UHD TV Strives for Consumer Recognition
Sales of ultra-high-definition (UHD) panels are on the increase, but are unlikely to replace full-high-definition (FHD) panels for at least another 5 years.
by Jusy Hong and Veronica Thayer
WHILE consumer awareness of ultra-high-definition (UHD) TVs is rising, a strong marketing push by manufacturers and retailers is needed for the technology to gain the kind of widespread acceptance that high-definition (HD) TVs achieved a decade ago. To drive consumer interest, Sony and Samsung have been highlighting UHD technology in their store-within-a-store formats at Best Buy locations in the U.S., and these promotions will pick up speed as the holiday selling season hits. Sony launched a cross promotion with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Best Buy featuring a 30-sec promotional spot with 4K outtakes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at AMC and Regal Entertainment movie theaters. The promotion underscored how consumers can get UHD resolution with Sony TVs. The promotions are being paired with falling prices for UHD TVs as the average global retail tag hits $1,925 this year, down from more than $3,000 a year ago. The average prices will tumble to $1,438 in 2015.
While UHD TVs will carry a premium over similarly featured HD models, the combination of falling prices and manufacturer promotions is raising the technology’s profile. Global unit sales will jump to 14.5 million units this year, up from 2.0 million in 2013, and will rise to 31.9 million in 2015. At the same time, UHD-TV’s share of the LCD-TV market will widen to 17.9% in 2015, up from about 3% this year.
Among the top 13 brands for liquid-crystal-display (LCD) TVs worldwide, the share of UHD-TV shipments reached 5% in May 2014, up from 4% in April, 3% in March, and 2% in February (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Sales of UHD TVs as a percentage of total LCD-TV sales climbed from 2% in February 2014 to 5% in May of the same year. Source: IHS Technology.
The sales gains will be underscored by a growing consumer awareness of UHD-TV technology. Only 25% of the 1,000 consumers who responded to an IHS online survey in 2013 were familiar with UHD technology. And just 13.4% of consumers surveyed said they planned to buy a UHD set in the next 12 months (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: Only 25% of the 1,000 consumers who responded to an IHS online survey in 2013 were familiar with UHD technology. Source: IHS
Yet, the promotions and price cuts this year may be starting to turn the tide. Nearly 75% of U.S. consumers who viewed UHD TVs in a retail store were interested in buying a set at some point, while 34% of those who did not see them still had interest in owning one, according to a 2014 online survey of 1,062 consumers conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).
The retail stores are critical to selling the new technology, with 73% of consumers who had seen or heard about UHD TVs in stores viewing it positively. As part of the study, consumers visited the stores to view UHD TVs and then responded to some questions. Many of the consumers who went to the stores doubted beforehand that UHD delivered a better picture than their HD sets, CEA said. After watching live UHD demonstrations, they left the stores with a significantly better impression of the technology, according to CEA. Of course, the draw of UHD TV was higher resolution, with 43% of those surveyed noticing improved picture quality, CEA said.
Not Content with the Content
Consumers’ reluctance to buy a UHD TV in 2013 also was tied to a lack of 4K content, an issue that is being addressed this year. About 55% of those surveyed last year by IHS said they were not planning to buy a 4K set because there were not any movies or TV programs available in that format. And in the CEA study, 43% of those surveyed were concerned about lack of content.
With 4K programming being delivered this year by over-the-top (OTT) providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, UHD content is gradually working its way into consumer homes. Netflix has been the main source for UHD content this year, starting with the House of Cards series. OTT content providers see UHD as a major opportunity to offer premium content to consumers that will build the brand and take viewers away from cable, satellite, and broadcast programming.
Yet, while UHD content from OTT providers is available, getting access to it at full 4K resolution is proving to be a problem for consumers. UHD programming requires a 15-Mbps connection. And if the link does not support that speed, the resolution defaults to 1080p. Netflix has said it will eventually support 60-fps streams and 10-bit color, but neither is available for House of Cards. Receiving UHD content through a TV app requires built-in HEVC decoding – something most TV makers are supporting. Sony, Samsung, LG Electronics, and Vizio all field sets with HEVC decoding and have partnerships with Netflix.
Samsung UHD TVs also will be able to stream the Amazon Instant Video app with 4K content from Lionsgate, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and the Discovery Channel. Samsung has a partnership as well with M-Go for 4K movies and TV programs, including some HD titles converted from 1080p by Technicolor, which is an investor in M-Go along with DreamWorks. DirecTV and Comcast likewise are making 4K content available for Samsung TVs through an app.
To further spur UHD adoption, CEA and media companies joined forces to form the Secure Content Storage Association (SCSA), which is seeking to fashion an open ecosystem of 4K content that could be purchased at retail or downloaded for storage or playback on compatible UHD TVs. The founding members include Fox Home Entertainment, SanDisk, Warner Home Entertainment, and Western Digital. Among the titles slated to be available through SCSA are Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Fault in Our Stars. The X-Men title was available for download in September and was scheduled to ship for DVD and Blu-ray in mid-October. (For more about standards and other initiatives designed to move UHD TV forward, see the article “UHD Calls for New TV Infrastructure” in this issue.)
Broadcasters will likely be the last to deliver 4K programming because they must purchase new equipment. The BBC’s Research and Development group broadcast parts of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games live in UHD at the Glasgow Science Center earlier this year as a demonstration of the technology. In Japan, Sky Perfect’s JSAT Corp.’s Channel 4K has begun regular UHD broadcasts. And manufacturers also are building conversion technology into UHD TVs to boost
HD signals to the higher-resolution format, giving consumers a sampling of the promise of 4K programming.
