This article is a continuation of the "Living with 4K" series of articles I published on this magazine during the past two years, and is also a follow up of the last article regarding the subject of upgradeability of UHDTVs.
On that last article I highlighted the importance of selecting an upgradeable TV/Projector when choosing an UHDTV during these initial years of UHD introduction to consumers, due to the number of features from the standards that have not been implemented yet on the 4K/UHDTVs and on UHD content distribution channels (if they do), including pre-recorded physical media, such as 4K Blu-Ray, hopefully in the near future, with specs expected to be available by year end.
I also mentioned that Sony and Samsung were clear on their upgrade plans, while other manufacturers were more on the vague side, or issued unspecified promises, such as "we are looking into it".
The next articles on this series of "Living With 4K" will be about a) the actual projector upgrade and how it performs, b) Sony's FMP-X1 4K ($699) downloading player that comes with the projector's upgrade and the soon to be available Sony's FMP-X10 ($699, which can be preordered until July 15, 2014 for $499) and Sony's feedback about the upgradeability of both players, and, of course, c) the 4K content available, the ultimate purpose of a 4K Home Theater, which "suppose" to make this projector shine. (I gave away the end of this movie)
I exchanged ideas with Sony's Projector Marketing Manager over telephone and emails and raised several questions regarding the technical capabilities of the VW1000/VW1100 projectors, and the above 4K players.
I also asked Sony how the projector upgrade program implementation was going, and discussed the possibility of an elective service for those that may have either missed the deadline to request the upgrade under the current program, or decided to postpone it.
And the first question one may ask is: Why an upgrade to a relatively new 4K projector?
The VW1000 projector was released over two years ago and has an HDMI v. 1.4 chip that a) is not capable to handle HDCP v.2.2 (the new content protection method Sony preferred for their 4K content), and b) is not capable of accepting future 4K video at 60 frames-per-second (fps), a feature of HDMI v.2.0 (which also has other new features but they are not applicable to this article).
My short answer to the "why an upgrade?" question is:
For the immediate needs: HDCP v.2.2 content protection, otherwise (at least) Sony's 4K content "of any frame rate" would not be accepted by the projector.
Most, if not all, 4K content that originates from film (such as movies) recorded at 24fps, and 4K videos recorded at 30fps, are accepted by the VW1000 4K projector with its HDMI v.1.4 chip, but if they are protected with HDCP v.2.2 the projector needs an upgrade.
Sony's Projector Upgrade Program did not have an option of only upgrading for HDCP v.2.2 and was designed to update the VW1000 projector to the whole capabilities of the new VW1100 projector, and in addition offer several products, at a reasonable price relative to the projector's price.
Below is the information I exchanged with Sony:
VW1000 Projector Upgradeable to VW1100 newer model
1) Does the VW1000 projector upgrade implement an HDMI v.2.0 chip with full 18 Gbps of bandwidth and the complete set of HDMI v.2.0 specs/4K formats?
The projector upgrade implements 4K at 60 fps (one capability of the HDMI v.2.0 specification) but it does not implement all the functionality of the full HDMI v.2.0 specification, nor does it support the full 18 Gbps of bandwidth. Sony indicated that, to their knowledge, there is no consumer product available that implements the complete feature set of the HDMI v.2.0 specification.
Specifically, after the upgrade, the VW1000 projector will be similar to the newer model VW1100 model with all of its features. It will be able to "input" 4k 60 fps but a) only as 4:2:0 chroma sub-sampling (the most aggressive video compression that discards 75% of the color detail of the full chroma format 4:4:4), and b) only at a maximum of 8-bit color depth (the less detailed color depth, compared to 10, 12, and 16 bits).
Although the input 4K video quality for this projector (and other 4K Sony and non-Sony UHDTVs) may appear rather restrictive, it may be very possible that eventually 4K consumer content sourced from video at 60 fps be stored and distributed with similar limited specs.
