2014: Does the 4 Stand for 4K?

Attention all you early adopters: It may be time to pull the trigger on a 4K Ultra HD TV. If you act now, you can still hold the coveted title of First on Your Block. If you wait, you’ll have only yourself to blame. 2014 may be the break-out year for the new TV format.

No one can predict the future, but that doesn’t stop research firms from trying. Using heaven-knows-what kinds of analytics, they look at market trends and tell us (with reasonable uncertainty) what we’ll be buying next. And according to NPD DisplaySearch, we’ll be snapping up 4K televisions.

Their “Quarterly Global TV Shipment and Forecast Report” predicts that in 2014, 4K shipments will increase impressively. By the numbers, they estimate that 1.9 million units were shipped in 2013, but that will swell to 12.7 million in 2014. That’s a pretty dramatic bump, especially considering that these are expensive TVs, sold to a limited number of early adopters who are willing to pay a premium.

If the retail market can truly support that number of sales, it will mark the beginning of the transition from early adopters to mass market. That will trigger price reductions as companies begin to recoup their R&D costs, and the price reductions in turn will trigger more sales. 4K is certainly not an outlier technology; it is riding the historic LCD boom which now accounts for 96% of the market; plasma and CRT are in a death spiral and could end production altogether as soon as 2016.

Interestingly, according to NPD, China is the hottest 4K market right now, accounting for a whopping 87% of 4K sales in 2103, dropping slightly to 78% in 2014 as the market widens. Note to Rob Sabin: When will we see a Chinese edition of S&V?

Of course, all of this mushy talk about our wonderful future is predicated on price. The average price of a 4K set is about $2,000 in North America (about $1,000 in China and $1,100 worldwide). The $2k figure is a little steep for us middle-class Joes, and lower prices will be needed if the market is going to grow. The cost of OLED, at least for now, has apparently put it out of reach; all eyes are on 4K to carry the TV ball downfield. One open question is whether 4K might carry renewed interest in 3D along with it.

As I write this, all of us on the intrepid S&V staff are packing our bags for Vegas, baby. We’ll be reporting hot and heavy on 4K at the International CES, as well as everything else that’s going on. We’ll see you from the show floor.

Meanwhile, it’s time for early adopters to start planning their Super Bowl festivities, and deciding what kind of TV will light up their party. Buyers like those are the ones who will determine the fate of 4K. Early adopters, I’m looking at you.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

NoHoR56's picture

As an early adopter, historically, who also works in entertainment I just want to say that no one cares about 4K - at least on the consumer side. It's 3D all over again. I know the industry wants this to be a thing, but it's not going to be a thing. Sorry.

jnemesh's picture

Sorry to burst your theory there, but 4k tvs are selling FAST. I work in distribution and we are having a hard time keeping 4k 55" and 65" sets in stock, and the new projectors are selling fast as well. The only thing missing is the content. WHEN the PS4 starts offering 4k movie downloads, it's really going to take off. Also, they are already discussing how to adopt 4k resolution for over the air broadcasts. It's coming.

NoHoR56's picture

I'm not saying it's not coming, but I'm saying it's not going to be driven by consumer demand. Just because the electronics industry (and Hollywood) wants something to happen doesn't mean that it always does. Also - I was at a wholesaler demo of 4K and OLED in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago and they did not support your assertion that these are selling fast. Frankly, I wish they would - mainly to drive down the cost of 1080p gear. And no content? Isn't content the whole point?

jnemesh's picture

And the early adopters are FAR more excited about 4k than they ever were about 3D. OLEDs are still too expensive (especially for the sizes available) for most, but the LCD/LED backlit 4k displays are selling very well. Yes, content is going to be VERY important, but the way we get it is going to be different this time around. We have Netflix offering 4k streaming this year, directly to the TV's own app. YouTube also announced (formally) that they have 4k support using their VP9 codec. Sony has also formally announced that they will be bringing 4k Hollywood movies to the PS4. We aren't going to have to wait for much longer for that to launch. Nor will we have to wait while the industry figures out a physical disc format or a broadcast standard. Internet video delivery means that we will all see 4k sooner rather than later.

