CES Microcosm: Sony Press Events Focus on End-to-End 4K

It began Monday night with a low cost 4K camcorder, new 4K TVs and a 4K streaming partnership with Netflix, all announced during Sony’s press reveal. But CEO Kaz Hirai kept the news coming during his 2014 International CES keynote Tuesday morning, as Sony introduced new cloud-based streaming TV and gaming services. These events clearly helped set the tone for a show that was dominated by every aspect of the 4K pipeline, especially TVs, and somewhat surprisingly, streaming services.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings kicked things off Monday with his announcement that the company will be able to utilize download speeds around 15 Mbps, well within most Internet provider’s average offering of around 50 Mbps, to stream their growing library of 4K content.

But Netflix was not alone; both Amazon and M-GO announced their own plans for 4K streaming services. Even YouTube is in on the act with its newly developed, royalty-free VP9 codec that it will employ for its 4K streaming service to help alleviate bandwidth concerns. Combine the streaming services with Sony expansion of its Video Unlimited download service to include 4K, and the delivery part of the 4K problem appears more tractable.

On the production side, Panasonic introduced an Arri Alexa competitor, the 4K Varicam camera that sports a super 35mm sensor and records uncompressed video. But perhaps even more interestingly, Sony announced its FDR-AX100 4K camcorder that will retail for $2,000. Even though the camcorder isn’t a professional production device, it will no doubt bolster the prosumer section of the market hoping to shoot short films, journalistic pieces or promotional material. And the device’s introduction makes YouTube’s recently announced efforts in 4K encoding all the more poignant.

Then, of course, every booth at CES this year was packed wall-to-wall with 4K, 5K and in some cases, 8K TVs. It is debatable whether high-end 4K TVs have a great deal to offer right now at their price points. However, with the emergence of value-priced UHD TVs at the show this year, it is clear that the draw to future proof will be high. For example, new 50-inch 4K TVs from Vizio and Polaroid are set to retail at $1,000.

Despite the popularity at this year’s show, it is worth noting that even Hirai cautioned that mainstream 4K adoption is still about five to seven years away, likening it to HD adoption in a recent interview.

The 100-minute Hirai keynote address video is available via the Sony Store. There’s also an interesting Q&A with the Sony CEO on USA Today.

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