Sony Gears Up 4K Ultra HD

Studio licenses video-compression technology from startup Eye IO, aiming for summer launch

While it’s still unclear how many consumers will take a shine to new Ultra HD TVs, Sony is getting ready to launch the industry’s first 4K streaming service this summer using an encoding system from startup Eye IO to squeeze the video down for broadband delivery.

According to industry estimates, a 4K video — which delivers four times the resolution of 1080p HD — typically would require 18 to 20 Mbps encoded in MPEG-4 H.264. Eye IO declined to disclose the bit rate for its compression of 4K content “at the request of Sony and other studios” that it is working with. But Eye IO CEO Rodolfo Vargas claimed the company’s compression yields 4K assets that use less than one-third the bandwidth Sony initially expected from other vendors.

A Sony rep confirmed that the 4K movie service is still on track to launch this summer, but said the company has yet to release pricing or additional details about the service. Sony announced plans for the streaming service at CES 2013.

Sony Pictures Entertainment films available at launch are to include “Total Recall” (pictured), “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Bad Teacher,” “Battle: Los Angeles,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Karate Kid,” “Salt,” “Taxi Driver,” “That’s My Boy” and “The Other Guys.”

At least initially, the 4K titles will be available only on Sony Electronics’ XBR 4K Ultra HD televisions, which are priced starting at $5,000 for a 55-inch model and go up to $25,000 for an 84-inch model.

“From the cinema to the home, Sony Pictures Technologies strives to deliver the audience an experience that is as close as possible to the filmmaker’s original vision,” Sony Pictures Technologies prexy Chris Cookson said in a statement. “Eye IO’s technology makes it practical to deliver movies to the home in unprecedented 4K quality, and we are proud to partner with them on this groundbreaking launch.”

The assets encoded at Eye IO’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters are full 4K Ultra HD at 3840 x 2160 resolution and include support for extended gamut color.

Other customers of privately held Eye IO include Netflix. Earlier this year, the company’s video-compression encoding technology was the first in the streaming industry to attain THX’s Digital Cinema HD Video Encoder certification.

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