MatthewWeflen's picture

Until there is content, I think 4K will likely be a non-starter in the US. By content, I mean a portable (non streaming, since US bandwidth is not up to the task) media format available to the consumer (a la Blu-Ray for 1080p) and perhaps a channel or two via some sort of broadcast medium (also problematic given how awful cable already looks).

This is not even to mention the upgrade fatigue I think the average consumer is showing.

If 4k is going to become a thing, it's going to do it in Asia first, where bandwidth is greater and markups are lower.

mikerr's picture

The cost of a 4K TV is already out of most peoples reach and with the mandate to buy yourself and your neighbor some high-priced healthcare, then any hopes of buying a 4K television is nothing but a pipe-dream.
Bad timing for any new technology items in my opinion. ...sadly

dnoonie's picture

I've not been supportive of 4k in past posts but after having mulled things over for a year or more I'm thinking 4K might be good in that we could get blu-ray 1080p quality broadcast out of a 4K broadcast, a very positive thing to my thinking.

Media, I read somewhere (at S&V?) that the a new larger blu-ray spec that can hold 4K should be ironed out this year (2014).

I would want to support 4K before I purchased a 4K TV, if that doesn't make since then reread my suspicion above about 4K broadcast and also consider that I would want to replace as few 1080p disks as possible.

Happy NY!!!

dcooph's picture

4K is, in a word, awesome. I cannot wait until there is a market for it here in the US (i.e. when costs come down and content is there). Sadly, I am not an early adopter - at least not anymore - others will have to carry that torch. If consumers don't care about this technology it's because they simply haven't seen it. Let's not confuse this with clunky 3D technology. In fact, 4k has made way for a glass-free 3D tech that sounds to be revolutionary. While the technology will not hit full stride in 2014, I do see this as the year when people get interested - I certainly hope the early adopters do their part.

NoHoR56's picture

I just saw a demo of OLED (1080p) and 4K both on 55" flat panels. All of us at the demo agreed the OLED would be our choice of the two. But none of us are buying either of them at these prices. One of my friends in attendance - who has purchased 4 $10,000+ projectors is completely happy with the image he gets and has NO desire to chase 4K. (And he's had 35mm projection in his house years ago.) Sure, if that's the standard in a few years, and the price is low then fine. But it's definitely not "oh, wow, I've got to have that" - this from a guy who's been saying that his whole life. I feel the same way. 1080p Blu-Ray projection looks and sounds pretty fantastic. My experience is that most consumers don't really care about quality. Most bought flat panel TVs for the "flat" and never even fed them with HD signals. For years! Suddenly, 1080P's not going to be good enough that they're going for 4K? Don't think so. I think the industry will drive this and they'll have to drop the price and make it the standard. I don't see consumer demand ever driving 4K adoption in the U.S.

dcooph's picture

I think if you saw a 4k set somewhere closer to 85", you might change your tune. For me, there was no comparison with regard to image clarity - it was really breathtaking. Even my wife saw the difference and she still maintains there's no real difference between SD and HD. Sure, OLED is the wave of the future, but eventually you are going to be seeing 4k OLED displays so no use in arguing on that point. And the prices of course will come down - I guarantee that the lack of current consumer interest is tethered to three main issues - cost, content, and novelty. Obviously the cost mixed with the fact that there is no real content means that we all look but don't touch. Also, a lot of people - particularly non AV enthusiasts - aren't even aware that this technology exists. I think when the costs come down, content gets pushed via broadcast and media players, and the screens start popping up everywhere you are going to see a lot of interest - even casual AV consumers such as the common household sports geek will be itching to eek out every last pixel on his or her beloved Sunday sports display. Also, whereas 3D at home has always been an imperfect and frustrating technology, the market for 3D is still there, and 4k has a way of bringing it to the home that will change the way we watch television and movies forever. I'm a realist - I understand the revolution may not be happening in 2014, but rest assured - it will be happening. Technology isn't simply going to be content to rest on its OLED 1080p laurels forever and those who consume it won't be either. Just my opinion, of course.