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When Sony and LG started selling 4Kx2K TV sets during the recent holiday season, the price was just as staggering as the superb picture quality.  The 8-megapixel, 84-inch receivers cost between $20k and $25k, and analysts realized that only the 1% were likely to plunk down the price of a new Ford Fusion on a new TV.  As a result, initial projections for 4K growth were modest.  Very modest.


But Asian TV manufacturers were quick to see that 4K sets don’t have to be so large, and if they are not so large, they can be a lot cheaper.  At CES last week, 4K sets appeared in the booths of most set makers in 50-, 55-, and 65-inch sizes – and several were showing 110-inch as well.


Before continuing with what I consider the major points of this story, let me try to reduce the flood of comments I will probably receive about the sales problems 4K (which the Consumer Electronics Association is calling Ultra HD, with only some makers following along) will allegedly face.


First, the combination of 4K and 84 inches is a sensible one.  Such screens (made by LG Display for both the LG and Sony sets) offer a visible improvement in image quality when seen at typical across-the-family-room viewing distances.  That would not be true for a 60-inch set, at least not if you’re basing your conclusion on traditional measures of visual acuity, which a minority of investigators have suggested might not be adequate.


From a sales perspective, this objection doesn’t matter.  People may typically sit 7 feet away from their TVs when they watch them at home, but they view TVs from a couple of feet away when they are making their buying decisions on the sales floor.  Under these conditions, 4K will look significantly sharper at any of the offered screen sizes.  (As an aside, plasma is dying because it doesn’t compare well with an LCD adjusted to “retail mode” under the harsh lighting of a bright Costco showroom, although the plasma would frequently look better when the buyer gets it home.  The point is that most buyers never get a plasma set home because that isn’t what they buy.)


A second common objection is that there is very little native 4K content that can be conveniently delivered to the set.  Although many recent movies are have been produced in 4K, the amount of data involved makes downloading and streaming impractical, and Blu-ray does not yet have a specification in the works for 4K discs.  However, the 4K sets I saw have a HD-to-4K up-conversion chip that is remarkable effective.  (You may remember that the DVD-to-HD conversion chips on DVD players were so good that they effectively dulled the demand for Blu-ray and HD DVD players.)


Now, let’s get back to what I really want to talk about.  4K sets were not only being shown by the traditional technology leaders such as Samsung, LG, and Sony.  They were also being shown by TCL, HiSense, Haier, Changhong, Konka, and Westinghouse Digital.  Although some companies were mentioning introduction dates, only Westinghouse Digital was talking price.   VP of Marketing Rey Roque said the 50-inch 4K would have an MSRP of $2499, the 55-inch, $2999; the 65-inch, $3999; and the 110-inch, $300,000 on special order.  The 50- and 55-inch will be available at the end of Q2; the 65-inch at the end of Q1.  Those prices aren’t cheap, but they certainly bring accessibility down to the middle class.  Expect those estimates of “negligible” 4K sales for the next several years to be revised upward quickly.


Incidentally, who do you think is supplying the 110-inch 4K panel being used by Samsung, TCL, and Westinghouse?  One of the major Korean or Japanese players?  Not at all.  It is China Star Optoelectronics Technology (CSOT) of Shenzhen, China, jointly owned by TCL and Samsung.


Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.

Posted by Pete Putman, January 17, 2013 2:08 PM

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About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.