Building an Ecosystem for 4K

It’ll Take More Than Great Pictures for Ultra HD TVs to Succeed

Over the weekend I popped into the John Lewis store at Bluewater and made my way up to the electrical section (as you do). Immediately I was surprised to see the number of 4K TVs as well as curved screens on display. With the World Cup taking place at the moment, it’s probably the perfect time to raise the profile of these TV sets. Retailers have done pretty well persuading people to buy the latest and greatest devices during popular sporting events. The last World Cup in South Africa was no different, with a lot of buzz around 3D TVs. Since then we’ve seen interest in 3D die down for a host of reasons, including a lack of content.

The same thing could happen to 4K TVs. Following the huge success of HD sets, expectations for 4K are high. A growing number of people are forking out large sums of money to own a 4K TV, but there’s only a limited library of 4K material they can watch on their new sets. My concern is that the initial experiences will be disappointing. Higher quality is required in every aspect of the content, in particular higher frame rates as well as better resolution.

Most people will have to upgrade their broadband service so it’s fast enough to stream 4K content, meaning further expense. Netflix claims its 4K services will need no more than 15 Mbps, but I think the minimum speed will probably be higher to cope with the wide range of services people are already accessing from connected devices such as tablets, smartphones and set-top-boxes.

Another element is how content providers will charge for 4K content. Pay-TV operators have historically charged an initial premium for HD and 3D services, and we expect providers to charge an additional fee for exclusive 4K content.

Those shiny new TVs in John Lewis might seem attractive, but there are several areas that need to be addressed if 4K is to avoid repeating the history of 3D and early smart TV platforms.

To be fair, Web-based providers such as Netflix and Amazon are leading the production, development and distribution of 4K material, in stark contrast to the early stages of HD and 3D. But more content is clearly required, and the industry needs traditional players — networks and broadcasters — to support 4K.

I’m very surprised not to see telecom providers making moves into 4K. Adding this kind of content to their video and TV services would be a great opportunity for them to differentiate. For many providers, their infrastructure mean they could guarantee quality of service and allow exclusive 4K content to be streamed without the traffic eating into a household’s broadband allowance.

I’ve no doubt that the hype behind 4K will continue to gather steam, but expectations need to be set accordingly. Watching ultra HD content this weekend, I couldn’t help thinking how phenomenal it was. But there’s more to it than stunning pictures. Companies involved in the 4K ecosystem, from equipment manufacturers and content creators to broadcasters and infrastructure suppliers, will have to work closely to ensure that viewers remain satisfied. I believe retailers in particular have a huge part to play in articulating the merits of these TVs to users.

Despite the potential pitfalls, I’m optimistic that 4K technology will be a standard feature on all new TVs in time for the next Olympic Games and UEFA European Football championships, both in 2016. There’ll be a lot more content available and people will be able to enjoy watching live TV in ultra HD.