The World's Best Smartphone Camera -- From Sony?

A new Android phone coming from Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) is rumored to have a camera capable of capturing 4K Ultra HD video. If you think your HD television picture looks sharp, then hold on to your eyeballs. Ultra HD has four times the resolution of HD.

That's 3840 x 2160 pixels, compared with 1920 x 1080 pixels. Go ahead; do the math.

But if you don't have an Ultra HD TV -- and it's much more likely you would have a 3D-TV than a 4K TV, given much higher set prices and limited 4K content -- would a smartphone with a 4K video camera be incentive enough to make the switch to a Sony phone from a Samsung, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , or HTC handset?

Or is that putting the cart before the horse? Selling more smartphones might not be Sony's real agenda. Since Sony also makes Ultra HD TVs, one might think the rationale behind a super camera enabled smartphone could be to boost its 4K television sales.

If so, wouldn't Samsung be getting ready with its own 4K-camera phone to promote its line of Ultra HD TVs?

With the current high prices for these state-of-the-art Ultra HD televisions, Sony and Samsung would need all the promotional help they could get. The cheapest is Sony's 55-inch model, which goes for $5,000. And one could buy a Toyota Prius for the price of its 84" model: $25,000.

But don't get off the floor just yet: Samsung's 85-inch Ultra HD set retails for $40,000. No kidding.

There's one more very important reason for Sony -- and Samsung, too -- to try to get ahead of the Ultra HD curve with a 4K smartphone camera. The UHD standards are not yet set in stone, and the company that can garner the most UHD sales could influence the future definitive 4K standard.

That means getting as many consumers as possible hooked on a company's 4K standard as early as possible. When it comes to setting technical standards, it's often the most popular standard that wins out, not necessarily the one that is technically superior.

Remember, Betamax vs, VHS? Sony's Betamax format supposedly yielded a better picture, yet because of lower prices on VHS records and the ability to record longer programs, the VHS standard was triumphant.

With the success of such 3-D movies as Avatar, the TV makers could be excused for thinking 3-D TV would be the next big thing. That hasn't happened, and Samsung has admitted that 3-D TV sales in 2012 were a big disappointment.

Along with the higher cost for 3-D TVs came poorer picture quality and the necessity for special viewing glasses. The format may not just disappear, but it will remain only a novelty.

What has proved to be a winner for TV makers -- though not for cable TV providers -- are so-called "smart" TVs, those that can be connected to the Internet to stream video. And streaming will likely become the most viable delivery system for UHD programming.

Neil Hunt, Netflix's (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) chief product officer, told The Verge in an interview last March that Netflix will start streaming 4K content "within a year or two."

I think Hunt is very serious about this. Netflix shot its very first original production, House of Cards, in 4K, at a cost of over $100 million. The Netflix revival of Arrested Development was also shot in 4K.

Meanwhile, returning to Sony's 4K future: At the beginning of the year, it said it would have a U.S. launch of the first consumer oriented 4K video distribution service sometime in the summer.

But Sony and Netflix and all the other would be 4K distributors have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The amount of information that Ultra HD requires to be pushed through Internet service providers' pipes may prove too much for them to handle, at least in the near term. How does a 100GB-plus download for a typical movie sound?

So, in the meantime, getting consumers to shoot their own 4K productions on a Sony 4K camera equipped smartphone may be the company's best -- if not only -- selling point for their Ultra HD TV sets. At least for now.

There is no question that the television landscape is changing quickly, and not just for the television set makers. Streaming content from entrants such as Netflix and Amazon.com have disrupted traditional networks and the cable operators. The Motley Fool's new free report "Who Will Own the Future of Television?" details the risks and opportunities in TV. Click here to read the full report!


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