Strange but interesting tech is one of the reasons I enjoy going to CES so much and the Sony MT500 and MT300 sound bars do not disappoint in that area while not being too far fetched or impractical either. From a distance, both units are exactly what you’d expect, a 2.1 sound bar with a host of features like Bluetooth for wireless music streaming from your iOS/Android device and NFC for easy pairing.
Between the two, many of the features and technical specifications are identical like power (currently no documentation on exact power output) and color options which includes black and white, though I’m sure Sony will have something fancier in mind for them once they’re officially released. Where things differ between the two is in their brains or smart functionality that they provide. According to Sony:
At CES 2016, the big question for Sony was why their fleet lacked supported for any initiative coming out of Dolby, namely Dolby Vision HDR in TVs and Dolby Atmos in their receives and sound bars. This year, Sony answered critics by unveiling the A1E OLED and X930/940E series with Dolby Vision HDR and the HT-ST5000 sound bar with Dolby Atmos support.
As I learned, with Dolby Atmos, we have a new way of looking at sound and to that point, the sound bar is a 7.1.2 system with the latter two numbers indicating sound that’s coming from above. With a proper sound system and receiver, the .2 can actually be expanded to beyond that number and actual speakers would be placed in your ceiling where with a sound bar, that sound is simulated. In the case of the HT-ST5000, the impressive thing Sony has done is to put speakers on its end and have them fire off into the ceiling which will ultimately bounce back the sound.
For techies like you and me, terminology like OLED, 4K, 4K HDR, Dolby Vision, and so on make sense. However, for the vast majority of consumers who make up the vast majority of purchases, a lot of the terms at best have no meaning behind them and at worst, make the whole purchasing experience far worse and confusing. Not understanding the new tech and their advancements is also a big negative for companies like Sony who are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to create what they feel like are improvements to the typical TV experience which, when ignored by the general public will result in little excitement for their product and in turn, decrease reasons to upgrade.
Here is Sony CEO Kaz Hirai when speaking to the BBC:
The more I talk with Sony engineers and trainers, the more impressed I become with what they’ve achieved with their first true foray into consumer OLED with the 4K HDR A1E. Though this video isn’t a deep dive into the technology powering their OLED TV, it gives you a brief overview of what you can expect from it as well as what kind of upcoming pieces I’ll be working on.
If you’re wondering what sets this OLED apart from others, in short, it’s Sony’s X1 Extreme chip and their innovative speaker technology.
One of my favorite things during the past three years at CES has been to see Sony’s Life Space UX progress. The idea behind this division is to imagine without the normal constraints of what our technologies can be. Sometimes this will lead to actual products and other times, what they’ve learned or bits and pieces of the technology will find themselves in other products.
The most amazing of these products is easily the 4K Ultra Short Throw projector which can sit just inches away from the wall and produce one of the most stunning pictures in sizes well over 100-inches. This indeed materialized into a real product though it’s priced out of most people’s range with it coming at somewhere north of $50K. To that end, Sony this year is demo-ing a version of that projector in a much smaller form factor with some additional enhancements as you’ll see that can really blend the TV into your home decor.
Alongside their drool-worthy 4K OLED TV, the XBR-A1E, Sony also updated their consumer flagship series, the X930E (55- and 65-inch) and the X940E (75-inch). I refer to that as the consumer series because though ticking off everything on most people’s want list, it’s still affordable enough where as with the A1E and Z9 series, you likely can either afford it or you can’t.
So what’s new with the E series compared to the 930/940D? Only a handful of things but each of those changes will have a profound impact on the TV experience. Here is a video preview.
Though not surprising, much to the delight of physical media fans, Sony unveiled the UBP-X800 4K UHD Blu-ray player. As the name suggests, unlike traditional Blu-ray players, this unit can play back 4K as well as 4K HDR10 films. In addition to physical media, like the PS4 Pro, the Sony X800 will have access to 4K streaming through various apps. Here’s a short video preview.
Between all the things that were and weren’t announced by Sony at CES, the biggest news of them all is easily their entry into the 4K OLED market – and they’re not going at it in a small way or in the form of a prototype that will eventually/hopefully materialize into a real product.
