in their right mind would actually buy them now.