This article follows the series of articles of the “Living with 4K” topic, and 4K related products and subjects, including 4K content and 4K Blu-ray. Today is about a new 4K player that is just coming to the market, the Nuvola NP-1.
The other 4K player competitor, the $1750 Red Ray 4K player, has been unavailable for over a year after their “reserve your unit” announcement in late 2012 with an original price of $1400+. According to an email I received from the manufacturer last week: “The unit is available on our website with an estimated ship date of 2 – 3 weeks… and we are not distributing units for review at this time”. I still hope they are going to deliver a player as promised and that it will be successful, as well as Odemax, their 4K content provider partner, because the 4K market needs more content and players to play it, not just UHDTVs.
When considering the three 4K player options the Sony 4K player is the only one that is available for purchase on stores, if the Nuvola NP-1 will actually be made available as announced (being announced since May 29, 2013) it appears to be the best deal in price and compatibility, for now, and it was honored recently with a Storage Visions® 2014 Visionary Product Award in the Home Entertainment category.
I am expecting a Nuvola NP-1 review unit to arrive in February 2014 as the manufacturer promised this week, so I can test the quality of the player and the 4K content with a Sony 4K projector. Meanwhile, I thought the readership would appreciate this heads up article that compiles my exchanges with Mr. David R. Foley, Nano Tech’s founder and creator of the NP-1.
Primary Differences between Sony and Nuvola 4K Players
A key difference between the Sony 4K player and the Nuvola 4K player is that the current Sony FMP-X1 4K player has been introduced for downloads of 4K content distributed by Sony, but that may change with a soon to be available Netflix 4K partnership effort announced at CES 2014, and with a streaming prototype media player announced by Sony compatible with the “Video Unlimited 4K” premium 4K distribution service of Sony (more details further below).
How the Nuvola 4K player differs from the Sony is that it has been introduced for primarily streaming 4K content sourced from several providers, and if desired it can also download the 4K content and store it into an externally connected hard drive using its USB 3.0 output, more details further down.
Another difference is price, the Sony 4K player is $699 and the Nuvola 4K player is $299.
Another difference is regarding digital audio/video connectivity, the Sony player has two HDMI ports, one HDMI can be used to connect to the 4K display for the 4K video to be delivered undisturbed and the second HDMI can be used to output multichannel digital audio to a home theater audio setup that cannot pass-thru 4K video, in other words, a parallel HDMI connection, one for 4K video, one for multichannel digital audio. If the user has audio equipment that can actually pass-thru 4K video then the parallel HDMI connection would not be necessary.
Another difference relevant to installations of 4K projectors is that Sony’s 4K player requires the use of a new Sony Xperia tablet to control the player and to download content, which increases the total cost of ownership to about $500 on top of the $699.
Conversely, the Nuvola player has a remote control and does not require a separate tablet. However, Sony’s tablet is elegant and light and can also be used for all the other purposes a regular tablet can be used, although it would have to be returned to the 4K display room when the 4K player has to be controlled.
Regarding 4K content pricing, the Nuvola 4K content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Instant have not yet announced the price of their streamed/downloaded content, on the other hand Sony announced in mid 2013 their player and 4K content service, which is already available and content can be rented for 24 hrs of playback for $7.99 or purchased from $29.99, depending on the movie, TV episode purchases start at $3.99.
As mentioned briefly before, Sony announced at CES 2014 their partnership with Netflix to deliver 4K UltraHD content in the first half of 2014 in all territories where Netflix is available, which implies that a new Sony’s 4K player would be capable of streaming 4K from Netflix in addition to the current 4K player download capabilities. Sony also announced that starting January 2014 more than one hundred and forty 4K movies can be purchased from the Video Unlimited 4K distribution service.
According to Sony’s press release at CES 2014:
Next Generation 4K media player prototype
To accommodate for that limitation the HDMI cable from the 4K player has to be then connected to a) the 4K panel directly and listen to the typically compromised audio quality of its audio speakers/amplification, or b) an HDMI splitter (“one HDMI in/two out”) that simultaneously connects to the audio equipment and to the 4K display for the video (typical if the display is a 4K projector).
Consideration should be given regarding the HDMI splitter current and future compatibility with HDCP 1.0/2.2, and other HDMI 2.0 functionality features such as 60fps 4K, which may entail a future splitter replacement if not upgradeable (more further below).
Alternatively, there is the commercial Nuvola NP-H1 player available for $699 ($400 above the NP-1) that has additional audio outputs beyond the single HDMI (it has 5-channels analog connectors and a digital optical audio), which, although costly, the NP-H1 would avoid running the risk of compromising the quality of the HDMI 4K video output of the player when the signal goes thru the extra HDMI splitter before reaching the 4K display.