What Sony instead showed with the XBR-A1E was a fully-functioning 4K OLED TV that will be shipping in Spring 2017, but before I write a more in-depth piece on the gorgeous TV, here is a video preview.
Sony has had a very on-again, off-again relationship with OLED TVs. Though today OLED TVs are primarily dominated by LG, Sony was actually first at providing a consumer model, the XEL-1 (pictured above). Released in 2007, the XEL-1 came in at 11-inches and carried a $2,500 price so it’s no surprise that it didn’t catch on. From there, Sony has teased us with OLED prototypes at CES but we’ve never seen the company really put its weight behind them. In fact, you can argue that by pushing the boundaries of their 4K TVs with bolder colors and darker blacks, Sony has tried their best to make the need for OLED TVs moot.
But if the latest news is to be believed, Sony is not only getting into the OLED business, but is getting into it a very big way with two models that come at fairly affordable prices.
Two TV news in one day usually only happens around CES time but unfortunately, neither are particularly good. First, there is the case of LG 4K TVs not playing nice with PS4 Pro though a fix appears to be around the corner and now, there is news that PS4 Pro also doesn’t play nice with Sony’s own 4K TVs. As for the problem, Owen Hughes from IBT notes that Reddit user GivingCreditWhereDue, who originally reported the matter, wrote:
Sony’s 2016 Bravia line is ill-equipped to handle 4K gaming, as their flagship models have really high levels of input latency. Sony advertises their x930D Bravia model as best fit for the PS4 Pro, but users who actually have it face a severe disadvantage when it comes to competitive and even casual games like Battlefield.
But the real problem here isn’t the issue gamers are having with Sony TVs and the PS4 Pro but an apparent censorship on the matter from Sony.
When the PS4 Pro was announced in September, some were miffed by Sony’s decision to exclude a 4K Blu-ray drive. I had then written a fairly extensive piece on why the PS4 Pro didn’t need such a drive (which would only add to its price) and that streaming was/is the future of 4K adoption. Now, What Hi-Fi?, the mega home theater site, has weighed in on the topic though not directly stating there is a lack of need for the PS4 Pro to have a 4K drive or speaking out against 4K Blu-ray drives in general. Instead, they’ve given their Netflix 4K review. What Hi-Fi? writes:
But there’s a stack of 4K content available right now, from Breaking Bad to House of Cards, and more will inevitably follow.
In terms of content – bespoke content in particular – Netflix distances itself from any nominal competition.
And if you have an HDR (High Dynamic Range) compatible TV, there’s some HDR content on Netflix too. It’s not immediately obvious, as there isn’t an HDR section anywhere in the menus, but if you type HDR into the search box you’ll find a list of HDR content such as Bloodline, Marco Polo and Marvel’s Daredevil. You’ll see an HDR or Dolby Vision logo on relevant material.
Unveiled at CES 2016, the X930D (55- and 65-inch) and the X940D (75-inch) were the newest flagship 4K HDR TVs from Sony. In just the past month, Sony has also unveiled their ZD9 series which goes beyond flagship status in my opinion and is reserved for those with cash to throw around. As for everybody else, when considering a flagship TV from Sony, chances are, it will be the X930D and for Samsung fans, it’s the KS9500.
So how do the two TVs compare?
While the Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact are the two most noteworthy products from Sony’s IFA keynote, the company managed to sneak in a surprise as well – a 4K Blu-ray player. I had previously predicted that Sony would announce a fully finished product at IFA but alas, that’s not the case. Instead, what Sony provided was a prototype 4K Blu-ray player in a glass housing.
Remember Ultra? Sony’s 4K streaming service? I wouldn’t fault you if you don’t. After all, Sony, in addition to Ultra which is exclusive to 4K devices, also offers PlayStation Video, Crackle, and supports the terrible mess that’s UltraViolet. Well, now in addition to being able to purchase films through the streaming service that still doesn’t have its own portal to give you more info about it, despite having launched in April, you’ll now be able to rent movies as well. And it’s coming to PC.
Some news for those of you with a 4K TV. Over the weekend, DirecTV aired the World Series of Volleyball in 4K. Though the event has already passed, reruns of it will be airing on their dedicated 4K channel (106). As I’ve touched upon in a few different pieces, finding 4K content can be especially hard so it’s nice to see some kind of timely content on air.