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It's 4K-ing big right now, but it's NOT going to save TV

High-res revs? You spoke too soon, screen giants

CES 2015 With CES in full swing, the industry’s favourite buzzword is cropping up all over the show floor and in the headlines. But the surveys and reports that are emerging still aren’t painting a picture of 4K’s success on the sales floor, as two datasets show that 4K has still yet to take off.

Both Futuresource Consulting and the CEA have released figures that do little to assuage the notion that the 4K marketing hype-train was released from the station too early – where it met an uninterested public, which was still getting its head around 1080p’s improved picture quality, and which baulked at the price tag.

The rapidly shrinking prices of 4K TV sets seem to confirm Faultline’s opinion that 4K will simply become a standard feature, and was only ever a USP (unique selling point) to a very small segment of the TV marketplace – given the high prices/lack of value in picture quality improvement, and the lack of content. Certainly, 4K is looking less and less like the next big thing.

Nonetheless, the CEA’s new study, "4K Ultra HD Update: Consumer Adoption and Awareness", declares that it “underscores the marketplace growth and momentum for 4K UHD.”

Faultline contends that the following statistics do not align with what the marketers evidently expected when they began pushing 4K sets in 2013 – more a damp squib than a roaring success.

The CEA’s study finds that “33 per cent of consumers may purchase a 4K Ultra-High Definition TV within the next three years.” Let that sink in.

Now for smart TVs, which are now becoming the norm rather than the exception, where the CEA found that “44 per cent of consumers indicate that they are likely to purchase a smart or internet-enabled TV in the next three years.”

We can almost rest our case on the 4K projection, but it’s worth noting that the smart TV projection ties in rather well with the seven-year refresh rate – meaning that the 44 per cent prediction is merely reflective of people buying new TVs to replace old ones and ending up with a smart TV because that’s the only kind sold.

And just to drive the 4K point home a little more, we turn to look at the resolution size, all those stunning extra pixels that are vaunted as the epitome of the TV viewing experience. Well according to the CEA, “when considering the top features that will drive their next TV purchase, 27 per cent ranked 4K UHD capability as the second most important feature, followed by picture quality on 24 per cent.” Unsurprisingly, the most pressing concern was price, which was the prime consideration of 54 per cent of respondents.

Given these figures, it’s worth asking whether the CEA spokes-people had actually read the results. As CEA president Gary Shapiro said, “4K UHD is the future, and the future is now. Consumers recognize that 4K Ultra HD is the next step forward, with new technologies and features being added by manufacturers that help improve the already outstanding picture quality and viewing experience.”

Shapiro seems to shoot himself in the foot there, with the admission that the current crop of 1080p content is outstanding. We can take him to task for his declaration that 4K’s future is now, given that only 33 per cent of respondents might have purchased a 4K panel by 2018, but the greater issue remains the supply of content. The CEA points to internet-enabled TVs that will supply 4K video, but the last-mile connection is still a bottleneck for the overwhelming majority of consumers (of whom only 33 per cent may purchase a 4K set), and physical media hasn’t yet caught up with the file sizes of 4K content.

Figures from Futuresource Consulting support this rather under-whelming outlook. It notes that shipments of 4K sets hit 11.6 million in 2014, up 700 per cent compared to 2013. But that percentage growth likely won’t repeat in 2015, and one country (China) accounts for 70 per cent of that total. Futuresource’s David Tett said “4K adoption is forecast to grow quickly from 2015 onwards, with over 100 million shipments projected in 2018, representing 38 per cent of the total TV market.”

Tett also added that “an indication that 4K is quickly becoming mainstream was the availability of many sets at discounted prices during last month’s Black Friday.” Not to be too abrasive, but it’s hard to find TV sets that aren’t discounted on Black Friday, and to get a little more cynical, the holiday season is often used to offload stock that has failed to live up to expectations.

If you asked the question “What’s going to grow/save the revenues/profits of TV manufacturers over the next three years?” your answer would have to be “4K or nothing,” but the likely outcome is “nothing.”

Copyright © 2015, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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