It should be taken into consideration that the 4K Blu-Ray specification is not yet finished, the disc space required for just doubling the frame rate from 30 to 60fps for video may hinder the implementation of other image quality features that demand for space as well, and the fact that current Blu-Ray (HD) format had been using just 4:2:0 and 8-bit color depth for HD content since its introduction in 2006, which after 8 years has not added other features of image quality better than 4:2:0 and 8-bit, but the industry is moving instead to 4K resolution (although with a more efficient compression algorithm, HEVC).
There is an industry camp that questions why moving to more pixels with 4K if HD could have implemented other image quality improvements that would have been more noticeable to viewers.
Sony's rationale is that current 4K content for consumers does not surpass the image quality that can be displayed by their current projectors, and the upgrade will make the VW1000 projector ready to display 4K content that is not yet distributed to consumers (4K at 60fps).
In other words, "today" there is no incentive in investing in the manufacturing of more costly 4K consumer displays to "input" better color bit-depths than 8-bits and less compressed chroma sub-sampling than 4:2:0 (the lowest quality of the 60fps 4K formats supported by HDMI v.2.0, see table further down).
Although Sony commented that their projector can actually handle 4K 12-bit Deep Color at 24fps (film sourced content), and that the quality of the optics can handle 12-bit, 4:4:4, and 60fps. Sony statement was "the projector, internally, is capable of processing/projecting color depth up to 12 bits and 4:4:4 sampling."
According to Sony, more advanced HDMI v.2.0 chipsets were not available at the time the company was working on the upgrades for the VW1000 projector (and when manufacturing the newer VW1100 model), for that reason the installed HDMI chipset is limited to the maximum bandwidth supported by version 1.4 (10.2 Gbps), and the 60fps 4K format using that HDMI chip is limited to 8-bit color depth and 4:2:0 chroma sub-sampling (<9 Gbps of bandwidth).
Sony said that if future content of better quality is made available to consumers they will be prepared to consider upgrades for their 4K projector customers, especially if newer projectors from Sony implement such higher capabilities.
Although Sony has professional products that handle 4K sources of higher quality they do not have consumer products with those capabilities.
Sony added: "At this time there is no studio producing 4K content for distribution with more than 4:2:0 color sampling at 8-bit color depth, so Sony's projectors provide capability to play back the 4K content that is available.....the upgrade also includes HDCP 2.2, which is the other key component of receiving 4K "Hollywood" movie content, which is actually more important at this stage until 60P broadcasting begins."
2) Would the upgraded projector have a Color Management System for ISF /THX calibration?
In perspective, the lower priced projector new model VPL-VW600ES (which sells for approximately half of the VW1100 cost) has robust color management, because, Sony said, its processor has the number of handles needed to adjust primary and secondary colors, and the VW1100 does not.
Not having a Color Management System into the projector implies that an owner wanting an accurate color calibration has to consider to also invest several thousand dollars on a good quality scaler "that accepts, processes, and outputs 4K", Lumagen for example (on the range of $4000-$4500 depending on the model).
Such expense may not be an issue to those spending $27,999 on the 4K projector, but on the other hand it can also be seen as: why a high quality projector on this price range was released without such important feature to calibrate image quality when many projectors that cost ten times lower have had such feature for many years?
Fortunately the projector shows excellent imaging out of the box, is very bright, and the colors are admirable.
3) Could the upgrade for "just the projector" eventually be offered alone, without the 4K player, tablet, lamp package, after the deadline?
Sony offered the upgrade package for an estimated MSRP price of $2500, depending on the particular installation and the work the dealer may have to do to help the customer, such as dismounting and remounting a ceiling installed projector.
The upgrade is performed at the customer's site by a Sony technician (to a dismounted projector), and includes a new main circuit board for the projector, a new LMP-H330 lamp ($700), the FMP-X1 4K player ($699), an Xperia Z 16GB tablet to control the player and the 4K downloads from Sony's Entertainment Service ($450), and a couple of hours of labor by the technician. Total approximate investment: 10% of the projector's price.
