altOur favourite industry commentator on TVs, Paul Gray of display supply chain analyst DisplaySearch, has delivered more insights into screen technology development at the latest IFA Global Press Conference.

On 4K/UHD development, he notes distinctly different strategies emerging between Chinese and global brands, with the Chinese selling 4K at small premiums in their domestic market, with feature-based marketing as there is little 4K content yet to view. Global brands, he says, are aiming to maximise image quality and present 4K as truly next-generation TV.

If you’re thinking the Chinese market might be anything less than significant, Gray provided shipment projections for UHD televisions showing China dominating the market, taking 83% of 4K TV shipments in 2013, and projecting that it will take still around half the market in 2017 after the rest of the world catches up. Total shipments of UHD TVs are forecast to exceed 12 million units in 2014, rising to 62 million in 2017.

4K STREAMING & BROADCAST
Gray also detailed delivery plans for UHD content, noting Netflix plans for 4K services in 2014/15 for the US, Canada, Scandinavia, Netherlands and the UK, and other 4K streaming services in planning stages.

But there is not universal agreement on moving forward to UHD, suggests Gray, noting that broadcasters in particular are fearful of utilising such bandwidths if current UHD does not impress consumers with enough of an improvement. The investments are larger than simply adding a 4K camera at the front-end — lenses often cost far more than cameras (the larger image sensors for 4K demand new lenses as the effective focal lengths change), while editing chains become far more complex. Connecting studio cameras and producing live programming is as-yet almost impossible for most broadcasters, he says.

At a more basic level, broadcasters doubt the level of consumer demand for UHD broadcasts at today’s screen sizes. Consumer trials have even indicated a preference for 1080p/120Hz over UHD at 50/60Hz.

Such higher frame rates are certainly necessary to deliver 4K at its best, says Gray. But any initial UHD broadcasts will almost undoubtedly deliver at current frame rates of 50 or 60p, and some possibly with 8-bit depth per channel instead of 10. This is all significantly below the two UHD TV profiles defined by the ITU BT.2020 standard — what are commonly called UHD-1 at 3840x 2160 pixels and UHD-2 at 7680 x 4320 pixels, both at 100/120p with higher dynamic range and a wider colour gamut, and with UHD-2 allowing up to 14-bit depth per channel. UHD-2 formatting was used for the joint NHK/BBC public demonstrations of Super Hi-Vision during the London 2012 Olympics.

altCURVES NOT JUST FOR OLED
One interesting sidenote in Gray’s presentation at the IFA event was his chart showing forecast of curved TVs, growing from well under a million units in 2014 to over three million in 2015 and six million by 2017. He expects the novelty of curved screens to fade with time, however, with shipments peaking and then tailing off.

The surprise here, perhaps, is that more than 80% of curved screens shipped by 2016 are predicted to be LCD, not the OLED that first brought curves to our notice. LCD is a thoroughly mature technology, Gray notes, and needs new sources of value to “do something different”. While better performance is encouragingly on his list of differentiators, he also expects styling to play a significant role, with OEM LCD manufacturers keen to show that anything new screen technologies can do, they can do better — or cheaper, and the first curved LCD models were on show at IFA 2013, last September. Even if demand for and shipments of curved models tail off after a few years, as Gray predicts, curved screens will have completed the important task of differentiating higher-end models, helping to boost overall value in the global television market. 

For more on IFA 2014, visit b2b.ifa-berlin.com/en.

Paul Gray is Director of European TV Research for DisplaySearch: www.displaysearch.com