Sunday 26 May 2019

Irish viewers slowly switching on to 4K as television sales show increase

While consumers are beginning to warm to 4K, the latest buzz is about high dynamic range (HDR)
While consumers are beginning to warm to 4K, the latest buzz is about high dynamic range (HDR)
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Irish people are buying slightly more expensive televisions, as new sets with higher resolutions come into the market.

Overall, the Irish television market grew by 5pc by value - the total amount spent on new TVs - in 2015. The slow adoption of 4K - also called 'ultra high definition (UHD) - means that we spent €159m on 343,000 new tellies last year. That works out at an average of €464 per set, marginally higher than 2014.

On average, 4K TV sets are twice as expensive as older 'HD' televisions, with 4K models making up just 14pc of the tellies sold, but 30pc of the value.

The largest screen sizes by volume remain 32-inch, 40-inch and 42-inch sets.

Sales of larger models are predicted to grow faster this year, with most manufacturers concentrating on bigger screens and thinner frames.

Overall, the top-selling TV in Ireland last year was an entry-level 32-inch Panasonic model, which comes without 4K. Panasonic also had the best-selling 4K television last year, a 40-inch model.

The figures, from GFK, show that a third of all TV sales happen in the three months around Christmas time.

The figures show a slow level of demand for 4K televisions, as broadcasters stall on providing content in the higher resolution format. 4K contains twice the resolution of existing 'full HD' TV images.

But although manufacturers have been selling 4K televisions for three years, programme makers and broadcasters have not yet adopted it as a standard.

This could change later this year, with Sky all but confirming that it will begin filming and broadcasting Premier League football in the format in the near future.

The online streaming service Netflix, which has over 70 million subscribers worldwide and an estimated 200,000 in Ireland, is also pushing 4K as a standard for its platform.

"We now have over two million accounts that connect to Netflix with a 4K device," said Neil Hunt, chief product officer in Netflix. "About 10pc of the hours viewed are available in 4K to those who have the right device. Of the 150 million hours viewed every day, 10pc of those would be in 4K if you had a 4K TV. We're building most of our big budget new originals for 4K and HDR so they'll be mastered for delivery in those formats. This will be a relatively small portion of our library initially. But we expect it to grow just as 4K has grown over the last two years and now represents 10pc of our hours viewed."

The figures come after Panasonic announced a number of new televisions for the Irish and European markets.

The company is focusing on the addition of high dynamic range (HDR) to its Vieira line-up of TVs. The new models include the DX700, DX750, DX800 and DX900. The televisions come in sizes ranging from 40 inches to 65 inches and are expected to cost from €1,000 upwards.

The addition of HDR is being hailed by some in the industry as the next step for picture quality.

"I honestly think that HDR is going to be a more important innovation than 4K," said Netflix's Hunt.

"At 4K, we have kind of topped out in terms of resolution. But we haven't applied the same development to pixels. We're going from an 8-bit pixel to a 12 or 16-bit pixel, which is much closer to the dynamic range that you see in real world scenes.

"We're able to deliver HDR at 4K but also in HD and lower resolutions as well. So the bit rate required, the bandwidth of your internet required to see HDR picture at full HD is less than is required to deliver a 4K picture.

"So it's not only a more important innovation, perhaps, in some sense it's also one that will be available to a bigger range of people who don't have the 20 megabits necessary to do both at once."

The TV sales figures also suggest show a growing disparity between consumption of live television content and sales of the units.

According to recent research from Ireland's telecoms regulator, around 100,000 Irish people now spend over four hours per week watching Netflix.

A large portion of such Netflix viewing is spent on conventional televisions through Apple TVs, Google Chromecasts or smart TV apps. But research from Nielsen shows that TV viewing is declining compared to other devices and has been since 2010. Phones, in particular, have surged in use for viewing content, largely at the expense of traditional TV viewing.

However, the shift in viewing patterns appears to be affecting advertisers more than manufacturers. While Irish people are watching more content on phones and tablets, they are not yet abandoning televisions as a crucial item in a household.

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