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Even though the quantity, and indeed quality, of Ultra HD content being created is growing, there is still limited delivery to consumers, says research from Futuresource Consulting.

In its latest 4K UHD Consumer Market Tracking report, the analyst identified general optimism in the market with media streamers, set-top boxes (STBs), games consoles and Ultra HD TVs all demonstrating significant growth. Indeed, Futuresource forecasts that throughout 2017, 35% of global TV sales will be 4K/Ultra HD, taking the worldwide household penetration of 4K UHD TVs to 8%, as the average price continues to fall, and larger screens increase in popularity, many of which will be UHD as standard.

In addition, Futuresource notes that the UHD media streaming market continues to hot up, with new UHD devices from Apple, Roku and Amazon helping propel worldwide 4K/Ultra HD shipments to account for 36% of all media streamers sold throughout 2017.

Yet despite the strong hardware sales and a significant quantity of content being shot, produced and stored in 4K, Futuresource warns that only a small proportion of that is readily available to consumers. Remarked market analyst Tristan Veale. “[A] content gap is appearing to expand as the demand for the higher quality hardware is outstripping the propensity to pay for UHD content. This gap will likely continue to widen until broadcasted UHD becomes more mainstream.”

Further challenges exist, says the analyst, with high dynamic range (HDR), what it calls the new battlefield for device manufacturers. However, Futuresource cautioned that HDR was a more difficult consumer message to convey than the improved resolution and that the industry was in danger of devaluing the term with no universally accepted definition of how much better than ‘standard’ dynamic range devices need to be before they can be labelled HDR. As such, it asserted, there were many poor implementations in the market, branded HDR, but with little discernible improvement.

In a call to action, the analyst advised that broadcasters must invest at multiple points, with this investment currently not being matched by the financial return from customers. As such, the upgrades and content acquisitions are challenging justifications for many operators that are seeing increasingly suppressed margins.

The analyst said that Ultra HD was increasingly standard across the key subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, with many offering UHD content for no extra charge. As such, by the end of 2017 globally, Futuresource expects that there will be over 33 million homes with a 4KTV and an SVOD subscription offering UHD content. It said that Apple's offer of 4K UHD titles at the same price as HD on its iTunes store has already prompted a response from Amazon and Google, both of which have lowered the cost of 4K UHD titles.

“SVOD providers don't face the same issues as broadcasters in delivering content, also problems with interoperability are significantly reduced due to IP connectivity,” Veale added. “As such, continued growth of available content on these platforms is expected.”
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