Sony: 4K will be mainstream within a couple of years

Ultra HD 4K televisions could be as mainstream in just a couple of years as 1080p displays are now, claims Sony. The company has explained to Pocket-lint that the adoption rate by the industry has been much quicker than previously expected.

Turning the focus away from 3D, which is widely being perceived as something consumers have tired of, Chris Cookson, president of technology at Sony Pictures, told us that he wasn't expecting to be this far along on the journey to go super-hi-def.

Speaking in a briefing at the company's worldwide headquarters in Los Angeles, Cookson explained that expectations for 4K technologies had been surpassed. "I would admit to you that a couple of years ago I would not think that there would have been as much 4K on display as we have today," he said.

His comments come as Sony puts its new 4K-ready TVs on pre-order in the US and the UK, following the launch of its 84-inch 4K television in November last year.

That television, which cost a mind-boggling $24,999, has now been joined by two smaller, but still considerably large-screen TVs - the XBR-55X900A (55-inch) and XBR-65X900A (65-inch). The 4K Ultra HD LED TVs will cost $4,999 and $6,999 respectively.

"Our emphasis on 4K two years ago, or even five years ago for that matter, was on protecting the vault by making sure that we did not throw away information in the post production process," said Cookson. "So when these titles would play out in the future the information would be available.

"I've always felt that there was an inevitability that screen resolution would increase and that the size of the image that people seek out will get bigger and that, as it gets bigger, 2K (1080p) isn't quiet enough," he added. "I would have guessed [that would happen] a couple of years from now. But, if you look at where we are, we are ahead of that."

Sony now has over 100 4K movies available and is releasing more in the coming months, including the new Will Smith movie, After Earth. Shot entirely on the company's new 4K F65 camera, the studio is hoping it will become the perfect flagship for the format.

However, Cookson suggests that it's not just filmmakers that are interested in 4K content. Broadcasters and TV makers are also seeing 4K as an easy way to increase syndication revenues as well.

Sony pictures is currently pushing that drive, of course, enforcing that all-new television shows shot at Sony Pictures must be in 4K., It is also re-mastering some of its back catalogue, such as Breaking Bad - believing that the show fits perfectly the key customer who is likely to buy the new 4K television range. More than half of all its current or new shows are to be shot in 4K. 

"I think that the interesting thing is, the amount of interest in it, not just from filmmakers but broadcasters as well, is much greater at this stage of the game than I was anticipating, and we have a lot more focus on it," said Cookson.

"I think once the larger sized screens are available in 4K then it will be as hard to find a 1080p large display as it is today a 720p large screen, which just a few years ago was the standard for what we classed as Hi-def. It's exciting times."

Thankfully for Sony, one of the biggest barriers that inhibited the adoption of 3D in the home isn't an issue for 4K - you don't need to wear glasses. Nor is there a lack of content available, as anything shot on 35mm is already 4K-ready. It just has to be digitally processed.

Of course, it's not something that can be turned on in the home tomorrow. One of the biggest issues will be distribution of content. At the moment, the average 4K movie is around 200GB in file size and that's not something you can easily download or put on physical disc media.

In the US, Sony is planning on launching a dedicated 4K media player (basically, a huge hard drive) with content pre-loaded. But how consumers will be able to quickly get more content is still being ironed out.

Sony has told Pocket-lint it is already working on improving compression technology to allow for smaller file sizes, and therefore easier delivery mechanisms - like Blu-ray has been used for HD movies - so that could become an option.

What is apparent from seeing 4K in the flesh is that it is well worth waiting for. Viewing such crisp and defined video will very quickly become as much a mainstay of home cinema as Blu-ray is now.