As we can see, June last year saw interest in 4K TVs from the general public overtake standard HDTV and with the usual November peak, the number of searches for 4K TV was more than double that of HDTV. In short, interest has never been greater. Indeed, Strategy Analytics predicts over 1.5 billion smartphones will have shipped with 4K capability by 2020 and in 2018 10% of US households will own an HDTV.
Yet at the same time, interest from adopters of the latest technology (CES followers) is waning, with 2016 searches amounting to roughly half that of 2013. This is despite significant press coverage, with 2016 having 55 more press articles produced than 2015 (4014 vs 2582 - source Meltwater), which was itself 44% up on 2014’s coverage (1791).
So why the disconnect?
The move to online content and the effect on the operators - both fixed and mobile
One of the key blocks is the ability to distribute 4K content via the web and to the multiple screens now found in the home. The fall of live TV and its replacement with On Demand via the web is well documented. Neilsen’s December 2014 Total Audience Report, for example, states that approximately 2.6 million households in the US are now watching online only. And figures from its March 2016 Video On Demand Report says that c.40% of cable TV subscribers under 35 are looking to cancel their subscription and go online only.
In short, we’re rapidly moving to an online distribution model. Netflix, for example, has been streaming content in 4K since February 2014 when it launched House of Cards season two, and now releases much of its own big-attraction content in 4K (3840 x 2160). The company says it can deliver this over a stable download speed of 15.6 Mbps; but the firm’s chief exec’s statement that those with a 50Mbps connection would be “fine” suggests this will fluctuate upwards.
Taking this 15.6 Mbps as a baseline (and ignoring the fact that this will be with a low frame rate and significant compression—which surely defeats the point of 4K), according to Akamai’s State of the Internet Report from Q3 2015, just two countries have average internet speeds above this minimum speed. South Korea (20.5 Mbps) and Hong Kong (15.8 Mbps), Japan (15), the UK (13) and the US (12.6) make up the top five—and while each of these currently offer some very high band-width offerings, eg Virgin’s 200 Mbps offering in the UK, they are the exception. They’re also expensive and are yet to experience the mass usage that is set to happen.