Last night, Sony blitzed its competition, revamping most of its consumer line-up and announcing a myriad of desirable gadgets, including a world first -- an OLED TV with 4K resolution. The new 4K standard for home media received the lion's share of press coverage at their conference, with TVs, Blu-Ray players and content delivery systems given particular focus as Sony seeks to expand adoption of the fledgling super-resolution display tech.
The big news, figuratively and literally, was Sony's 4K UltraHD OLED TV. A first of its kind to be announced, Sony's set combines the best of the OLED tech previewed by LG and Samsung last year, with the 4K resolution many rivals were touting in TVs elsewhere at CES. OLED technology is similar to that employed by Samsung for its Galaxy S smartphones, and relies on light emitting diodes which individually illuminate each pixel. What this translates to is stunning picture quality, with the darkest blacks, piercing whites and excellent color vibrancy, as well as impressive viewing angles. Combining the stunning level of detail that 4K resolution (3840x2160) offers with the quality of the OLED display, produces a match made in tech heaven, and Sony's prototype 56-inch set is a wonder to behold. Pictures cannot do it justice, but sadly few will ever see its vibrancy in real life. Sony is mandating it's strictly a prototype, and won't be entering production any time soon, with no release date or price even slightly hinted at. If it ever does come to market, don't expect to be paying less than five figures for it.
With regard to "regular" 4K sets, Sony has you covered -- if you're the sort that considers a TV as insignificant a financial purchase as a down payment on a car. Alongside Sony's current $25,000 84-inch 4K set, they announced a pair of "more accessible" TVs, at 55- and 65-inches. With magnetic fluid speakers, they are purported to offer significantly improved sound over standard stereo speakers. Passive 3D support is built in, as is NFC, MHL support, USB playback and WiFi with access to Sony's Entertainment Network smart TV platform. The "more accessible" prices? Sony sadly wasn't saying, but did say it would be close to those of current premium HD TVs.
As for 4K content itself? It's thin on the ground, with most people still catching up to 1080p and Blu Ray. Sony offered a solution by supplying a hard drive with it's 84-inch 4K TV filled with 4K movies and content. It was an inelegant solution, and Sony is addressing this with another first -- the first 4K content distribution service of any TV or content provider. This summer, purchasers of its 4K sets will be able to buy a dedicated 4K Media Player that will feed 4K media to the TV, and offer films in their native 4K resolution. Sony has offered no further information as to how it will be distributed -- 4K films will require much greater bandwidth than current 1080p media in order to stream or download. Sony is also releasing remastered versions of The Amazing Spider-Man, Lawrence of Arabia and Taxi Driver sourced from 4K masters. Available on Blu-Ray, they will be presented in 1080p, enabling playback on any Blu-Ray player and HDTV, but will allow 4K users to upscale them to near-4K resolution without the picture quality loss of traditional, upscaled 1080p content. There's no pricing for any of this, the distribution service, Media Player or mastered Blu-Rays, but chances are it won't be cheap. Hopefully Sony will announce more details soon.
Sony also took the opportunity to announce a new pair of smartphone flagships -- the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL. Similarly specced, the Z is the more premium of the two devices, with a black metal and glass body, edge-to-edge glass display, and waterproof construction -- yep, drop the Z in a toilet or pool and it can survive for 30 minutes up to 1 meter deep. It's also dust-proof, so no invasion of dirt and dust into the vital sockets and around buttons will occur. The ZL is the smaller of the two, with a less stylish design and construction, making do with a plastic back, no waterproofing, and a smaller body than the Z. On the inside, though, both phones are identical, save for a smaller battery in the Z. With quad-core, 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processors, 2GB of RAM, NFC, LTE connectivity, Android Jelly Bean 4.1, 16GB of memory, a MicroSD slot, and a battery stamina mode that Sony claims will increase standby time by 400 percent. The main features of both, though, are their 5-inch, 1080p displays, both with over 440ppi, utlising Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine 2. These large, clear, vibrant screens will act as excellent viewfinders for Sony's Exmor RS camera sensor -- in development for over a year and now available. It's built for low-light performance, can shoot 1080p HDR video -- the first in a smartphone -- and features the usual burst mode, panorama mode and other effects typical for a top-flight imaging sensor. Availability for both handsets is pegged for March, with launches in the UK already confirmed for March 1, but no American prices or carriers have yet been announced. Finally, though, Sony looks to have a handset worthy of the smartphone crown.
Foodwise: New blog. New program. Coming January 17, 2013.