CES 2014 Roundup: Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, and an Answer to the 4K Bandwidth Question

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A look at the late-Monday press conferences held at CES 2014 in Las Vegas:

Sony Pumps 4K with Little to Show

"4K is not a science project for ten years into the future—this is happening now," declared Sony Electronics president and CEO Mike Fasulo in a strangely low-key press conference.

With a 4K video library announced at CES 2013 and since populated by 140 titles from Sony Pictures and other studios, the vendor announced it had been working with Netflix to help create and deliver new 4K content.

This includes an announcement made weeks ago that Sony has regraded and remastered from 35mm to 4K the complete Breaking Bad series for delivery by Netflix over its new 4K streaming service.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was on hand to talk about it. "We know that content creators are very excited about 4K because of the additional picture range they get to play with," he said. "All new original content from Netflix will be in 4K."

He added that Netflix's 4K service will require 15Mbps of in home bandwidth to watch HEVC-encoded video. "This is very practical," said Hastings. "You can 4K stream over W-iFi if you want to. It's testament to the work we've been doing on encoding and what Sony has been doing on decoding."

Other items of note: Sony's booth features two 4K projectors blended together to throw a life size video of soccer pitch; it trumpeted a new 4K handycam for the prosumer market costing $2,000; confirmed that YouTube's video decoder VP9 will be incorporated into new products in future; and teased that its F55 cameras were being used by Hulu to produce an original 4K TV series.

Samsung and LG: Connecting the Home

With sensors and chips in just about every piece of home electronics equipment vendors have begun vieing with each other to provide a universal means of connecting them all together.

Samsung launched the Smart Home platform to enable users to control and manage their home devices from refrigerators to smart TVs and digital cameras through a single application.

"This is the year of the internet of things," Samsung's North American president Gregory Lee told the press audience. "Everything come equipped with chips which are talking to each other."

He demonstrated an application of Samsung Smart Home in which a voice command of "goodnight" spoken via a smart TV remote control would turn off the TV and the lights. "Movie Mode" would dim the lights and turn up the volume for that cinematic experience.

As with all attempts to create a single platform unifying devices, the stumbling block is connecting technology from different manufacturers. Very few households come equipped as a purely Sony, Samsung, or Apple zone.

Consequently, initial deployment of Samsung Smart Home will focus on Samsung hardware but it plans to add other manufacturers’ devices and appliances provided they sign up to its software kit.

LG's version of in home connectivity is called Home Chat in which users can communicate with appliances via text messaging service Line. “With this partnership we are making LG HomeChat the most important internet of things service platform in the world,” overstated president and CTO Dr Skott Ahn.

Among Samsung’s other initatives are: the world’s largest curved UHD television, with a 105-inch screen and cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio; and a Bendable TV concept which can switch between a curved and flat screen at the touch of a button. It also introduced a new Multi-Link feature that brings contextual multitasking to the big screen, as well as a newly designed Smart Hub.

Panasonic: Redefining the TV

Julie Bauer, president of Panasonic's consumer division spoke of "redefining what a 21st century TV should be," saying "it should know what you and your family want to watch and guide you to content by facial and voice recognition."

That functionality is the core of a new range of Viera smart TVs, dubbed Life+Screen, which will arrive in 58-inch and 65-inch sizes to U.S. stores this year—in Ultra HD, naturally. An 85-inch 4K LED model is also planned and can be seen in prototype on the showfloor. Prices were not given.

Life+Screen will automatically wake from standby mode when it senses somebody nearby and will display information graphically such as the time, date and weather – a feature called Info Bar. Working with Panasonic’s cloud service, My Home Cloud, Life+Screen forms a network to share information and content with smartphones and PCs.

Sharp: Between HD and 4K

Sharp unveiled a new line of Aquos TVs, including what Sharp president John Herrington termed a "game changer."

According to Harrington, the Quattron Plus is designed to fill the gap between 1080p and 4K TVs with a 70-inch version being priced at $3,200, around half the price of 4K models. It will go on sale next month.

The Quattron+ technology doubles the vertical resolution of a HD set by chopping the existing pixels in half. Meanwhile, it uses an algorithm to double the horizontal resolution for everything but certain parts of an image.

Sharp says that the Quattron+ TVs 16 million subpixels compare to 6 million for HD. Ultra HD contains 24 million subpixels, it said.

The company also highlighted its Smart Central software, which includes a recommendation engine, cable, and streaming services.

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