This article is a continuation of the "Living with 4K" series of articles.
I started with the idea of testing Sony's FMP-X1 4K player offered as part of the upgrade of my VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector (to the newer VPL-VW1100ES model), and also evaluating the quality of the 4K content available for download from Sony's Video Unlimited 4K Service. This article covers 4K players and will be immediately followed by an article about 4K content.
However, a couple of weeks ago Nuvola confirmed the delivery of a review unit of their 4K player NP-1 (which I introduced on this article), and I plan to review their 4K content service as well, and compare with Sony's 4K player and content, although the unit's availability is being announced since May 29, 2013.
Additionally, Sony also announced the newer streaming/downloading FMP-X10 4K player that is now available to consumers for $699 retail (offered as preorder at a $200 discount between May 15, 2014 and July 15, 2014).
As with the first generation FMP-X1 player, the FMP-X10 player is only compatible with Sony 4K UHDTVs and 4K projectors and can download 4K content only from Sony's Video Unlimited 4K service, but the newer FMP-X10 can also stream 4K content from Netflix. The specifications of the players are published on Sony's and Nuvola's web sites (use the links to the players mentioned above).
Unfortunately, Sony did not make the FMP-X10 player available for review with enough time for this article, so for this article I perform a hands-on review of the FMP-X1 player and the downloadable 4K content (no 4K streaming) with my VPL-VW1100ES 4K projector.
Over a year ago I wrote an article with a review of the VPL-VW1000ES projector displaying 4K content from a 4K server Sony used for demonstrations in conferences and shows such as CES and CEDIA, which Sony lent me for the review. I will comment on how that content compares to the FMP-X1 on the next article but here is an excerpt that summarized my experience with that server that applies as well to the new Sony players:
"In summary, proper quality in 4K content and in the whole chain all the way up to the display device is required to notice a difference with 4K. When is done well it is too obvious to ignore it. So creating a good 4K camera or a stunning 4K display are just two items of the chain, many things in between can affect the outcome, such as using excessive compression on an otherwise excellent 4K content just to make it fit in the old jar."
At that time no 4K player was available to consumers from Sony and there still no 4K player available other than Sony's even today, the arrival of the review unit of the Nuvola NP-1 player and a review unit of the RedRay 4K player would change that but they have been unavailable for more than a year.
A couple of clips from the Sony's server mentioned above are still now available for download on the FMP-X1 player but unfortunately other clips that showed the beauty of 4K were left out from the available content.
My initial objective for this article was to compare all the 4K players and the various sources of 4K content quality, but a follow up article will be needed to wrap the players comparison once I receive the other players, and who knows, maybe 4K Blu-ray by then, which I expect will be the winner in 4K image and audio quality as it is today in HD.
The FMP-X1 for Sony Projectors
As you may know already Sony 4K projectors cannot control the FMP-X1 4K player like Sony's 4k televisions do, the projector needs the Xperia Z tablet as remote control, which needs a control app available through the SonyPlay store.
The FMP-X1 player's Ethernet connection has to be hardwired to the same Wi-Fi router the tablet is connected wirelessly to (same network). A pin number is displayed on the projector's screen which must be entered into the app screen of the tablet, and a Sony Entertainment Network account has to be obtained before any available 4k video titles can appear on the tablet. The tablet is also used to preview and request downloads of 4K titles, titles can be requested for rental, purchase, or free (short clips), and they are put in a queue if several of them are requested together.
4K content takes quite a bit of space in the player's hard drive (the FMP-X1 has 2TB of storage, FMP-X10 has 1TB), and even when compressed efficiently it also takes long to be downloaded compared to HD.
Video quality of the downloaded content should not be degraded if your ISP has a slower speed, but it will take longer for the download to finish, so in order to view a 4K movie that is not already stored in the player you would have to plan ahead for the download and probably wait until the following day to view it.
In addition, as with a DVR, some housekeeping of the hard drive would be needed to delete movies you do not need immediately and make space for new ones you may want to download to watch soon, that would be the case even if an external hard drive is added to the capacity of the FMP-X1. Once movies are purchased they can be available for download again if they were removed from the player.
Due to the long waiting and the limited storage capacity this model is quite different to the spontaneous aspect of a disc movie collector, and the subject is covered in the next article about 4K content.
I asked Sony several questions, as follows:
Does content ordered with the FMP-X1 be transferable to a new FMP-X10 player?
