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By Michael Heiss July 3,2013
As the total picture for popular adoption of 4K video (a.k.a. UHDTV) continues to unfold, one of the items most frequently mentioned as a barrier to progress is the availability of content produced in the format (not upscaled to it).
|Sony’s FMP-X1 Media Player.|
Going back to the first showings at CES this past January, Sony has promised what some have dubbed the “hat box” server due to its round shape as a forthcoming delivery mechanism. With information made available on July 1, we now have a formal release data along with more information that the systems integration community will need to know about this unique product.
The Sony FMP-X1 Media Player will be available on July 15 in the U.S. The unit comes preloaded with 10 feature films transferred in full 4K, with more to be added later on via “Video Unlimited 4K” service starting in the fall. It will offer additional films and TV episodes in native 4K as 24-hour rentals or purchases starting at $7.99 and $29,99 each, respectively. In addition, there will be a variety of shorts and other material shot in 4K loaded in the unit and available later. The first batch includes “Eldorado,” a Sony demo piece that is one of the most stunning ways to show off the benefits of the wider color gamut and higher color depth of UHD that ever I’ve seen. The images seem to pop right off the screen as if to prove that one does not live by increased resolution alone.
SRP for the unit is $699, but there is an "introductory discount of $200 (no time specified) for consumers who have purchased one of the X900A sets. That means that if a dealer, not the consumer directly, buys it after the fact, it may not be possible to apply the discount. Sony is placing an "estimated value of $300" on the 10 movies included with the unit.
As important as it is for this product to prove that 4K content is coming, there are some important caveats and things for both the consumer and custom integration dealer to keep in mind.
To start, the FMP-X1 is only compatible with the two most recent Sony 55- and 65-inch XBR x900A models. Hook it up to anything else, even Sony’s own 4K-native VPL-VW1000ES projector or the 84-inch flat-panel set, and it simply won’t work. Sony reminds us that there is a different server bundled with the XBR-84X900, but if the display is anything other than the two X900A models, then you are just out of luck.
In terms of content acquisition, storage, and control, be reminded that this is a Sony-specific product only presumably using the eyeIO codec, although it is possible that others might be useable at a future date. It is also a “download and store-only” product and service. Content is not streamed, but downloaded to the internal 2TB hard drive, so expect it to take about nine hours to download any new content not already on the drive. A rear-panel USB connection is available to connect additional hard drive storage and there is also a USB 3.0 port on the front surface.
From a physical installation standpoint the hat box shape means that you’ll have to put it on a shelf; rack ears are clearly not an option here. In addition, remember to allow for space to place the power supply brick, because the PSU is external.
When it comes to the actual installation things begin to get interesting, as well. Sony has wisely provided two current-standard HDMI outputs, one labeled “video and audio” and one for “audio-only.” This shows that the product is well thought out, because while the HDMI is standard the content is, of course, 4K, and few in-place AVRs and surround processors can pass 4K signals. Thus, if the AVR or processor does pass 4K, only one connection is needed. However, if it doesn’t, you’ll need to have one HDMI cable to the display and another to go elsewhere for 7.1 audio decoding.
In terms of a network connection, it will come as no surprise that the faster, the better, to reduce download time. Sony recommends a 10mbps connection and also that it be wired. In response to our questions a Sony representative said that they were looking at future options for wireless networking, but for now you’ll want to make certain that a wired network drop is available for the FMP-X1.
In terms of control there really isn’t anything to do as all menu options and control come through the UI of the X900A set. I was told that the server doesn’t even come with a remote, as none is needed. This means that no additional programming is required, because users will be able to use a smartphone/tablet app to be provided or the navigational controls already programmed into your systems for the TV.
As for the question of the installation, itself. Clearly any custom firm that will provision this sort of product will need to be there to do some of the physical and other connections, but be forewarned that Sony is requiring that “in-home premium activation” be performed by them, presumably through third parties who have received the requisite training. If that is NOT you, and that is likely to be the case, you have no choice but to schedule the installation with this additional outside firm. Precise details on what this “activation” involves were not available at press time.
With all of the caveats aside, including the use of this 4K content server currently being restricted to not just one brand’s displays, but to specific models only within their product line, the availability of the FMP-X1 this month is an important step forward for 4K/UHDTV. Again, while somewhat limited on both content availability and device compatibility, it certainly does answer those who claim that 4K is a format in search of content. This is only the first of what one can expect of many such devices to come as time moves forward. With Sony leading the charge here as a proof-point on 4K content distribution it is a safe bet that other and more open services and devices from the likes of Netflix and others are going to follow sooner than later.