If the NP-1 Nuvola player would have had a separate Digital Coaxial/Optical output in addition to its HDMI it could have output legacy lossy DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1/7.1 discrete digital multi-channel to an A/V system. For lossless DTS Master Audio or Dolby True HD codecs the HDMI output would be needed and the HDMI splitter maybe the only viable solution if the A/V equipment cannot handle 4K.
The player specs are not clear regarding the multichannel audio outputted via HDMI other than the NP-H1 commercial player spec mentioning “5.1” without indicating if that means a) legacy lossy DTS/Dolby Digital 5.1, or b) also lossless DTS Master Audio/Dolby True HD in 5.1, or c) if the player outputs the soundtrack unaltered as included in the content, or d) the soundtrack is converted to lossy 5.1 regardless if the source is of superior audio quality.
In summary, it would have been ideal if the Nuvola players have two HDMI outputs, as the Sony 4K player (shown on the left) and as several other Blu-ray players have for backward compatibility reasons. Not having them means that the buyer of the player most probably have to spend extra to address the audio connectivity limitation, unless the player is connected directly to an UHDTV panel and the user would not mind its TV audio quality.
The Nuvola player is limited to output 4:2:0 chroma sub-sampling, 8-bit depth, Rec.709 HDTV color space, 24/30 frames per second (for film and video based sources respectively), and is suited with an HDMI 1.4 chip.
Nano Tech said that they will have to wait possibly until 2Q2014 for the HDMI 2.0 chip suitable to their 4K player to become available. The HDMI 2.0 spec was recently approved in September 2013 and normally takes months before compliant chips become available.
Streaming and Downloading
Although the player is mainly designed as a streamer of 4K content (and of lower resolutions) it can also store a downloaded movie in a compatible storage device connected to its USB 3.0 output, if the content source provides the option/functionality for download, not just streaming.
What’s in the Plans
Although Nano Tech Entertainment has just announced the introduction of their Nuvola NP-1 4K player the company is already working on a second generation of the player for which they are considering and welcoming feedback from the users of the first generation unit released just now.
A second HDMI output was quoted as "not a low cost feature" and I suspect it meant “relative to the low player’s price of $299 MSRP”, however, the market has many price-reasonable Blu-ray players and A/V equipment with multiple HDMI outputs, some even supporting 4K.
Nano Tech preferred not to issue any statement estimating the availability of the second generation player, neither to confirm if it would be available even within this year, because, they said, it will take much effort and time to build the second generation unit and test it to make sure it works as expected with the new chips/processor. However, Nano Tech confirmed that they committed their efforts to do so and it will be a matter of time.
It remains to be seen what it would happen to the 4K content stored in the external HDD when switching players, many HD-DVRs loose access to previously recorded content when the attached HDDs are disconnected and reconnected. There will be no upgrades to the 1st generation unit other than the trade-in program. Although it was not said I assume they did not mean that for firmware upgrades thru its internet connection like a Blu-ray player does.
With the eventual upgrade/trade in of the 4K player, an HDMI splitter that was installed for the audio limitations mentioned earlier may also need replacement to be compatible with HDCP 2.2, 60 fps 4K if implemented by the content providers and if the new player still has the same HDMI limitations.
Specifications According to Nano Tech
“The Nuvola NP-1 supports current 4K UltraHD video using the H.264 compression, and will be automatically updated with the latest H.265 (HEVC) codecs as they become available.”
“The Nuvola NP-1 is powered by the fastest mobile processor on the market today. The all-purpose media player uses the nVidia Tegra 4 processor that features a Quad Core Cortex-A15 processor with an amazing 72 GPU's for incredible graphics processing power. The system comes standard with 2GB DDR RAM, 16GB Internal Flash Storage and has external connections for USB storage devices. From decoding 4K UltraHD Videos to playing state of the art 3D Video games, the Nuvola has the power to do it all.”
“The Nuvola NP-1 features built in Ethernet, state of the art 2x2 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Infrared communications. You can connect remotes, game controllers and many other devices wirelessly or by connecting to the USB port.”
“The Nuvola NP-1 runs on Android 4.2 (JellyBean) operating system, the most advanced device OS available. It comes preloaded with dozens of the best Android digital signage apps. Plus, with access to the Google Play Store, you can choose from thousands of compatible apps and download them directly onto the Nuvola NP-1”
Processor NVIDIA Tegra 4 Quad Core Mobile Processor with 2GB DDR3 RAM
Additional information regarding image quality vs. adaptive bit rate to adjust to available bandwidth:
Visually Perfect Download (very difficult to detect any loss)
Some Lossyness (banding, blocky gradient)
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, February 3, 2014 8:45 PM
About Rodolfo La Maestra
Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines. In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.
Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities. Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers. After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.