Over a third of all flat panel televisions sold worldwide in 2017 were 4K Ultra HD capable. More than 100 million 4K televisions will be sold in 2018, representing 44% of total global flat panel television shipments, with almost double that number expected to be sold in 2022. With prices falling fast, people are buying more Ultra HD sets although there is still relatively little broadcast programming.

The increasing number of 4K flat panel shipments worldwide is contributing to the overall growth of the global flat panel television market. With over 85% of global households having a flat panel television, growth has been slowing. The move from high-definition to 4K Ultra HD sets is expected to be the next key driver of the global flat panel television market.

The Asia Pacific region accounts for 37% of global 4K television shipments, driven mainly by the Chinese market. North America and Western Europe are the regions with the highest 4K TV penetration at present. Combined shipments to the two regions will account for almost half of 4K flat panel television shipments worldwide in 2018.

ABI Research expects that consumer demand for 4K flat panel TV sets will drive the market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.3% to reach 194 million unit shipments in 2022.

“Better visual experience and availability of 4K content together with declining price points are driving 4K TV set shipments,” comments Khin Sandi Lynn, an industry analyst from ABI Research. “As expected, 4K is quickly becoming the standard for TV sales. Just like HD before it, hardware technology reached the market far before any content did, placing an impetus on content creators and providers to catch up, while also allowing for a time of transition.”

In addition to increasing availability of 4K material on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, pay television service providers are also offering 4K programming, mainly movies, drama and some sport.

This presents a challenge for traditional broadcasters, who may struggle to justify investment in transmitting in Ultra HD, although some programmes are being produced in 4K to preserve their future value.

The BBC has broadcast the Wimbledon men’s and women’s tennis semi-finals and finals in Ultra HD for the first time, available to Sky Q subscribers. With the tennis and football finals overlapping, the BBC elected not to broadcast the World Cup in Ultra HD, which might have been a mistake had England reached the final of the World Cup.

4K coverage of World Cup and Wimbledon matches was available online through the BBC iPlayer to “tens of thousands of people” on a first come, first served” basis.

The BBC has yet to announce any ambition for a regular Ultra HD service. It was relatively slow in adopting high definition and is apparently still unable to deliver the regional news in high definition, resulting in regular breaks in programming on the BBC One HD channel.

The terms 4K or Ultra HD do not appear in the latest BBC Annual report, or in its Distribution Strategy, published in February 2018.

However, Japanese broadcaster NHK, which experimented with 8K coverage of the Rio Olympics and the Winter Olympics in South Korea, is planning to provide the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in 8K.

It could be some time before 4K broadcasts, not to mention 8K, become prevalent. Meanwhile it looks like they will be mainly the preserve of pay television providers and online video services, leaving public broadcasters seeming increasingly impoverished as consumer display capabilities continue to improve.

The Media Devices: UltraHD, 4K, HDR, 8K, HEVC report is available from ABI Research.