Interview: Sony spins up support for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player

posted on Friday, 5th February 2016 by Steve May

4K  Blu-ray  home cinema 

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After some prevarication, Sony says it will jump onboard the Ultra HD Blu-ray bandwagon. The Japanese major, which played such a crucial role launching Blu-ray via the Trojan Horse that was the PlayStation 3, has until now been non-committal on the format, despite being an early advocate for 4K displays.

The company says it will launch a player before the end of its 2016 fiscal year. Translated, that means we can expect hardware before March 2017. This might suggest an unveil at the 2017 CES, or 2016 Ceatec show. Curiously the pronouncement about 4K BD seems to be coming via its affiliate operations rather than via Sony HQ Tokyo.

To learn more, Inside CI talked exclusively to John Anderson, country head for Sony UK and Ireland, at the company’s recent trade show and product preview.  

We asked if early antipathy to the Ultra HD format stemmed from initial information about limited 4K disc availability…

“I think what we’re seeing now is momentum behind the way the software is developing," said Anderson, candidly. "There is a speed at which the content will come, and there will come a point when you will have enough content out there to make it worthwhile commercially to persuade retailers to put it (hardware) in more than one of their stores. You need to show momentum behind the content, else you just end up putting it into a limited number of stores.”

Even at CES in January, the message from the Sony camp about 4K Blu-ray hardware seemed unclear.

“Certainly back in October/November 2015 it wasn’t clear we were going to come out with one at all,” admits Anderson,  “and it’s relatively new information that within FY2016 that we will see something. That’s new information. It’s being accelerated. Maybe that’s due to more information and confidence coming through from Sony Pictures?

 Ultimately he says, “It was a question of priority and investment in all the things we have got to do, therefore they’re speeding it up.”

Chassis Main

Close Up

For a clue as to what the Sony 4K Blu-ray player might look like, it’s probably worth taking a closer look at the UHP-H1, due to launch this May. This new BD deck is touted more as an audiophile music player, than Blu-ray disc spinner, and features a highly rigid chassis, the like of which Sony hasn’t used since the BDP-5000ES, first introduced in 2009. It’s a dramatic move away from the lightweight, low-end that the company currently plays in. While Sony BD decks have always enjoyed high quality electronics, recent build quality has been unimpressive. I got hands on with an actual UHP-H1 chassis at the trade show and it’s clearly a massive improvement over current Sony offerings in terms of rigidity and construction complexity. It would provide the obvious platform for a premium 4K player. The UHP-H1 is expected to retail for £350.

Anderson says that announcing 4K Blu-ray is just part of Sony’s drive to develop high performance technologies. “What we have to do is have confidence that there is always a consumer out there who wants higher quality,” he noted. “Years ago, before we launched 4K, people would say that picture quality had got to point where consumers couldn’t tell the difference, that it was all about the design and Smart connectivity. But 4K has proved that consumers aren’t so silly, that they can see the difference. And everyone can see the difference with HDR.”

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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