4K TV sales in Japan (and worldwide) keep growing despite a lack of programming

by on August 26, 2015

Stephan Jukic – August 26, 2015

Ultra HD TVs have become very widespread on the shelves of electronics stores, in online retailing and in consumer homes despite a persistent lack of serious, mainline programming being released in 4K by major TV stations and broadcasters in Japan (and worldwide, really).

Overall consumer interest in 4K TVs has nonetheless been growing considerably and more so in the wake of a massive sales drive by manufacturers and electronics retailers. Prices for the TVs are steadily falling due to competitive pressures and new features are being added while standardization of core specs spreads across the entire industry.

Despite all this, TV stations and other mainstream broadcasters are still being very cautious about UHD. This fact of the industry applies equally in Japan as it does in other major world markets. A large reason for the caution, in all cases, is the simple fact that investing in 4K-capable broadcasting infrastructure is very expensive, or at least as far as broadcaster claims go.

In the Japanese case, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry of the country has envisioned a large percentage of the country’s population watching 4K and even 8K programming from their homes by as early as 2020. Which would be right in time for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. In an effort to see this vision become reality, the government of Japan and its state broadcasting agency, NHK, have also taken initiatives to push 4K and 8K along.

Part of this initiative includes funding for the development of a national 4K-capable broadcasting infrastructure as well as funding for overseas and domestic video recording trips by NHK itself, in which the state corporation captures major sports events around the world in 4K and even 8K resolution via professional Sony 4K production cameras and then transmits them to test audiences for the purpose of technical refinement of its processes.

Meanwhile, according to research done by BCN Inc. the average unit price of a 4K TV in Japan has fallen to below the ¥200,000 for the first time ever as of April of this year. This is a 40% decrease from the prices of exactly one year ago in the same month. 4K TVs have become popular as a result and at least among Japanese consumers, this popularity applies particularly to large-screen 4K sets which are better at really showcasing the added resolution of 4K video.

As of May, 2015, 4K TV sales accounted for 10% of all LCD TV sales in the country and electronics stores are aiming to increase this much further given that profit margins for these types of TVs are much better than those of HDTV sets. Many stores even have sections in which 4K and HD models are placed side by side so that customers can easily compare the quality differences.

According to a corporate executive of one such store chain called Bic Camera Inc., “Many customers have come to our store to buy HD TVs but changed their mind and bought a 4K TV”.

Ichiro Takagi, president of Sony Visual Products Inc, the display technology branch of one of the world’s three biggest manufacturers of 4K TVs has also gone on to say that, “We aim to seize 30 to 40% of the global market share of high-performance 4K TVs.” Thus, the ambition on the manufacturing end of the ultra HD technology spectrum is at least definitely there.

SkyPerfect JSAT is one of the major private broadcasters in Japan which is creating a 4K entertainment service

SkyPerfect JSAT is one of the major private broadcasters in Japan which is creating a 4K entertainment service

As for the broadcasting end, in Japan it’s more developed than it is in many other places but despite this it still amounts to a tiny minority of all broadcasting being done. A small number of subscription-based TV channels are now airing 4K programming and in March of this year, Sky Perfect JSAT Corporation set up a new SkyPerfect 4K channel and movie service, which shows roughly 50 films in UHD resolution per year via pay-per-view. Another company, Hikari-TV also plans to start broadcasting 4K programs as of December through the optical fiber network of a communications company called NTT Plala Inc, which has been playing with 4K broadcasting since October of 2014.

Finally, while the above don’t amount to much, the internal affairs ministry of Japan has also outlined a plan to secure frequency ranges for six new 4K channels as of 2018, which could help expand the ultra HD broadcast market as it grows over the next couple of years.

For now however, 4K doesn’t make money for most broadcasters and thus, their investments in it are limited, nonexistent or highly experimental.

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