The Japanese giant hopes to be 'breaking good' in 2014
Who would have thought a TV series about a crystal meth dealer would be so influential?
In 2013 Sony Television’s hugely successful series Breaking Bad came to a wholly satisfying conclusion and whilst we might lament Walt’s departure from our screens, at least we’ve got Just Call Saul to look forward to thanks to Netflix. It would seem however that the entire company is taking inspiration from the show, with Sony’s chairman claiming the company will be ‘breaking good’ in 2014.
In fairness 2013 wasn’t a bad year for the company, they had award-winning 1080p and 4K TVs, they smashed the price barrier for 4K projectors with the VW500 and they launched the PS4. So we went into this year’s CES with a certain amount of expectation when it came to Sony and in all honesty we found ourselves slightly disappointed. It isn’t that Sony’s line-up is bad, far from it, but it’s all very iterative rather than groundbreaking with no OLED TVs on show, 4K or otherwise, and no announcement about 4K Blu-ray.2013 was a good year for Sony, with award-winning products, 4K TVs and projectors and the PS4.
Unsurprisingly the Sony stand itself was dominated by 4K both in terms of products and the name itself - you won’t see Sony referring to their 4K TVs as ‘Ultra HD’. If you’re looking for news on their 1080p TV line-up you’re going to have to wait until later in the month because, like most of the other manufacturers at this year’s CES, Sony only had their 4K models on display. A funny side effect of being surrounded almost exclusively by 4K displays and content, is that on the rare occasion you do see a 1080p display the drop in resolution is very apparent.
However, getting back to Sony’s new 4K TVs themselves, the first thing you notice is that they’ve been redesigned with a very distinctive ‘wedge’ shape. There is a sensible reason for this wedge shape, the deeper chassis near the bottom allows for larger magnetic fluid speakers to be incorporated, thus improving the sound quality. The speaker configuration has been changed to accommodate the new chassis but we can certainly attest to the excellent sound quality. There will also be an optional wireless subwoofer to really beef up the audio.
An added advantage of the wedge shaped chassis is that the centre of gravity is lower which makes the TV more stable so it doesn’t wobble. This means that it doesn’t need a large stand and instead uses feet which can be moved in to reduce the TV’s footprint if necessary. We were concerned that the wedge shape might look slightly strange when wall mounted but in actual fact the wall mounted versions we saw looked rather good - although we weren’t sure if they were using a standard wall mount or something more bespoke.The unusual wedge shape means that Sony can fit a decent set of speakers into their new 4K TVs.
For those that don’t want or need the bigger speakers, there is also a version with a thinner and narrower chassis, where the speakers are hidden along the bottom. Regardless of which version you prefer, they come in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes and we were glad to see that Sony has resisted the temptation to curve them. There is also an 85-inch 4K TV that will be Sony’s flagship model for 2014 and includes all the latest features but also a large pair of feet that frankly did little for us in the looks department.
X-tended Dynamic Range Pro is intended to create brighter peaks and deeper blacks.
Cosmetics aside Sony have also been working hard to improve the image quality and as with last year’s models the new TVs use a Triluminos panel and incorporate Reality Creation Pro for upscaling non-4K content to match the panel’s native resolution. New for this year is X-tended Dynamic Range Pro which uses a unique backlighting algorithm to create brighter peaks and deeper blacks. We have to say that on some of the demo footage that Sony showed the results were quite spectacular but on other occasions there was some minor haloing and shadow detail could get a bit crushed, However considering these new 4K TVs use edge LED backlighting, the effectiveness of this new algorithm was generally impressive.
All of Sony’s 4K TVs include HDMI 2.0 and MHL 3.0, along with built-in HEVC decoding for playback of 4K/60p content from providers like Netflix. Which brings us on to the subject of where you’ll be able to find native 4K content to watch on your shiny new 4K TV. The fact that 4K Blu-ray remains missing in action means you’ll primarily be looking at online providers for the time being, such as the previously mentioned Netflix and 4K content from YouTube using the VP9 codec.
In the US at least, there will also be 4K content being broadcast at 60Hz by ESPN and 4K photos available via 500px and Sony’s own PlayMemories 4K. Sony will finally be providing native 4K content via their Video Unlimited service, kicking off with the previously mentioned Breaking Bad. To enjoy the majority of these services you will need a broadband speed of at least 15mps, which rules us out so we’re still pinning our hopes on the Blu-ray Disc Association getting their act together.If you want to create your own content, Sony have the world's smallest and lightest 4K Handycam.
Of course if you fancy creating your own 4K content then Sony have just the product for you with their AX100E 4K camcorder. This is the world’s smallest and lightest native 4K Handycam and features a large back-illuminated 1.0-type Exmor R CMOS sensor. This captures 4K Ultra HD images at 3840 x 2160 pixels and is paired with Sony’s BIONZ X processor that employs area-specific noise reduction and detail reproduction technology. The Handycam AX100E also uses a newly-developed ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T lens with 12x optical zoom that’s been fine-tuned for 4K shooting.
In another 4K Handycam first, the Dual Video Recording feature lets you simultaneously record high quality movie clips and ready-to-share MP4 files. You can capture movies in XAVC S (at up to 4K/60 Mbps or HD/50Mbps) or AVCHD formats. There's also built-in Wi-Fi and NFC that let you wirelessly transfer movie clips and photos from the camera to your smartphone or tablet. We had a play with the AX100E and it certainly is light and small but surprisingly effective. It will be launched in the UK in May and retail for just under £2,000.
On the audio side of things Sony has a new soundbar, the HT-CT770, which uses a wireless subwoofer, includes WiFi and Bluetooth and is only 5cm high. There’s also Sony’s new Sound Base which will retail for £299 and can handle TVs with screen sizes up to 55 inches. There are three HDMI inputs and one output, along with One Touch NFC and Bluetooth. If you’ve had enough of 4K video and are more interested in high resolution audio, then Sony has their new NWZ-ZX1 High Resolution Walkman, which will retail for £500. Also new for 2014 is the SRS-X9 which is a high resolution wireless speaker.
Sony's Life Space UX Room felt like walking onto the set of a science fiction movie.
Finally we had a chance to experience Sony’s Life Space UX Room where the company was demonstrating prototypes for various lifestyle products. There was an ordinary table, above which was a light with a projector and camera sensors built-in. The projector fires down onto the table and the sensors allow you to interact with the projected image. There were also two ceiling mounted lights that had short-throw projectors built-in, allowing an image to be projected onto the ceiling. On the wall there was a glass panel which was comprised of three high definition touch displays that looked like something from the set of a science fiction movie.
However the final product in the life space wasn’t a prototype and that was the recently announced short-throw 4K laser projector. This was projecting a 147-inch 4K image onto a white wall and the results were quite impressive. The image was very detailed and bright but given the nature of the product, the blacks were understandably a bit washed out. This is more of lifestyle product aimed at those who want to watch a big projected image in their lounge, rather than in a dedicated home cinema setup.
The main central unit houses the projector and other electronics and there are add on units that can be used for storage or for installing sources such as a Blu-ray player. The price is rumoured to be around £18,000 which would put it in line with the VW1100. The latter would clearly be the better option for the home cinema enthusiast but we’re still pleased to see another 4K projector hit the market - that’s always ‘breaking good’ in our book.
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