Sales of UHD TV sets that support 4K resolutions have grown steadily over the past year, as has support for the new video formats among studios, OTT services and traditional service providers and broadcasters – albeit more slowly than the hardware – and now UHD Blu-ray players and discs are available to consumers. Both Roku and Amazon released UHD-supporting net-top boxes (NTBs) last year. Apple, notably, did not. But now that game console makers Sony and Microsoft are gearing up to release new generations of their powerful gaming consoles, and Microsoft’s new consoles appear to have the upper hand, offering 4K and HDR features, a first for the world of OTT devices.
Microsoft’s New Xbox One S and Project Scorpio
Microsoft unveiled its two new consoles at E3 earlier this year: a slim form factor Xbox One S, which became available in August for $300; and Project Scorpio, a new console with 8 cores, 320GB of memory, and six teraflop GPU that will deliver what Microsoft said will be the first uncompressed 4K gaming experience. Both new consoles support UHD 4K resolutions, HDR, and 60 frames per second; and it has an Ultra HD Blu-ray player built in. That makes Project Scorpio and the Xbox One S the end all of home entertainment devices.
The Xbox One S, which was released only as a limited edition model, sold out very quickly in all the markets it was made available in. “We are seeing overwhelming, unprecedented demand,” said Aaron Greenburg, head of Xbox Games marketing, in an interview with MCV.
The Xbox One S box has received some early rave reviews. Forbes contributor Jon Archer had nothing but praise for the box, in a review published last week. “I consider the Xbox One S to be a truly exciting, forward-facing bit of kit. One that significantly improves the gaming experience, brings consoles up to speed with TVs,” he said, listing its UHD support and its support of HDR as the top features. Add in its support for Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, and the One Guide which Xbox first debuted on the Xbox One, and you’ve got four impressive NTB features aimed squarely at the TV viewing experience.
Incidentally, Xbox One sales seem to be doing pretty well. The NPD Group named Xbox One the top selling console in the US in July, and it became the top selling console in the UK a few weeks later.
Sony’s current console, the PlayStation 4, already supports from 4K gaming features, but lacks many TV-centric features that Xbox offers. Still, Sony is definitely vying for space as a home entertainment device: its Internet TV service PlayStation Vue, which offers a number of streaming TV tiers, was first made available only on the PS4, though Sony has since expanded the device reach of the service.
Update: Sony this week announced its much more powerful and much anticipated PlayStation 4 Pro, which is capable of 4K and HDR. Priced at $399, it has a new GPU and CPU plus a very large 1 TB hard drive. It’s also compatible with Sony’s virtual reality headset that’ll sell for $399 when it launches in mid-October. The $800 price for the pair is one of the more affordable, high-end platforms.
Roku Is Working on HDR NTBs
Roku is also reportedly working on new versions of its NTBs that’ll support UHD content, including HDR, according to information obtained by ZatzNotFunny.
Roku is working on three new NTBs: the Roku Premiere, which will support 4K resolution; the Roku Premiere Plus which will support 4K and HDR; and the Roku Ultra, which will support 4K, HDR, and a suite of other features, such as a remote control finder, and a USB slot for accessing personal media on the NTB. The new boxes are expected to arrive in time for the holiday shopping season.
Roku also offers a smart TV operating system program with around 60 TV maker partners. At the start of the year, Roku introduced a new HDR reference design to incorporate into its line of UHD TVs running Roku software. Roku’s line of UHD HDR TV sets will support Dolby Vision and HDR 10. Chinese set maker TCL was the first TV partner to release a Roku TV with UHD HDR.
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Feature image courtesy Microsoft Xbox.