Welcome to the Resolution Revolution!
AVForums hosted an exclusive event with Sony to give members a first look at their new KD-84X9005 84” 4K TV and the new VPL-HW50ES 1080p 3D projector
It’s always fun to meet AVForums members at one of our exclusive events and even more so when it takes place in the plush surroundings of the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge.
Fixtures and fittings notwithstanding, the venue was chosen for its central location and its dedicated 47 seat cinema which is named after Richard Attenborough. To quote John Hammond in Jurassic Park: “We’ve spared no expense.”
Last year’s Sony event was a huge success with around 60 members joining us to get a first look at Sony’s then unreleased VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector. It was certainly a remarkable achievement for Sony to create a full cinema specified 4K projector aimed at the home market and almost a year later it remains the only native 4K projector available to the consumer. Whilst the VW1000 was again on show this year, it wasn’t the main focus of the event, but Sony did use it to treat members to some native 4K content and a screening of The Dark Knight upscaled to 4K and projected onto the Richard Attenborough Theatre’s massive screen. If you would like to know more about the VW1000, you can read our in-depth review here.
The VW1000 may have been the first 4K consumer product but it certainly won’t be the last, with a host of 4K TVs lined up for release over the coming months. It would seem that manufacturers have abandoned 3D as a lost cause and relegated it to the status of a feature, but they obviously feel that 4K can capture the consumer’s imagination. Aside from the simple fact that from a marketing perspective big numbers sell, the other obvious advantage of the new format is that its benefits are easy to see and don’t require glasses. In fact the increased resolution gives a real sense of added depth to 2D images, an effect pointed out by many of the members that we spoke to at the event. When asked whether they would prefer 3D or 4K, every single member we spoke to said 4K, so there is certainly plenty of consumer interest.
Critically for the manufacturers, there is also a wealth of 4K content waiting to be released, not only because many new films are being shot using 4K cameras but also because studios have huge back catalogues of films shot on 35mm. Whilst 35mm doesn’t actually have a pixel structure and thus no exact resolution, it is roughly equivalent to about 5K, making it ideal for transfer to any new 4K format. In anticipation of this, the studios have been doing transfers and restorations of their back catalogues at 4K resolution for a number of years now. Sony, who are in the unique position of actually owning a film studio, know this better than anybody and are actively involved in every aspect of the 4K workflow. They make the F65 4K cameras used in film production, they provide 4K professional monitors for post-production, they make professional 4K projectors for the cinema and now they offer 4K projection and 4K panels for the home market as well.
If you’re thinking “this all sounds fantastic, where’s the catch?”, well of course there is one - content delivery. The move to 4K offers a wonderful opportunity to create a format for the home that actually replicates the one used at the cinema. The benefits extend beyond just increasing the resolution, to include the wider DCI colour space and higher bit video for better gradation. The problem is that all this data requires storage and a lot of it, with a full 4K movie taking up over 500Gb. That’s 10 times the capacity of a dual layer Blu-ray disc. So the problem is how are the manufacturers going to deliver 4K to the mass market? There is talk of an extended version of Blu-ray, perhaps using an eight layer 200Gb disc and advanced compression, which would certainly be our preferred option. There is also the possibility of a new physical format using a different form of storage, perhaps solid state drives (SSD). It is certainly possible to deliver 4K via satellite broadcasts, although it is important to ensure that quality isn’t compromised by excessive compression. Another mooted solution is broadband but, in the UK at least, this seems problematic given current download speeds in many parts of the country. It is possible that the new 4G networks could offer a faster, cheaper and easier way of delivering 4K, bypassing the broadband network entirely. Whatever the solution, it needs to be agreed fast if 4K is to gain traction as a viable format.
Whilst upscaled 1080p content can look very impressive on a 4K display, people will need the promise of native 4K content if they are going to spend over £20,000 on Sony’s new KD-84X9005 84” 4K TV. Before anyone has a heart attack, it is important to understand that the X9005 is a premium TV aimed at the luxury end of the market. Like the VW1000 before it, the X9005 is an aspirational product and a proof of concept as much as anything else but like any other new technology, it will trickle down to the mass market over time. So what does your £20,000 buy you? Well you get an 84” panel, which is the biggest screen Sony have ever made. You also get a native resolution of 3840 x 2160, which is some times referred to as Quad HD because it offers four times the resolution of normal high definition. The X9005 also includes Sony’s 4K X-Reality Pro image engine, which is essentially the same as the one found in the VW1000. Surprisingly for Sony, it offers passive 3D which is a first for the company and thanks to the 4K panel delivers full 1080p for each eye. Finally Sony have tried to address the poor audio of modern flat TVs by adding dedicated speakers on either side of the panel to give their premium product premium sound.
The 4K X-Reality Creation Pro image engine uses an extended creative architecture developed by Sony that is designed to use multi-frame analysis of the content to deliver the optimum image regardless of the original resolution or quality. The time based analysis is conducted over a 10 frame period and the processing is done on a pixel by pixel basis, allowing for factors such as content and contrast. The Reality Creation software offers processing for both native 4K content and upscaled content and utilises a series of databases accumulated over a number of years. Sony claim that Reality Creation is more than just just scaling, deinterlacing or even sharpening but also delivers more perceived depth and detail to the image by adjusting the contrast within the frame. We were certainly impressed with the performance of the X9005, native 4K content had a breathtaking level of detail but even upscaled 1080p content looked wonderful as the Reality Creation algorithms upscaled the images to 4K. As is often the case with these sorts of demos, the MotionFlow frame interpolation features was on but Sony confirmed you could turn it off.
