Sony's 'cheap' ultra-HD TVs not yet worth the price

Posted Online: April 21, 2013, 8:50 am
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By Leslie Meredith
Las Vegas is full of surprises, and the recent broadcasting industry trade show started with a big one.

Sony announced pricing for its new ultra-high-definition "4K" TVs — televisions with four times the regular full HD resolution — which will be available today.

Prices were about a quarter of what other manufacturers had estimated for their own 4K TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.

But $5,000 is a lot to spend on a 55-inch TV ($7,000 for 65-inch TV), especially considering Sony will launch a regular 55-inch LED TV for $2,000 just two days after its 4K launch.

And a name-brand HDTV can be had from Best Buy for a lot less (for example, an LG LED for $1,200)
Maybe you got a hefty tax refund and are looking for ways to spend it or you're part of the 1 percent to whom money is no object. Even then, buying Sony's 4K Ultra HDTV will leave you with little to watch.

No broadcasters or streaming companies offer shows in the new higher resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels, and it likely willbe more than a year until they do. One industry analyst said 4K broadcast programming will never happen.

"No cable or satellite company will send out 4K broadcasts because, in the bandwidth space of one 4K channel, providers could send out four HDTV channels," David Pogue wrote in Scientific American.

But manufacturers know there will be a market for the next big thing, no matter how impractical or expensive. To help complete the 4K chain, Sony also announced its $700 4K media player, the FMP-X1, which will come preloaded with 10 Sony movies that have been converted to the 4K format.

Titles include the classic "The Bridge on the River Kwai," as well as "Bad Teacher," "Battle: Los Angeles," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Other Guys." (That comes out to about $570 a movie!)

By the end of this summer, 4K media player owners will be able to subscribe to a Sony streaming service, which would consist of additional 4K-converted titles. Sony has not yet said how much the service will cost each month.

The 4K movement reminds me a lot of 3D, but without the "wow" factor. James Cameron's "Avatar" was the impetus for 3D TV at home, and even with a blockbuster behind it, the technology has not really caught on with home viewers.

Without a Cameron, Sony has turned to the Tribeca Film Festival organization. On April 17, Sony kicked off a yearlong partnership to promote 4K video production and distribution among filmmakers.

Ultra HD is one of those techy things that look good on paper, but the difference between it and Full HD may not be enough to command such high prices. Some engineers say it's impossible to see the difference in picture quality between a 4K and 2K (1080p, what we call Full HD) on sets with screens smaller than 100 inches — a size unlikely to fit in most homes.

While the 4K sets arrayed around the vast spaces of the Las Vegas Convention Center were stunning, get closer and you could see a black grid separating the pixels.

People can see a preview of Sony's 4K TVs and movies in a handful of Sony Stores across the country, including three in California (Century City, Costa Mesa and Palo Alto), as well as Houston, Las Vegas and New York.

If you're hankering for Ultra HD, you're best bet is to wait. If Sony can cut prices by 75 percent today, it's reasonable to expect 4K TVs to cost about the same as today's high-end HDTVs by the time there's enough to watch.
Ogden, Utah-based guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question? Email Leslie Meredith at or follow her @lesliemeredith on Twitter.


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