"Movies on SEN can be authorized on multiple devices (limited number), so you would be able to authorize an FMP-X10 for movies that you had purchased for use on an FMP-X1 originally."
Are Sony players upgradable to HDMI 2.0 18Gbps, 60fps, better than 8-bit color depth, 4K streaming, better than 4:2:0, HEVC?
The new FMP-X10 comes ready for HDMI 2.0 and it supports HEVC and 4K streaming (initially NETFLIX)
(To receive a more specific response I asked the question a bit differently)
The FMP-X10 has similar specs than the FMP-X1 and still uses a limited HDMI chip to handle just the 60fps 8-bit/4:2:0 format of HDMI 2.0, would that mean the FMP-X1 will NOT be upgraded to better than its current limitations (8-bit, 4:2:0, 24/30fps, Rec. 709)?
"Correct, since the majority of 4K content is shot either 24P or 30P, the FMP-X1's current specs are fine for the majority of future 4K content. The FMP-X1 also cannot be updated to support HEVC 4K(60P) but there will be lots of inexpensive solutions to support 4K streaming services. The FMP-X1 uses HDCP2.2.
Netflix 4K is designed for convenience but Video Unlimited 4K offers consistent performance. The FMP-X1 gives customers access to over 200 4K Movies and TV shows today. Since VU4K is a download service, the quality is consistent. It also utilizes much less compression than HEVC for the highest quality 4k available for home use.
In addition to 4K UHD @60P, the new HDMI specification also includes other features like an increase to 32 audio channels and support for a 21:9 aspect ratio. While these are interesting additions to the HDMI specification, we believe that the higher frame rate is a more relevant feature to most 4K Ultra HDTV customers today. Due to HDMI 2.0, this year's Sony 4K TV supports the following:
. 4K Ultra HD at 60p (3840X2160) Max Color Depth (YCbCr 4:2:0) 8 Bit
. Cinema 4K at 60p (4096X2160) Max Color Depth (YCbCr 4:2:0) 8 Bit
Blu-ray, HDTV, and DVD all currently use 4:2:0 subsampling and most people don't notice the loss of color detail right now with those formats, so they aren't likely to notice it in Ultra HD content. HDMI 2.0 can support up to 4:4:4 but the substantial increase in file size makes it more difficult to stream, download or broadcast so 4:4:4 subsampling is only used in professional applications.
Exclusive Sony features like TRILUMINOS and X-tended Dynamic Range are designed to maximize the performance the type of 4k content that will be readily available to consumers."
Could the $300 credit offered by Sony with some projector upgrades to download 4K movies with the FMP-X1 be obtained by a customer of the FMP-X10?
The only promotion we had was the $200 savings on the FMP-X10 if purchased before July 15. I can't speak for future promotion opportunities but we are always looking into ways to provide customers with additional value and ways to meet their needs.
Since the FMP-X10 streams 4K in addition to downloading 4K content, is it aligned to replace the current FMP-X1 downloading player or they would continue separate paths?
The FMP-X10 replaces the FMP-X1. In addition to supporting HEVC and 4K streaming, it also downloads 4K content from Video Unlimited 4K.
Would 4K 60fps content sourced from video (not 24fps film) be supported by the players?
The (FMP-X10) player supports all these formats so we are exploring all these possibilities.
Would Sony consider offering an exchange program for FMP-X1 players to be traded-in for FMP-X10s, similar to original PC 4K servers distributed with Sony's first UHDTVs replaced with FMP-X1 players when they were released?
(No response was given to this question so assume NO)
Based on today's limited availability and selection of 4K content, a $699 4K FMP-X1 player/$450 Xperia Z tablet combo may not be attractive to you (as part of the projector upgrade program or purchased separately). That could also affect investing in a 4K UHDTV as "no 4K content = no 4KTV", as some advocate negatively without looking at the whole picture, pun not intended.
Some may say that the $699 FMP-X1 4K player (obtained thru the upgrade program or not, and still for sale today) is already obsolete because is relatively expensive having only downloading capabilities (in addition to requiring a $450 tablet if you have a projector). Moreover when compared to the new FMP-X10 player that downloads and also offers 4K streaming capabilities and has its own remote control (no need for the Xperia Z tablet).
Considering that these players support a business model primarily based on downloading content, storage capacity is a crucial feature in view of how long it takes to download 4K content one may not want to re-download to view again.
The value of a player is subjected to the content is designed to play. The following article covers that subject.
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, September 3, 2014 7:22 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.