4K or Ultra-HD video will remain a niche market for at least five years but will ultimately reach the mainstream. Online streaming and video on demand will play a critical early role but pay television will provide support as the ecosystem matures. That is the conclusion of a new report forecasting the ecosystem over a decade.

The Diffusion Group report considers the prospects for 4K devices, programming and share of viewing. It discusses the role of video resolution and how 4K will play across the expanding variety of screens on which video is viewed.

Joel Espelien, author of the report, notes that short-term viewership of 4K video will be driven by consumer purchases of smart TVs with 4K features. However, the diffusion of 4K televisions will occur more slowly than many believe due to poor consumer awareness, high prices, and lack of 4K programming.

The report suggests that devices from companies like Amazon, Apple and Roku will join smart televisions in supporting 4K streaming from online video services.

“This will create a ‘halo effect’ around broadband video quality and provide a strong differentiator for OTT services such as Netflix and Amazon,” notes Espelien. “This will be a valuable tool in recalibrating consumer perceptions of video quality and reinforcing the value proposition of broadband streaming services.”

TDG predicts that media streaming devices will surpass smart televisions to become the main way to view video, other than through pay-television provider services. It puts this down to support from companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft, low cost devices and rapid replacement cycles.

However, one might note that viewing video in 4K will still require a 4K screen, even if that turns out to be a dumb display, rather than a smart television.

While OTT streaming video will be the most notable short-term driver of 4K video, pay-TV operators will also play a defining role, suggests TDG. Beginning with on-demand 4K offerings, pay-TV operators will slowly add live 4K support as the ecosystem matures. As Espelien notes, “Regardless of the timing of market entry, and irrespective of the availability of alternatives, the sheer strength of legacy pay-TV and the ability of operators to deliver must-see live events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics will propel operator 4K-enabled STBs to a dominant position.”

While many expect 4K or UltraHD to replace high-definition at some point, there is much debate about how quickly such services will be adopted by the mass market.

The informitv view is that it is far from a mass-market proposition at the moment, but just as high-definition displays superseded standard definition, it will soon become difficult to buy or sell a large screen television without 4K resolution.

Forecasting the 4K Video Ecosystem, 2104-2025 is published by The Difusion Group.