The boldest move in achieving near-UHD quality has been Sharp’s 60-, 70- and 80-in. Quattron Plus (Q+) panels, which use a technology that splits each red, green, blue, and yellow subpixel in half horizontally. This results in 2,160-line vertical resolution and 16 million subpixels, about 10 million more than found in HD sets, but less than the 24 million in 4K sets with conventional RGB pixels. The Quattron Plus sets take native 4K signals and downconvert them for display
on Q+ TVs. The result is sets with better resolution than 1080p models, at a price lower than that of 4K sets.
Following in the Footsteps of 3-D, or HD?
The widespread support for 4K contrasts sharply with the much heralded launch of 3-D TVs several years ago. A lack of content – ESPN and DirecTV eventually shut down dedicated 3-D TV channels – coupled with consumers having to wear 3-D glasses as they do to view movies, relegated the technology to a niche market. While 3-D proved to be a novelty that wore off after a few movies, 4K will likely follow the same path as HD in gaining acceptance. This is because manufacturers, content developers, OTT providers, cable and satellite operators, and broadcasters are backing the technology.
For viewing the 4K content, consumers are increasingly choosing larger screen sizes. While 55- and 65-in. TVs were the initial standard bearers for UHD, they have since been joined by a range of sizes stretching from 39 to 105 in. The 50-in. screen size has been the top seller for UHD and is expected to account for 21.1% of LCD UHD-TV sales this year, followed by the 55 in. (20.9% ), 42 in. (15.7%), and 40 in. (9.9 %).
Part of the reason for 50-in. and larger TVs dominating the market for UHD is that consumers typically watch TV at a distance of 8–10 ft., which is optimal for noticing the improvement in resolution. In smaller screen sizes at the same distance, the difference in resolution between HD and UHD is not as evident. As UHD sales rise to 31.9 million units in 2015, shipments of FHD LCD sets will drop to 107.8 million from 120.8 million. UHD TV’s share of the 50-in.-and-up TV sales is expected to hit 60% by 2019. While low-end UHD TVs from Seiki Digital and others that retailed for less than $1,000 stole headlines in late 2013, they only accounted for 6.7% of sales and will not expand much this year, due largely to the low-cost panels being used in the sets.
China Wants Its UHD TV
The bulk of UHD-TV sales are expected to remain in China this year, driven largely by a contingent of Chinese suppliers who combined will ship 10 million units, up from 1 million in 2013. Overall, UHD-TV sales in China will account for 59.6% of the global market, followed by North America and Europe at 12% and 8.6%, respectively, in 2014.
China will remain the largest UHD-TV market through 2019, driven largely by widespread support for the high-resolution technology from Chinese-based suppliers. In China, Hisense has the top market share at 18.2% in the first half of 2014, followed by Skyworth at 16.6%, TCL at 14.6%, Samsung at 13.3%, Changhong at 12.4%, Konka at 11.3%, Haier at 5.6%, and others totaling 6.1%. The penetration rate in China, which is expected to total 17% this year, will slow down after 2015, amid vendor concerns about being able to turn a profit. In advanced markets, UHD-TV penetration will continue to increase.
China’s share of the UHD-TV global market also will be driven by sharply lower prices than other regions of the world. UHD LCD panels being deployed in China carry a 5–8% lower cost than those from South Korean manufacturers, enabling prices in China that range from $659 for a 40-in. set to $3,629 for a 65-in. model. Among the low-end brands in China are Panda, Rowa, LeTV, and Coocaa.
The combined top-six Chinese-based UHD-TV suppliers’ sales will be 10 million this year in shipments followed by Samsung (2.5 million units), LG Electronics (1.3 million units), Sony (980,000), others (700,000), Toshiba (350,000), Sharp (250,000), and Panasonic (150,000).
Despite a strong push, UHD TVs are unlikely to fully replace FHD models for at least 5 years, owing to the premium being charged for the technology. An open-cell 55-in. FHD panel without a backlight typically sells for $255, while a similar UHD model carries a $430 price.
UHD-TV manufacturers will be supplied by a varied assortment of LCD panel makers, 52% of whom are delivering low-end panels in 39–50-in. screen sizes largely for the China market. Innolux will ship 7.8 million UHD panels this year, across 39–98-in. screen sizes, up from 1.9 million units last year. Innolux is trailed by AU Optronics (5 million), Samsung Display (4.2 million), and LG Display (3.8 million). Among the Chinese suppliers, China Star will deliver 2 million units, including a 98-in. panel, while BOE ships 1 million panels. The panels are designed and produced for the China market.
Lastly, organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) TVs are worth a final mention here. UHD-TV sales thus far have largely remained the province of LCDs, with OLED
models making only a slight dent in the market, owing largely to much higher prices for the latter. LCD-TV manufacturers also have made improvements in the sets that bring the performance of LCD comparable to that of OLEDs, which once enjoyed an edge in black level, contrast ratio, and color gamut. The better performance of LCDs has largely been driven by the deployment of LED-backlight local dimming, quantum-dot usage, and wide-color-gamut technology. Because of the gains in LCD performance, consumers are proving less willing to pay more for an OLED TV set. OLED-TV shipments are expected to hit 100,000 units this year before increasing
to 500,000 units in 2015 and 1.4 million units in 2016. •