The use of passive 3D is a surprise for Sony but the results were amazing, with some of the best 3D we have ever seen. The 4K panel allows the X9005 to deliver passive 3D at 1080p resolution to each eye and as a result the images are detailed and bright, they have plenty of depth and there is absolutely no crosstalk. Sony include two pairs of glasses with the X9005 which seems like a ludicrously small number when you consider how cheap passive glasses are to produce. Still if you’re strapped for cash after shelling out £20,000 on the X9005, you can always use the RealD glasses from your local cinema. Sony have also includes Sony’s SimulView which is designed for two player gaming. The special glasses either allow you to see either one screen or the other when playing games with this feature, making two player gaming more fun and providing less opportunities for cheating. The special SimulView glasses are available separately but, once again, for £20,000 you’d think Sony would include them!
As Sony will freely admit, the sound in modern flat screen TVs leaves a lot to be desired and so for their new flagship TV they wanted to offer a much better and far more immersive audio experience. There are dedicated speakers on either side of the panel that use ten speaker units (five either side of a tweeter) and two subs (one at the top and one at the bottom) in each speaker. The tweeters are central to the screen to allow for clearer dialogue and the speakers can be toed-in to allow for the seating position and the size of the screen. There is a total output of 50W and watching some 4K footage of the Berlin Philharmonic, the audio certainly did justice to the amazing images, delivering an impressive audio experience even at high volumes. Of course Sony realise that many people buying a £20,000 4K TV will probably have a dedicated sound system, so the speakers can be detached.
The X9005 uses an IPS panel, which offers a much wider field of view but isn’t capable of the kind of blacks found on a VA panel. The X9005 also uses edge LED lighting with the LEDs positioned at the top and bottom of the screen. When showing a dark image, some backlight uniformity issues were visible but this was a pre-production sample and the TV had clearly taken a big knock at some point, so we would expect the actual production models to be better. Whilst Sony would neither confirm nor deny this, given the screen size of 84” and the presence of passive 3D, it was apparent to us that the 4K panel is probably made by LG, although the rest of the TV is proprietary toSony. Considering that the LG 84” 4K TV will retail for £9,000 you have to wonder if the Reality Creation engine and some fancy speakers are worth the £11,000 upgrade. However concerns about the pricing aside, the KD-84X9005certainly looked impressive and Sony will begin taking orders next month with delivery in time for Christmas. Although you’re going to need a big stocking!
Whilst all this talk of a 4K future is very exciting, there’s still plenty of life left in good old 1080p and Sony had their new VPL-HW50ES on show. This projector is designed to sit in the middle ground between the existing HW30 and the VW95 and offers consumers a product aimed at living room installations where conditions might not be ideal. Sony appreciates that many people use projectors in rooms with white walls or ceilings and so they have designed a projector that can deliver a brighter picture whilst maintaining colour accuracy.
Even on such a big screen the HW50 was still able to deliver a highly detailed and bright image.The HW50 has a claimed ANSI lumens of 1,700 and is designed to deliver brighter 2D and 3D images, even in a room with white walls. The increased brightness has been achieved by improving the light efficiency of the lamp and optimising the optical block. As well as an accurate Cinema mode, the projector also includes a new Bright Room mode and TV mode to achieve 30% more brightness than the HW30, without compromising colour reproduction. The HW50 was certainly bright even on a 150” diagonal screen and the image appeared reasonably accurate and when the lights in the cinema were turned on, you could still clearly see the image but there was some washout. However, since the demo was being held in a dedicated cinema we will have to wait until we review the HW50 to see how it handles white walls and ceilings.
Whilst the HW50 is a 1080p projector, it uses much of the Reality Creation processing found in the VW1000 and as a result, Sony claim the HW50 uses this algorithm and database to restore information lost when transferring the original content to the disc. We remain skeptical about that statement but the HW50 was certainly capable of delivering a a highly detailed and well rendered image. Sony have also included a contrast enhancer which works by analysing each scene and then automatically optimising contrast in real-time by compensating for dark and bright parts of the image. Other features include a built-in 3D emitter, a colour management system, wider lens shift, 180 zone adjustment and a very quiet noise output of only 21dB.
The result of all these innovations and features were very impressive and even on such a big screen the HW50 was still able to deliver a highly detailed and bright image. In fact we were amazed at the quality of the image being produced by a projector that will retail for less than £3,000. As is the norm the MotionFlow frame interpolation was on but otherwise the motion handling appeared excellent. Sony's 3D have certainly come a long way since the VW90 which was terrible but the HW50 delivered a fantastic 3D experience with a bright and immersive image that was relatively free of crosstalk. There's no doubt that the combination of a fantastic performance and competitive pricing will make the HW50 a very strong contender this year.
There’s no doubt that 2012 has been a watershed year for Sony and the company has truly raised its game, obviously stung by some justified criticism during the previous two years. However, with the VW1000 and the HW50 on the projector side and the HX853 and the X9005 on the TV front, they are currently offering an exceptionally strong lineup across the board. We can only wonder at what delights Sony has in store for us at CES in January but, whatever they are, we can’t wait to find out.
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