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Sony to launch 4K video distribution system this summer

Sony promises to accompany its launch of smaller-size 4K TVs with actual 4K content, among the first of its kind available to the public.

In addition to a dedicated 4K distribution system this summer, Sony will release 4K Mastered Blu-rays in spring. Sony Home Video

LAS VEGAS--One of the big problems with 4K TVs right now, aside from the fact that it's tough to discern any benefit from their extra resolution, is lack of content. Sony, alone among TV or content providers so far, actually aims to tackle that issue around the same time it launches its full line of 4K TVs later this year.

This summer the company will set up a dedicated video distribution service to deliver 4K content to the home, complete with a hardware 4K Video Player that can feed the TVs directly.

Currently buyers who pony up $25K for the company's 84-inch 4K TV are "loaned" a video player (essentially a big hard drive) pre-loaded with 4K video content, including ten feature films and a gallery of video shorts. But this is the first we've heard of a 4K delivery system and presumably it will offer access to significantly more 4K content, without the kludgy BD-ROM delivery method required to update content on the loaner player.

In addition, Sony also announced a few Blu-ray discs newly remastered in 4K. Crucially, however, these won't be actual 4K Blu-rays -- they'll have normal 1080p resolution, and be playable by any normal Blu-ray player to any HDTV.

Pricing for the 4K video player, the 4K content it would play, and the 4K-mastered discs was not disclosed, but it's safe to say none of it will be cheap. I also asked about delivery methods; hardware details; whether the content would be stored locally or streamed; compatibility with other devices; output formats; and whether content would be rented, owned or both. I was given no additional information beyond the company's press release:

The X series of 4K LED TVs will be available in spring 2013 at Sony Stores and select electronics retailers nationwide. Also available in spring will be a lineup of Mastered in 4K Blu-ray discs from Sony Pictures' ColorWorks Studio. The first titles to be available are "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Taxi Driver." Sourced from pristine 4K masters and presented at high-bit-rate, full HD resolution, these discs showcase more of the wide range of rich color contained in the original source content. When upscaled via the Sony 4K Ultra HD LED TVs, these discs serve as an ideal way for consumers to experience near-4K picture quality.

Sony's commitment to bring 4K content to the home does not stop there: launching this summer will be the first 4K Ultra HD Video distribution service in the U.S. Consumers will be able to enjoy native 4K content such as feature-length movies from Sony Pictures as well as other productions with stunning picture and sound. At that time Sony will also introduce a dedicated 4K Media Player to bring this service to the home.

To my knowledge Sony's service will be the only way owners of 4K TVs (Sony or otherwise) will be able to view actual 4K content in the home, save that "loaner" and at least one minor exception. Given that a 4K Blu-ray standard has yet to be adopted; that there's no 4K broadcast standard yet for over-the-air, cable, or satellite delivery; and that there isn't even an official HDMI standard that supports the resolution, Sony's service will arrive remarkably early.

Hopefully we'll be given further details later at the show.