Why 2016 is going to be a breakthrough year for 4K television

In the past, you could buy an ultra-high-definition TV, but you’d have nothing to watch. That’s about to change

 
Visitors watching a 4K TV
Visitors watch a 4K TV at the Luxury Technology Show in Beverly Hills in October 2014. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty)

A few days before the first Toronto Blue Jays playoff game in 22 years, Rogers CEO Guy Laurence stood in the middle of the club’s home field and made an announcement only tangentially related to the team’s pennant aspirations. Starting in 2016, his company would broadcast over 500 hours of TV content in 4K, the ultra-high-definition technology that offers four times the resolution of HDTV. Rogers (which owns Canadian Business) would use the advanced picture technology for programs on the Shomi and Netflix streaming services and 101 live sporting events (including the Jays and NHL games), and offer a 4K set-top box.

The announcement by Rogers is evidence that 4K—which refers to a horizontal resolution of 4,000 pixels, compared with 1,080 for HD—is about to become mainstream technology. The rapid pace of development and spread of this technology was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this January, where Samsung unveiled its first 4K Blu-ray player and two local television stations broadcast live in 4K, with their programming streamed to screens on the convention floor. While it’s been commercially available for several years, 4K has not been widely adopted because of its high price and the lack of content. Both of those barriers are set to fall in 2016.

The average price for a 4K TV has dropped 86% worldwide in just two years—from $7,851 in 2012 to $1,120 in 2014. As its price continues to decline, by 2018, 4K televisions will be in 10% of all North American households, according to a recent report by BI Intelligence. By last March, sales had reached over one million TV sets per month, according to research firm IHS, and the total for last year was predicted to pass 15.2 million. Consumers are drawn to 4K’s clearer, sharper pictures and greater contrast than regular HD. The higher resolution also makes it possible to sit closer to big screens without seeing the individual pixels.

Jason Abrams, director of home theatre at Best Buy Canada, says since the chain began selling 4K televisions in 2013, the growth in sales has been phenomenal. “It’s really hit the masses in the markets today,” he says. “Our outlook for it is tremendous.” Two years ago, there were only a handful of 4K models sold at the electronics retailer; today it offers roughly 100 different products.

In the recent Black Friday sales, Abrams saw consumers eagerly buying 4K TVs in anticipation of a surge in available content. In addition to Rogers, Quebec-based Vidéotron launched its own 4K set-top box last August, while Comcast in the U.S. is considering using the technology for portions of this summer’s Olympic Games. Netflix says its entire lineup of original programming will likely be shot in 4K this year. At CES, Sony debuted three new televisions that use the technology, along with an app that allows users to purchase 40 to 50 films in 4K from the company’s library.

Sony, like Rogers, is well-positioned to capitalize on the 4K trend because it has made investments in both hardware and content. “It requires quite an integration of production, content and network to truly deliver a great 4K experience,” says Dirk Woessner, president of Rogers’ consumer business unit. “This is why we believe we’re uniquely positioned not only in Canada but worldwide.” Rogers owns its cable network but also Sportsnet, the Blue Jays and the Shomi streaming service.

With companies across the globe now investing in 4K, consumers are finally willing to shake off their skepticism. “They’re future proofing,” Abrams says. “That way, as the content becomes available, they can experience it in the best way.”

Rogers will debut the first 4K sports broadcast in North America today at 3 PM ET. Tune in to Sportsnet for the Toronto Raptors vs. Orlando Magic live from the O2 Arena in London, England. Details at rogers.com/4K

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