Supply chain
When will consumers make use of their 4K TVs?
Alex Wolfgram, DIGITIMES, Taipei
Friday 19 July 2013

Following declining on-year TV sales in 2012, vendors have looked to various strategies to bring a turnaround in 2013, including increasing the value-added features and sizes of their products as well as finding ways to reduce costs to bring lower pricing to end consumer markets. These efforts have proven successful to an extent, but consumers are still looking more out of their TVs that they otherwise can't get from their mobile devices, which has led many vendors to start focusing on increased panel resolution in 2013, most notably Ultra HD or 4K resolution.

Most consumers as of mid-2013 have probably been exposed to an Ultra HD TV provided they have recently browsed a TV section at a major retailer. If they are anything like me, they were most likely drawn to the fine details and crystal clear images 4K has to offer. But will consumers still see the same results if and when they purchase a unit and hook it up at home?

As of 2013, there is actually little 4K content in the market. There are a number of reasons for this, however, which pretty much boil down to cost. For starters, to upgrade the filming technology used when making TV shows or movies is costly as is providing the proper bandwidth.

TV vendors are aware of this and many such as Sharp claim they have ways to turn Full HD content into 4K content without virtually losing any quality. Sharp recently unveiled a THX-certified 70-inch 4K TV for US$8,000 equipped with a dual-core processor inside the TV, which is claimed to be able to upscale regular HD video into what Sharp calls "4K-like" 3,840 by 2,160 resolution. However, many market observers believe that this upscale technique is merely a marketing gimmick and that the 4K content is essentially lost, as the content is merely compressed into a different format rather than streaming at its appropriate resolution.

To put it another way, imagine trying to take YouTube video which only can be streamed at 720p and trying to force it to 1080p. Could you do it and truly get 1080p quality? Perhaps you may try to attach some kind of converting device that will somehow increase the resolution to 1080p, and you may see increased color saturation and images somewhat modified, but that gives more of an illusory effect rather than actual 1080p content.

There are other options that vendors are turning to, however. Sony has released its 4K Ultra HD Media Player set as of July 15 at US$699. Media reports stated that the device is compatible with Sony's new KD-65X9005A 65-inch 4K TV and comes pre-loaded with 10 4K movies. Sony also reportedly has plans to later release its Video Unlimited 4K service in 2013, which will reportedly allow consumers to purchase various movies in 4K content at US$29.99 and rent at US$7.99.

Developments in 4K streaming

Around the world there are a number of measures being taken to implement 4K content into the market no later than 2014, according to Digitimes Research analyst Tom Lo. Germany-based Sky Deutschland is reportedly making efforts to make the content widely available in TV and film formats throughout Germany while Eutelsat Communications announced it is launching a dedicated demonstration Ultra HD channel for Europe on the EUTELSAT 10A satellite, which will be encoded in MPEG-4 and transmitted at 40 Mbit/s in four Quad HD streams.

Additionally, Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt said in a recent media interview that "Streaming will be the best way to get the 4K picture into people's homes. That's because of the challenges involved in upgrading broadcast technologies and the fact that it isn't anticipated within the Blu-ray disc standard. Clearly we have much work to do with the compression and decode capability, but we expect to be delivering 4K within a year or two with at least some movies and then over time become an important source of 4K. 4K will likely be streamed first before it goes anywhere else."

Lo also believes that gaming industries at large will not adopt 4K content in 2013, and that China-based companies are working to provide more 4K outlets for local consumers.

So what are 4K TVs good for?

At the very least, 4K TVs can help stream 3D content at 1080p. Normally, content viewed in 3D is cut in half due to the pattern retarder technology that is used, but having twice the resolution will help increase the format back to 1080p formats.

The TVs also give consumers bragging rights, but those rights may be sacrificed upon viewing the technology from consumer's home entertainment area when they realize that 4K content is still not in abundance to make a $7,000 TV worth purchasing.

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