Last night, Sony launched its much-anticipated 4K Ultra HD flat panel at a gala event held at a palatial private residence known as the House of Rock, located in the high-end Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. The 84-inch XBR-84X900 (seen here with the lovely Allison Holmes of Sony's Cierge customer-service group) is now available to well-heeled consumers at a list price of $25,000—but don't expect any holiday-shopping discounts, at least not this year!
Sony is using the term "4K Ultra HD" to distinguish the pixel resolution of this flat panel (3840x2160, exactly four times the resolution of full HD) from "true 4K" (4096x2160) as provided by commercial 4K digital-cinema projectors and Sony's VPL-VW1000ES, which also lists for $25,000. In fact, the VW1000ES was being shown in another room on a 150-inch Stewart FireHawk, displaying upconverted Blu-rays—and quite beautifully, I might add.
Of course, the emergence of 4K in the consumer marketplace is a chicken-and-egg problem—the display is only half the battle. You also need content at a native resolution of 4K, or else you must settle for viewing upconverted 1080p and your own digital photos.
Addressing this issue head on, Sony announced that the XBR-84X900 will ship with a PC-based media server called the 4K Ultra High Definition Video Player. Not only that, the server will come loaded with 10 feature films such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall (the new remake), and The Bridge on the River Kwai, as well as several indie movies and shorts and a video gallery of eye-candy footage.
Even better, Sony will continue to periodically provide new 4K content on Blu-ray data discs that can be loaded onto the server, and these titles will be free of charge to owners of the TV. The company will also install the system and load the new content as it becomes available, again for no extra charge.
Naturally, all this content will come from Sony Pictures and its partners. No other consumer-electronics company has its own movie studio, giving Sony a distinct advantage over the competition. Still, one can hope that other studios will release 4K titles that can be loaded onto the Sony server—and that Sony will let them be loaded onto the server.
Also included in the TV's purchase price is a Sony tablet that provides touchscreen control of the system. You can even install a universal remote-control app on the tablet to control just about anything else in your home.
I was disappointed to learn that the set on display was not optimized in any way—it was simply taken out of the box and set to one of the picture modes. The black letterbox bars and interstitials between clips were nowhere near true black, and the colors were a bit garish in some clips, but the mostly bright demo material looked stunning nonetheless. Native 4K Ultra HD images were razor-sharp with no pixels visible even from less than one screen height away, and upconverted 1080p was generally excellent. The only exception I saw was some older documentary footage in Katy Perry: Part of Me, which exhibited lots of jaggies.
In another room, Sony's SS-AR1 speakers were being demo'd, driven by an Accuphase E-460 integrated amp and DP-600 CD player. Also on hand was a Clearaudio turntable and Parasound phono preamp, which I didn't hear. The system sounded marvelous with CDs—very clean and detailed with lots of air around the instruments. Of course, it had better sound good; the SS-AR1s cost $27,000 per pair!
Despite the superb sound of the Sony speakers, I maintain that no audio-reproduction system can match a live performance. This was ably demonstrated at the event by nine-time Grammy winner John Legend, who sang several songs for the glitterati in attendance.
The House of Rock is named for the fact that it includes a full-blown recording studio, in which many legendary artists have laid down tracks. The centerpiece of the studio is this custom-made, 48-input SSL Duality mixing console designed by Grammy-winning engineer Jack Joseph Puig. Also visible in this shot at the ends of the console are two prototype speakers from Barefoot Sound, each with a 12-inch woofer, two 6-inch mids, two 2.5-inch high-mids, and a 1-inch tweeter. Man, they sounded fine!
The 10,000-square-foot House of Rock was originally built in 1926, and was once owned by actress/singer Kathryn Grayson. The updated back yard features this LED-illuminated infinity pool and hot tub suspended 30 feet above the canyon below, while the interior has been completely modernized by Prime Sound Systems with 16 Sony TVs, 65 speakers (including underwater speakers in the pool and Polk waterproof speakers in every shower), two Middle Atlantic racks full of electronics, and four in-wall iPad controllers. Many rooms are connected to the studio control room with Belkin cabling, so they can be used as recording booths.
After all that renovation, the house is for sale for a mere $22 million. I must have left my wallet in my other pants, so all I could do was marvel at the home's magnificence—and at Sony's farsightedness by including a 4K server with its new 4K flat panel. I can't wait to try it out for myself.