First announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s (SPHE) new 4K streaming service Ultra will launch April 4, available on Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs, with UltraViolet-enabled films available for purchase for $30 each.
While those details about Ultra were shared with everyone by SPHE and Sony Electronics March 29, Jake Winett, VP of consumer services and advanced platforms for SPHE, has offered up a few surprising insights into the service, in an interview with the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA).
Winett shared with MESA that many Ultra titles will be formatted in HDR 10, the baseline high dynamic range standard supported by today’s 4K TV sets; shared pricing details for owners of digital content looking to upgrade their Sony movies to 4K; and touted unique digital bonus features for Ultra users.
MESA: What were the challenges in getting Ultra up and running?
Winett: There are always challenges when you’re doing something that’s new, and there are a lot of moving pieces to this, especially as we triangulate around [offering] something that looks really good, showcases 4K content — especially the HDR — in a streaming service, and the digital extras that [have been] reimagined for the 10-foot experience. Putting all of those things together certainly had its challenges, but we’re looking good so far for Monday [April 4].
MESA: For the digital extras, are we going to see the same bonuses as those available on SPHE’s Ultra High-Def Blu-ray Discs?
Winett: Consumers can expect more or less a parity experience. I would say the one differentiator with digital is that we can be a little more dynamic with the content, with [the ability to add] additional content that becomes available to an extras package down the line, whereas with a disc it’s fixed. We also have a feature that will come with some movies, coming a little bit later after launch, [one] which adds a fun layer of interactivity. While someone is watching the movie they can get an indication that there’s a [bonus] specific [to a] piece of content. That can be a bit of trivia, it can be a digital effects deconstruction scene, things like that. We think that will be interesting for consumers.
MESA: We’ve gotten an initial list of films for Ultra. Can you share how many we can expect by the end of the year? And is there any chance we could see Ultra expand beyond content from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment?
Winett: We certainly intend to expand the [number of] title[s] by the end of the year, but I can’t comment on a specific number of titles. It depends on a few factors, especially when it comes to catalog. Those are going through a remastering process and are on their own timeline. We expect to have … a decent amount of titles by the end of the year, with a lot of exciting new releases. In terms of expanding beyond Sony, no comments at this time, but we would certainly like to make Ultra available to as many users as we can.
MESA: Sony was one of the initial backers of UltraViolet. How important was it to make this service UltraViolet-enabled?
Winett: Very important to us. We believe that consumers like choice, and don’t like to be locked into a particular silo, within a particular service. It was important that we made Ultra compatible with UltraViolet, and as a new service for consumers, to give them additional value. They can turn on Ultra, and already have titles in their library they can watch, or even upgrade to in 4K.
MESA: Along those lines, detail how consumers can upgrade HD content they already own to 4K with Ultra.
Winett: For Sony Pictures titles they already have in their library, SD or HD, depending on what they purchased previously, when a 4K HDR version of that movie is available within Ultra, when they go into that particular title … there will be an upgrade option. For $12, upgrading from HD to 4K, they’ll get the highest quality possible, and be able to stream [4K] with a single transaction.
MESA: Are there any concerns that Ultra’s 4K offering will put too much pressure on consumers’ broadband in the home?
Winett: Obviously other services like Netflix, Amazon and Vudu have all launched 4K streaming, and this is something consumers are starting to look for and expect. We‘re seeing a trend where consumers are upgrading their home bandwidth. Ten years ago, consumers had DSL and maybe 4-5 Mbps. Now it’s pretty common for consumers to have 15, 50, or even 100 Mbps in some cases. We think this fits in really well with that trend, with consumers who do have a decent connection into the home. With even a modest connection of say 20 Mbps, consumers are going to get a really great 4K streaming experience. We did our encoding in such a way where we think we’re going to hit that sweet spot, and make it accessible to a lot of consumers.