Sony Starts Up 4K Ultra HD/HDR Streaming Service

Sony Pictures Store Interface
Sony Pictures Store Interface. Image provided by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Sony Electronics

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Sony Electronics have teamed up on a streaming service that provides owners of Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs equipped with the Android TV operating platform access to 4K Ultra HD movies. This service also includes (for compatible TVs) movies that feature HDR-encoding.

On the positive side of this pairing, Sony joins Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu in offering consumers an increasing amount of streamable video content available with the benefits that 4K resolution (image detail) and HDR-encoding (wider contrast range and brightness) offer.

However, Sony's plan has a catch. Although movies are streamed from the Cloud, they are only available (at least initially) via purchase starting at $30 each.

On the one hand, Cloud storage eliminates the need for download time and large hard drive storage capacity on the user end. On the other hand, with Sony's plan there is no one-time rental, or monthly subscription fee option. You want to watch a 4K UItra HD/HDR movie? You have to buy it.

However, once purchased, the films can be streamed at any time, with no expiration dates (as long as they remain in the Cloud), and the price of purchase also includes access to Ultraviolet digital copies for playback on portable and mobile devices (minus the 4K resolution and HDR encoding).

The initial crop of the 4K Ultra HD-HDR film titles included Concussion, The Night Before, and The Walk, as well as remastered films from Sony's library including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the original Ghostbusters.

Also, as more titles, become available, consumers that own previous non-4K/non-hdr digitally-purchased titles, will be able to upgrade to the latest versions at a discounted price (TBD).

The official launch date for the streaming service (labeled ULTRA) was April 4, 2016, and appeared in a section added to the Sony Pictures Store.

The Mixed Messages

With the advent of the ULTRA service, Sony is definitely trying to position itself as a competitor with the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format, which requires the purchase of a new player and discs.

On the other hand, Sony is also sending out mixed messages, as at the same time they are moving ahead with the streaming end of things, Sony Home Entertainment is also releasing movie and video content on Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, but has not joined Samsung, Panasonic, and Philips in releasing Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players.

My Take

Although streaming is a convenient way to access video content, paying $30 for a movie that is only accessible via the cloud, and, in reality, is still owned by the studios. In other words, there is no guarantee that your cloud-stored movie will be available forever.

Although I like the ability to stream movies via a Netflix-style monthly subscription fee for casual viewing, if I want to purchase a movie for my collection, I prefer having something physically tangible that I can put on my shelf and enjoy at any time without connection to the internet, where the quality is dependent on my broadband access speed (Sony recommends at least 15mbps, with 20mbps being desirable), monthly data caps, or other internet service provider-based issues.