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Sony 4K TV revolution charms wealthy early adopters

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Sony plans to forge ahead in the emerging 4K television market in 2013 with more mammoth sets. George Michael is said to be among the early adopters of so-called 'ultra high definition', despite there being hardly any content to actually watch. But should you put your faith in 4K?

Last year, Japanese firm Sony commercially launched its first TV fitted with a 4K LCD panel, comprising approximately 8.29 megapixels, which is four times the standard full HD resolution (1920x1080 pixels).

Sony 4K TV


Despite the mammoth 84-inch Bravia KD-84X9005 having a price tag of €25,000 (£20,000), that hasn't stopped some consumers from taking the plunge after it went on sale in the UK.

Sony says the set has been selling "quite well", and singer George Michael apparently splashed out on three of the TVs from Harrods. However, that seems like a rather modest order compared to the six sets snapped up by a prince from Brunei.

Sony is not the only player in the 4K game. LG is understood to have had around 300 buyers so far for its own 84-inch 4K Ultra High Definition TV, priced at £22,000. Toshiba, Panasonic, Samsung and Sharp have also announced 4K models.

Following the Bravia KD-84X9005, Sony will launch 55-inch and 65-inch 4K TV models this year. Both are expected to cost much less than the 84-inch model, but still not what you would describe as cheap.

Sony 4K TV


The early (and wealthy) 4K TV adopters are clearly not too worried about the fact that there are currently no 4K TV channels available in the UK, or indeed anywhere, and there is virtually no native 4K content on physical disc or download.

Sony is aware of this problem and is taking measures to try and address it. Sony Pictures has been shooting many new movies in 4K, meaning they can be released as 4K Blu-rays when the technology catches up.

But Sony feels that 4K upscaling is what "makes 4K TV relevant today". All Sony 4K TVs (and some new home cinema systems) have the ability to take existing Blu-rays or 2K content (2048x1080), such as photos, and then boost the picture quality to as close to 4K as possible.

Demonstration of Sony's new 84-inch 4K TV (Bravia KD-84X9005)


In addition, Sony is remastering some existing movies to 4K, meaning George Michael will at some point be able to watch The Amazing Spider-Man, The Other Guys, Battle: LA and classic flick Lawrence of Arabia in sumptuous detail and better sound.

Sony has announced a 4K content delivery portal coming to the US this summer, offering up to ten UHD movies to download. A UK expansion of this will probably depend on how well it does in America, and the level of 4K TV sales over here. But it is also unclear how Sony will deliver the content, given that a three-minute 4K trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man is a staggering 300GB file.

Sony 4K TV


But is the picture quality of 4K worth it? Sony says there is a "big difference" in 4K sets compared to other models, and the firm showed us side-by-side demos to prove this, including its 84-inch 4K model against an 80-inch 2K set from Sharp. Sure, there is a difference, particularly in the level of detail in the picture, but whether this could be described as "big" remains a matter of debate.

There is a big jump in quality when going to 8K, the technology that delivers pictures 16 times sharper than Full HD, which was demoed last summer by the BBC and NHK. But that tech is far away from being commercially available.

Sony's 4K sets are not quite as jaw-dropping, but they do deliver pretty much one of the best picture qualities you can buy at the moment, backed up by solid design and, just as importantly, really good sound.

Sony 4K TV


The latest speakers in Sony's TVs, home cinema systems and sound bars use Magnetic Fluid, a technology developed by NASA for use in airlocks. This nifty substance has been licensed by Sony and applied inside its speakers, effectively making them less rigid and enabling the sound to travel more effectively. And it really does make a difference.

Footage of Adele performing live aired on the 55-inch Sony 4K set had incredible sound quality, with the system picking out the cadence in the platinum-selling singer's voice, backed up by realistic and detailed picture quality.

The 4K TVs also upscale video games to 4K, and we would be rather surprised if Sony's much-rumoured PlayStation 4 console does not support 4K content in some way.

Unlike 3D, 4K is not a different viewing experience, it is simply an enhancement of the audio and visual presentation of TV and film content. Essentially, it makes moving pictures look and sound better, and you didn't expect that to come cheap, did you?

Photo gallery - Sony's 84-inch 4K TV in pictures:

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