Sony has launched its direct-to-consumer 4K Ultra HD video download service, stocked initially with 70 movies and TV episodes. But among the obstacles facing the technology will be getting the content delivered to consumers.
encoding system from startup Eye IO to compress the video, but has declined to specify the compression rate.
The relatively hefty file sizes mean that users may quickly exceed bandwidth-usage restrictions set by many broadband providers, including AT&T U-verse, Cox Communications and Charter Communications. For example, AT&T's top limit for U-verse Internet is 250 gigabytes per month -- meaning consumers could hit the limit by accessing just a half-dozen 4K titles, and pay extra for anything over that. Comcast also is testing usage-based bandwidth pricing in several markets, with overage charges for customers who exceed certain thresholds.
While acknowledging the bandwidth issues, Sony says future compression technologies will reduce the size of 4K video by roughly half. It's also worth noting that providers like Verizon and Time Warner Cable do not limit usage for broadband users today.
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For now, accessing 4K video will eat up a healthy chunk of broadband. Meanwhile, Sony is preparing to launch an Internet-delivered TV service later this year to compete with cable and satellite providers, having reportedly inked a preliminary agreement with Viacom. That over-the-top TV service also could be hampered by bandwidth caps.
Sony Entertainment Network's Video Unlimited 4K service currently provides some 70 feature films and TV shows, with a library of 100-plus expected to become available in 4K Ultra HD before the end of the year. The service, currently available only in the U.S., also provides shortform videos in native 4K.
Available now on the service are eps of Sony Pictures Television's "Breaking Bad" as well as movies including "Moneyball," "Think Like a Man," "Premium Rush," "Ghostbusters," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Funny Girl" and "The Guns of Navarone." Upcoming releases on Video Unlimited 4K are set to include "This Is the End," "After Earth" and "Elysium."
Sony's download service, which it announced at the 2013 CES trade show in January, is aimed at spurring sales of 4K televisions. The consumer-electronics biz is hoping Ultra HD will become the next must-have category.
"We have been spearheading the advancement of 4K Ultra HD technology from the start and have now reached another milestone as promised with the Video Unlimited 4K service going live," Sony Electronics president and COO Phil Molyneux said in announcing the service.
TV episodes will be available for purchase at $3.99 each, while pics are $7.99 for a 24-hour rental or $29.99 for a purchase. Select purchased titles include an UltraViolet digital version of the movie or TV show, to let users access the content on compatible devices.
Also Wednesday, Sony expanded its 4K Ultra HD TV lineup with the addition of the X850A series, available in 55- and 65-inch screens, priced at $3,999 and $5,499, respectively. Its top-of-the-line 84-inch XBR 4K Ultra HD unit costs $25,000.
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To access Sony's Video Unlimited 4K service, customers must purchase the FMP-X1 Media Player available for $699, or $499 if purchased together with a Sony 4K Ultra HD TV. Sony also is offering a program for owners of the Sony 84-inch 4K model to gain access to the download service, and the company plans to extend the feature to the Sony 4K projector.
The FMP-X1 player comes preloaded with 10 feature films -- "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) -- plus an assortment of video shorts.
Sony also said it is prepared to support the HDMI 2.0 specification across its 4K Ultra HD televisions via a firmware update to be available over the Internet by the end of 2013. The spec, recently released by the HDMI Forum, provides a significant increase in bandwidth better able to transmit fast-moving 4K Ultra HD 60p content such as sports.
Sony, a pioneer in 4K tech, introduced the first 4K cinema projectors in March 2005, and there are now more than 15,000 installed in theaters worldwide. The company's new 4K Handycam FDR-AX1 consumer camcorder, shipping in October for $4,500, brings the technology to homevideo enthusiasts.
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