Next-gen UltraHD platform approaches as HDTVs saturate market

The next generation of HDTV--4K, or UltraHD--is beginning to take root in Japan even as the current generation saturates the U.S. market, setting up a potential dilemma for service providers with a huge installed base of set-top boxes that would need to be replaced in order to handle 4K content.

4K, in essence, doubles the number of pixels on a current HDTV screen, markedly improving picture quality and allowing viewers to sit closer to bigger screens without experiencing picture degradation. The experience is considered more immersive and is being touted by TV set makers who want to move on to the next generation of products with bigger TVs aimed at residential home entertainment centers.

The Japanese, although not the biggest market for this new generation of technology, are leading the charge with government-led initiatives aimed at helping the nation's huge consumer electronics sector.

According to a story in Broadband TV News, the Japanese government is set to launch the first 4K TV broadcast in 2014, which would put it about two years ahead of the expected world schedule. The service is expected to start from communications satellites, then move to satellite broadcasting and ground digital broadcasting as the Japanese concurrently develop super high-definition 8K TVs for launch in 2016.

The technology has its backers outside of the CE guys. Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) has said it will roll out an "enhanced" video package called "Open Connect" this year with 4K and 3D content rolling across a private CDN.

Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) and Suddenlink have both signed on for the service, although it's unclear at this time how it will be delivered.

Even as the next generation of video technology unfurls, the current generation of HDTV is flying high in 75 percent of U.S. households, according to research from Leichtman Research Group (LRG). This, the researchers said, is up from 23 percent five years ago.

"Over the past five years, HDTV has grown from one-quarter of all U.S. households to three-quarters of all households, and many more households now have multiple HDTV sets," Bruce Leichtman, LRG's president and principal analyst, said in a press release.

One reason there may be more HD sets is also a reason that may slow the growth of 4K sets: There's lots of HD programming available from traditional service providers.

"The perceived mean number of channels of HD programming is 77--up from 63 two years ago and 29 five years ago," the LRG research found.

Compare that to the conclusion reached by Broadband TV News: "The UltraHD (or 4K) industry is in need of market champions to develop the ecosystem as uncertain market take-up and revenue potential has led to hesitation in investments to promote the platform."

For more:
Broadband TV News had this story
- and Leichtman Research Group issued this press release

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