Media

Sony’s 4K movie service coming to PS4, but 100GB downloads remind us why 4K is a waste

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The upcoming PlayStation 4 could serve as one of your first gateways to 4K video content — just as the PlayStation 3 helped bring Blu-rays to the living room, and the PlayStation 2 did the same with DVDs.

Sony Electronics president and chief operating officer Phil Molyneux (above) hinted that the 4K service would make its way to the PS4 in an interview with the Verge last night. While it’s not exactly a confirmation, we can’t imagine Sony would keep a flagship video service off of its much-hyped new console. Molyneux announced Sony’s intention to create the first 4K distribution service at CES back in January.

4K offers four times the resolution of 1080p HD video, which is currently the highest resolution supported by TVs and Blu-rays today. The technology was one of the stars of CES — likely because the industry seems ready to move on from promoting 3D in the home. Broadcom announced a 4K gateway chip at CES that could make it easy for devices to manage massive 4K data streams.

Sony has already confirmed that the PS4 supports 4K resolution videos and photos, so the announcement doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

What is surprising, though, is how Sony is approaching the service. According to Molyneux, 4K movies will be around 100 gigabytes in size, depending on their length. In comparison, 1080p HD videos streamed via Netflix and iTunes are typically around 4 GB to 8 GB. He told the Verge that huge file sizes and typical broadband speed are “challenges that we have to work through. … We’ve got some very good ideas that will make that a comfortable consumer experience.”

He could be referring to overnight downloads for the 4K movie service, which the PlayStation 3 already offers when downloading large games. But that’s still a significant difference from the instant access consumers are expecting with services like Netflix and iTunes. A 100 GB download could take eight to 12 hours to download, and it could also quickly eat up your ISP’s bandwidth cap. It’s even less convenient than hopping in the car and finding a Redbox kiosk.

Perhaps Sony will come up with some method to alleviate the huge downloads. Molyneux said that work on new compression was in “active progress.” But even then, you’ll likely be looking at files around 50 GB to 70 GB.

I can’t imagine consumers will suffer through such an arduous process to view 4K video, especially when its benefits are difficult to see on TVs smaller than 60- to 80-inches. So not only will you need to buy a new TV to watch 4K content, it’ll also have to be somewhat massive (unless you opt for a projector setup). That’s why Samsung is so focused on its 85-inch and 110-inch 4K TV sets.

4K content certainly looks great, from what I’ve seen. But given that most people can’t even see the difference between 720p HD and 1080p on typical TV sets, 4K seems destined to be ignored by consumers. The headache around Sony’s 4K service certainly won’t help.

Photo: Dean Takahashi/VentureBeat

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