by Andy Patrizio
Despite costing as much as a new car, 4K by 2K resolution TV sets will hit the ground running and consumers worldwide will buy more than 500,000 devices this year, according to NPD DisplaySearch. That number will reach seven million units by 2016, with most of it in China, Japan and western Europe. The U.S. still needs a few years before it gets on board that train.
The reason, interestingly enough, is not technological so much as it is cultural, explains Paul Gray, director of TV electronics research for NPD DisplaySearch.
“A big screen TV has always been a sign you made it and has always been a high status thing in China. So in China, people will spend more of a proportion of their income on TV than anywhere else in the world,” he said.
He added that in China, homes are small and they don’t spend money on much else. During the days of CRT TVs, China was almost equal with the U.S. on bigger tubes, the 29″ and 32″ sets. And when projection TVs were popular, China also spent a lot of money on those.
The new TV technology is called 4K, 4K x 2K or sometimes Ultra High-Definition, as a measure of its resolution: 3840×2048 pixels per inch. High definition TV and Blu-Ray DVD is 1920×1080. The new TVs were on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, but their hefty price tag – averaging $25,000 – were unappealing to the majority of consumers, especially with HDTV sets selling for $500.
Japan has always been a cutting edge technology country, and its government has announced plans to launch commercial broadcasting in 4K resolution in mid-2014 and to start test broadcasting in 8K resolution, known as Super Hi-Vision [SHV]) resolution, sometime in 2016, making it the first nation out of the gate to formally embrace 4K resolution.
But Japan will be hampered by its small homes. 4K resolution only really shows up in TVs 55-inches and larger. Some 4K sets are already 80-inches in diagonal width with TV makers talking of going to 100 inches. That won’t fly in the small homes many Japanese reside in.
“Japan has much harder limitations on screen size than other areas,” said Gray. “Because people live in small size room, one of the major inhibitors is people don’t want TVs for the size where 4K makes sense.”
Another reason for Asia to embrace 4K before the U.S. and Europe would be the sharper resolution would make their symbolic-based languages easier to read. “We are in a world of video plus graphics. High definition does a lot more than just video. If you design your graphics right, you can use 4K for improved shading and font rendition and readability. In the U.S., that has some limited value, but if you are reading complex Asian characters, that can dramatically improve readability,” said Gray.
In the U.S. and Europe, where large screen HDTV is settling in to a nice chunk of the market, there is greater reluctance to spend, since people have already made a sizable investment. Also, there’s no content yet for 4K video.
Gray believes that it will be the satellite broadcasters who embrace 4K video in the U.S. first, over cable and broadband, as a means of differentiating from the competition. He expects to see them start offering 4K content next year.