Last Friday, May 31st, retailer Update TV & Stereo hosted an event at its Vaughan location to demonstrate Sony’s latest XBR 4K Ultra HDTVs. Update TV & Stereo is a boutique audio video retailer that prides itself on providing excellent customer service and expert advice to its customers. Its other retail store is located in Richmond Hill. As you might expect, food and drinks were provided to guests, offering a social, laid-back atmosphere.
In addition to the experienced Update TV & Stereo staff, Jeff Ginsberg from Sony (see picture below) was present at the event and happy to run demos and answer questions about Sony’s 4K TV line-up. I was also lucky enough to run into David Susilo, THX ISF professional/journalist, who was kind enough to give me a demonstration and a full technical overview of the new technology. Sony’s XBR 4K TV line-up consists of three LCD (LED backlit) sets – the 55-inch XBR55X900A ($5,499), the 65-inch XBR65X900A ($7,699) and the behemoth 84-inch XBR-84X900 ($24,999). The set on display at the event was the 65-inch model.
Each of the three XBR series sets has a native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160, which doubles the count of horizontal and vertical pixels of 1080p (1,920 x 1,080). Therefore these 4K TVs have a total pixel count of 4 times more than a 1080p TV and hence promise a picture that’s 4 times clearer than regular HD. Susilo believes that the strong suit of the XBR series is the 4K X-Reality PRO 6-core video processor, responsible for up-converting lower resolution video signals to the 4K resolution. While this of course doesn’t give you a true 4K picture, it is the next best thing, until native 4K content becomes available. Susilo says that other 4K TV manufacturers use just one or two core video processors or simple video doublers, in contrast to Sony’s sophisticated video processing methods. Currently only 20 4K movies are available, which come loaded on the new Sony FMP-X1 4K Media Player (sold separately) – you get 10 movies with the purchase of the 55 and 65-inch sets, and 20 movies with the 84-inch model. Right now it is not known exactly when we can expect to see more 4K movies or exactly how they will be delivered to home viewers. For that matter, a physical disc format capable of storing a 4K movie (which requires about 100GB of space) does not even exist at this point in time. The Blu-ray Disc Association is expected to announce a new Blu-ray disc format capable of storing 4K movies at the 2014 CES.
I watched some 1080p content up-converted to 4K on this set and the results were excellent, albeit I did see some dithering around most parts of the picture, especially the more detailed/intricate parts. Susilo said that based on various research studies, in order to take advantage of the 4K resolution, the viewer needs to sit about the same distance from the set as its diagonal screen measurement – for the 65-inch set on demo, this means you should sit about 5.5 feet away. In real-life situations careful viewers however should be able to see the benefits at up to about 8 feet, Susilo added. Any further and the additional pixels of the 4K resolution become indistinguishable to most viewers. I certainly appreciated the extra resolution and picture detail from the native 4K content Susilo showed me, but I’m not completely convinced that I’d want to sit that close to such a big TV in a home setting – perhaps in a basement home theatre but not my living room. Sony’s other claim to fame with the XBR series is the company’s TRILUMINOS display technology which delivers the widest colour spectrum the company has ever offered on a television. Sony says that this translates into creating incredibly true, natural shades of colours – thereby giving the XBR series the ability to do very well with hard-to-reproduce reds, aqua blues and emerald greens. The XBR series utilizes an edge LED backlight system with local dimming. The colour accuracy and picture depth was indeed top notch during the demonstration.
Another attractive feature of the XBR series are the magnetic fluid speakers that flank the screen. This unique technology allows the speakers to be very thin and promises a far more faithful reproduction of sound compared to other conventional TV speakers. The store was too busy for me to get a true sense of how much better these speakers sound, but I’m sure that most owners would prefer to supplement a TV of this caliber with proper, full-range, multi-channel speakers.
There is no question that the new Sony XBR 4K Ultra HDTVs produce a wonderfully detailed and accurate picture. Of course at these price points, you should expect nothing but the very best. As with any new, cutting edge technology and given the lack of native 4K content and pricing, average movie viewers won’t exactly be lining up for these TVs. The same is true about 4K TVs from other manufacturers. However if you’re a dedicated home theatre enthusiast and have to own the very latest that display technology has to offer you’ll definitely want to take a look at the Sony XBR series. 4K television is definitely here to stay, it’s a question of how quickly it will be adopted by the mass consumer market.
I would like to say thank you to David Susilo for sharing some of the above pictures with me from the event.