CE manufacturers betting big on 4K as shipments soar 699% in 2014

There’s still only a smattering of content available, but that doesn’t mean CE manufacturers aren’t eager to help get the 4K/UHD ball rolling, already aggressively marketing 4K capable TVs.

Early forecasts last year suggested the holiday season would be a big one for manufactures, and a new report from Futuresource Consulting says shipments of 4K/UHD sets exceeded 11.6 million units in 2014, a 699% increase from the previous year.

For now, attribute the growth to the law of small numbers, where any growth in the nascent market looks bigger than it really is. And, there’s a big difference between shipments and sales.

But, there’s little doubt that content owners also have an iron in this fire, and it’s likely that a lot more compelling 4K content will be made available in the coming year.

“We are seeing several 4K video services now available in the market, driven by over-the-top (OTT) video services, and we are beginning to see signs that broadcasters support will be forthcoming,” commented Sarah Carroll, director of sales and marketing for Futuresource. “However, with 8K on the horizon, there is speculation as to whether the window for 4K will be short-lived.”

It’s worth noting that the only serious discussions taking place about 8K content currently are among Japanese operators who see the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as an opportunity to showcase the technology. Last March, public broadcaster NHK said it plans to begin testing an 8K service by 2016 with the express goal of having it ready and deployed for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. 8K broadcasts produce a resolution of 7680 x 4320, double that of current 4K, which produces 3840 x 2160.

Scientists say most humans may not be able to discern the difference between 4K and 8K, and some in the industry say it will take decades for consumers to adopt the 8K format.

Meanwhile, Futuresource predicts that some 100 million UHD sets will ship annually by 2018, increasing the share in leading markets to about 20%. Interestingly, Futuresource suggests that one of the market drivers in coming years will be reduced screen sizes on the 4K units, which seems to go against the grain of why users would want Ultra HD… after all, the bigger the screen, the better UHD looks against current HD video.

China currently is leading worldwide demand, but it’s a narrowing gap with the rest of the world; China got 84% of the 4K/UHD sets shipped in 2013, but just 70% of them last year.

While it’s still early in the game to declare 4K a winner – there were, after all, a lot of predictions that 3D success was “imminent” before the bloom left that wilted rose – the concept of UHD is generally more appealing to consumers, as well as to operators who see it as a potential differentiator with Millennials.

And, as for 8K? Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn