Sony is to launch a consumer Blu-ray player in Europe this summer, claiming the same device was an overwhelming success in Japan, where it was launched last year.

Sales figures it cited today suggest that rival high-definition format HD-DVD has been marginalised, with Blu-ray accounting for more than 95 percent of the player/recorder market in Japan, the test market for HD devices.

Sony is one of around 140 parties – from hardware manufacturers such as consumer electronics makers and storage media companies to film studios – that have committed to Blu-ray as the high-definition format of choice.

Seven of the eight Hollywood studios have thrown their weight behind Blu-ray and Sony says that of the top 20 DVD releases in the US last year, all 20 were launched on the Blu-ray format while only four were also sold as HD-DVD discs.

Sony also says that Blu-ray has a 67.7 percent market share in the US – excluding sales of games consoles such as its PlayStation 3 (PS3) or Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

The BDP-S1E Blu-ray player is one of several devices that Sony demonstrated to European press delegates at the Sony Media Experience in Rhodes today that will play back films encoded at their ‘true’ speed of 24fps (frames per second). Pricing and a launch date for the BDP-S1E have yet to be announced.

Consumers demonstrating brand loyalty and choosing a Sony Blu-ray player or a PS3 along with one of its new Bravia screens will be able to switch on all of the devices and start film playback with a single press of a remote control. Sony said up to seven operations are normally required to bring different devices out of standby and to adjust the volume of whichever device is not needed to provide the audio.

Screen test

Sony said that until now Hollywood films have been shot at 24fps but that the constraints of 50Hz PAL playback have meant that when authored for commercial DVD release, there has been a 4 percent loss of pitch and length. This, it is claimed, will no longer be necessary – as long as consumers are viewing DVD content on a true HD screen such as its Bravia range connected via HDMI.

Along with larger panels in sizes up to 70in, Sony demonstrated a prototype of a Bravia-branded HD screen that has a built-in high-definition tuner. This will support ABC HD (Mpeg 4) as well as Mpeg 2 and standard definition content. Pricing and a potential UK launch schedule have yet to be decided.

However, additions to its S and R series Bravia screens from 36in up to 46in are set to launch in Europe in June or July. Its three new 100MHz models will all be 24p ‘true cinema’ models with three HDMI connectors and a special theatre mode that removes some of the gloss and adds depth to scenes. A MotionFlow feature will also make film playback less jerky.

Colour breakthrough

In a demonstration of Blu-ray products including its latest Bravia screens, new Handycam digital video recorders and the new Blu-ray player, Sony showed off a wider colour gamut than has previously been possible for imaging products to display. Until now, the colour spectrum has been limited to that a CRT (cathode ray tube) setup covered. Last year, however, a standard known as 'xvYCC' was agreed. This supports a wider spectrum and displays colours closer to those perceived by the human eye.

Sony’s take on xvYCC is known as ‘xv Color’. As yet, only Sony and Toshiba have announced their intention to make xvYCC products. With xv Color, Sony says, “actual colours can be reproduced”.

In the past, manufacturers such as Sony and Toshiba have been at pains to demonstrate the exceptionally rich reds, blacks and greens their LCD panels can produce – a processed effect that Sony terms ‘live colour creation’. Now, it seems, ‘colour realism’ is where it’s at and it is changing tack from “over-processed” displays “that can go too far” in their quest to provide vibrant colour. Sony went so far as to use last year’s Bravia TVs to show what can happen when a TV signal adds more colour than was in the original subject to an image.