With every advancement in TV resolution--from 480 to 1080 and now to 4K--comes the inevitable question, "Where's the content to go with it?" Given that many TV manufacturers are already on their third generation of 4K Ultra HD TVs and 4K content options are still pretty light, it's fair to say that the Ultra HD rollout has hardly been a revolution.
Yes, some 4K content is available through streaming/download services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and M-Go, but the catalogs aren't extensive, nor do they include big-ticket new film releases. These streams are highly compressed, and the quality is highly dependent on your broadband service. The best news is that Blu-Ray Disc Association recently completed the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec and is making it available to manufacturers this summer, so we might actually see Ultra HD Blu-ray players on the market by the holiday season. Of course, we have no idea yet how much those players will cost.
In the meantime, there's Sony FMP-X10 4K media server ($699.99). The FMP-X10 has actually been on the market for some time, but it was originally locked down to only work with Sony's 4K TVs. Now Sony has opened up the platform to be compatible with any 4K TV or projector that has HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, making it a more viable option for a wider array of shoppers.
The FMP-X10 has a 1TB hard drive, to which you can directly download 4K movies and TV shows from Sony's Video Unlimited 4K store, as well as import personal video and music files (including hi-res WAV and FLAC files). The benefit of the download approach for 4K, as opposed to streaming, is that the file doesn't have to be compressed as much, which should allow for better picture quality. Did that prove to be the case? Let's find out.
The FMP-X10 has a fairly small form factor, measuring about 10 by 10 by 2 inches. It's bigger than the typical streaming media player from Apple or Roku, but smaller than your average Blu-ray player. The cabinet has a two-toned finish, with the bottom being a basic matte black and the top being glossy black. The front panel shows only a Sony logo and a glowing white power light in the center; a flip down panel along the bottom reveals, to the left, the power button and, to the right, a reset button and one of the device's two USB 2.0 inputs--this one is specifically for accessing video and music files via a USB thumb drive.
The back panel features two HDMI outputs: one is an HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 copy protection to pass video and audio to a compatible TV, AV receiver, or other switching device. The second one is actually crucial in these early days of the Ultra HD transition; it's an audio-only HDMI 2.0 port. If you own an older AV preamp or receiver that lacks HDCP 2.2 support, you can use this HDMI output to send audio to your electronics while using the main HDMI AV port to send video to your HDCP 2.2 display. This is exactly how manufacturers handled 3D support in its earliest days, and I suspect we'll see much the same solution in the first crop of Ultra HD Blu-ray players to ensure compatibility with the widest range of AV receivers and preamps.
The back panel also has an Ethernet port for a wired network connection, or you can use the built-in dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. I went the wired route, since my router sits just below my gear rack. Around back you'll also find the second USB 2.0 port, which allows for the connection of a USB hard drive; you can use this port to expand the internal hard drive's storage and actually transfer downloaded, copy-protected content to be stored on your secondary drive. (The front USB port only allows for playback and transfer of non-copy-protected files.)
The FMP-X10 lacks RS-232 and IR ports for integration into a more advanced control system, but it does support IP control.
The supplied remote is a petite little number that measures about six by two inches and has a simple, intuitive button layout. Unfortunately, the remote lacks backlighting, but the simplicity of the design and the limited number of buttons makes it easier to use in the dark. The remote has TV volume, input, and power buttons to control your Sony TV but cannot be programmed to control TVs from other manufacturers.
I tested the FMP-X10 with two different display devices: first, with the Sony VPL-HW350ES 4K projector and then with the Samsung UN65HU8550 UHD TV. If you try connecting the FMP-X10 to an HDMI input that lacks HDCP 2.2 copy protection, you will see an onscreen error message that says, "The TV's HDMI port is not compatible with your 4K Media Player. Please make sure the player is connected to an HDCP 2.2 compatible HDMI port." It's nice that Sony gives you an explanatory message as opposed to just getting no picture at all. In trying to connect the X10 to my displays, I learned that only the VPL-HW350ES's HDMI 2 port has HDCP 2.2. On the Samsung TV, only the HDMI 3 port has it.
I connected the player's HDMI 2 output to my Harman Kardon AVR 3700 receiver to pass multichannel audio; the FMP-X10 supports output of Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and multichannel PCM. For this type of setup, you have to designate in the Settings menu that you want audio to go out through HDMI 2. You can also choose whether the audio is output as bitstream (to be decoded by your receiver) or as PCM (internally decoded by the player), with options to downmix multichannel tracks to stereo and adjust the AV lip sync.
Once you've made the necessary physical connections, it's time to set up the player via the onscreen menu. Initial setup is quick and easy; however, before you can browse and buy/rent any content from Sony's store, you must head over to your computer or mobile device and create an online account for the Sony Entertainment Network. Here you will input a credit card and designate a PIN that you must enter each time you order a title. Then you come back to the FMP-X10, enter your user name and password, and you're all set.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...