The upgrade under that program was available as a package only to customers that ordered it before March 31st 2014, and although the upgrade program in the US is almost complete there are still upgrade kits available, according to Sony's Projector Marketing Manager (see below).
Sony confirmed that the company will accommodate for projector upgrades beyond the deadline under a paid elective service that requires for the projector to be sent to Sony. The main circuit board and labor will be charged at elective service rates, the cost was informally estimated at approximately $1,000 for the main circuit board, plus the price of labor by the service technician.
In other words, those customers that missed the deadline or preferred not to upgrade during the period of the upgrade program can still perform the upgrade at a later time at a lower dollar cost but relatively higher cost than the packaged upgrade offer, because the elective upgrade service does not include the 4K FMP-X1 player, Xperia Z 16GB tablet, and the extra projector lamp (items that would have to be purchased separately at approximately $1850 MSRP today).
The main point is that the projector, according to Sony, can be upgraded out of this upgrade program and an owner that missed the deadline/preferred not to perform the upgrade within the program should not think that it is/will be obsolete for not yet handling either HDCP v.2.2 or 4K 60fps features.
On the other hand, by the time a future elective upgrade may be ordered by the customer, Sony hopefully will have a full 18Gbps HDMI 2.0 chip available, if that is ever a possibility (more on it below).
Sony commented: "Now that the upgrade "program" has ended, any future requests for upgrades will be completed at Sony's service facility. Of course, we understand the value of these projectors and will provide dedicated shipping cartons to the customer for shipment of their projector and upgrade board. Note: there are still upgrade kits available in our dealer channel, so customers can continue to purchase the upgrade from their dealers. Now, however, instead of the dealer arranging an appointment with the in-home technician, the dealer will arrange to receive a shipping container and to send the projector to Sony's facility."
4) Would other upgrades be offered by Sony in the future? Is Sony working /planning on an 8K projector?
Sony would not commit in advance to perform any future upgrade to other than the above if for example a 4K Blu-Ray format is implemented with higher than 8-bit color depth or better than 4:2:0 chroma sub-sampling, but will consider it if/when those features become available, and if it makes sense to everyone.
Sony added that, if they offer a newer generation projector with superior features, they may consider upgrading older 4K projectors to support long standing customers, if the older 4K projectors can be upgraded.
Along the lines of what I mentioned above, Sony said that even if higher specs from the Rec.2020 UHDTV standard are agreed for display products, consideration must be given to the limited value those may have to consumers if Sony makes a projector that implements superior features for image quality that exceed the quality of the available 4K consumer content, which is the primary purpose of the 4K projector today.
Sony commented that just because there is a standard with superior specs does not necessarily mean that the increased cost of manufacturing to a standard that surpasses the capability of the available content will be paid by the consumer.
Along these lines I asked Sony the following question:
Could an elective upgrade for features beyond this current upgrade (such as later adding HDMI 2.0 18Gbps to input the other 60fps formats) be performed all at once over an original-not-upgraded VW1000? In other words, would each upgrade have to be performed only over the previous one, each one separately, or could an eventual upgrade #2 be performed without doing this elective upgrade #1?
(This is important to owners that are already thinking that they rather skip this elective upgrade (and save the immediate expense) and wait until a future upgrade be offered with more features, and 4K pre-recorded physical media may become available for those not interested in downloading/streaming 4K. The idea is that if Sony knows today that skipping upgrades is NOT going to be allowed or would not represent an economic saving over doing them individually, projector owners should be informed of such position.)
Sony indicated that there are no public plans regarding consumer projectors for 8K (to which I add: which does not mean that Sony is not working on it).
Next articles on this "Living With 4K" series: a review of a) Sony's 4K projector VW1000 upgrade to VW1100 and its performance, b) the FMP-X1 4K player suited to the VW1100 projector's upgrade (as well as a description of the FMP-X10) and Sony's feedback about their upgradeability, and c) the 4K content available from Sony's Entertainment service.
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, June 27, 2014 9:10 AM
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.