Interview: Why Sony leads with 4K Ultra HD

posted on Monday, 19th November 2012 by Steve May

projectors  home cinema  4K 

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The home theatre market is on the move. With the arrival of 4K Ultra HD display technology, predicted to be one of the major trends at the 2013 International CES, custom installers are finally able to offer a digital cinema grade performance in the home. The company leading this resolution revolution is Sony. A household name it may be, but Sony isn't a brand often associated with the CI business. Could this be about to change as pixel counts escalate?

Sony grabbed headlines worldwide with the introduction of its £25,000 84-inch KD-84X9005 LED LCD TV at IFA (due to be exclusively retailed through Harrods at the end of the year), but its first adventure into 3840 x 2160 resolution territory came earlier in the year with the £16,000 VPL-VW1000ES projector. Now Sony is relaunching that groundbreaking model as the 4K bandwagon really begins to roll - and in the world of high-end cinema it's starting to look like something of a bargain.

So how good is it? Inside CI recently visited Sony's Professional Solutions group, part of its Technology Centre facility, in Atsugi Japan. Here we had a chance to compare the performance of the VPL-VW1000ES against a 4K digital cinema projector running exactly the same native 4K content, specifically the theatrical trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man.

Amazingly, there was no significant difference between the two, once you factored out screen size and brightness issues. Picture performance was (appropriately) amazing. The VPL-VW1000ES employs a high specification ARC-F (All-Range Crisp Focus) lens developed specifically for this model, which maintains focus and combats aberrations right to the edge of the lens. Existing high-end home theatre owners should require very little persuasion that an Ultra HD upgrade is worth the investment, even with a lack of 4K content.

The Atsugi demonstration ran from a workstation, within which the two-and-a-half minute uncompressed 4K trailer required 500GB of HDD space. The good news is that the projector's 2K upscaling technology is equally impressive.

Sony 4K projection: questions and answers
Following the launch of the VPL-VW1000ES, Inside CI had the opportunity to talk exclusively about the past and future of Sony's projection business with marketing manager Tak Nakane:

So how long has Sony been in the video projection business?

"We've been making home cinema projectors since 1973, it's one of the longest businesses within Sony. After the termination of the (CRT tube-based) rear projection TV category we concentrated on developing home cinema projection. Sony was actually the first brand to introduce a Full HD projector, the Qualia004, in 2004. Sony was also the first with an Active Shutter 3D projector in 2010. We're always innovating."

Without native 4K software it could be a tough sell to persuade home cinema enthusiasts to invest in a 4K display. Is there any benefit at all if a consumer has a large legacy collection of DVDs?

"Yes, you can upscale DVD to 4K. The signal goes through a two-step conversion within the projector. Firstly it's upscaled to 1080p using the X-Reality processor (also found in BRAVIA consumer TVs), and then it's processed by our Reality Creation 4K engine. At this moment, the only option for native 4K is digital still pictures. The next firmware update to the PS3 will allow 4k resolution still image transfer over HDMI to the projector."

When will we see a 4K version of Blu-ray?

"It's under discussion within the Blu-ray consortium, but I have no information if and when it might happen. We were in the same position when we introduced the Full HD Qualia004, back then all the source material was still DVD."

So who are you aiming the VPL-VW10000ES at? Residential or commercial users??

"At this moment the home cinema enthusiast is the main target for this product, but there's also the post production market and commercial applications - for example car manufacturers want to be able to create a 4K simulation of new concepts."

JVC has made much of its rival e-Shift projector range, describing the image as 4K resolution. So how does that compare with the Sony approach?

"That projector does not use a 4K panel, it's a Full HD panel which shifts the pixels to create an artificial 4K image. This is quite different from having a 4k image. I can definitely say that when the 4K format is standardised, our projector will definitely show 4K native content. So you'll see the real difference in the future."

Also read:
IFA 2012: Sony intros 84-inch 4K passive 3D LED TV
Hands-on preview of the Sony 4K VPL-VW1000ES projector
CEA decrees all 4K Tvs to be called Ultra High definition

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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