Last week saw two of the leading direct-to-home (DTH) operators promising to ‘revolutionise’ television viewing experience of customers by introducing 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) services in India. With four times (3840 x 2160) more the total number of pixels than on a full HD screen which has 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080), the technology brings out the finest details and colours on the screen. While the picture may be clear on the screen we looked at the finer details to see if this is truly something that viewers should be looking forward to.
To begin with, one needs to have a 4K TV in order truly benefit from the 4K UHD service provided by these DTH operators. As this technology only makes for great viewing on large format screens, 4K UHD TV’s are only available on in large sizes of 55-inches and above. This definitely does not come at a small price, with the minimum price being Rs.1 lakh for a 55-inch TV and moving up to Rs.23 lakh for an 85-inch TV. In comparison HD TV’s are available at far cheaper rates and range from anywhere between Rs.6,000 and Rs.50,000, depending on the size. Added to this customers will have to shell out an additional Rs.10,000 for the 4K UHD set-top-box (STB) from operators. And though previous customers of the service providers can avail the Rs.6000 exchange offer, it is still comes at a very steep price overall.
Commenting on the prices Vikram Mehra, Chief Commercial Officer, Tata Sky said, “Prices of 4K TV sets will come down when volumes grow, volumes will grow when there is more 4K content, 4K content will start getting produced when there are 4K STBs. In short, it’s a chicken and egg situation where someone has to take the lead. Being the leader in Pay TV, we believe in investing in the future.”
With regards to the creating 4K content is concerned, broadcasters do not see on same levels as DTH operators. Many broadcasters feel that though this is a great step taken by the DTH operators, in India however with DTH operators are struggling to push HD subscriptions up it will not be possible to create separate channels catering to 4K content.
Commenting on this, Shantanu Gangane, Associate Business Head, Movies Now said, “While people are still talking about it in metros and talking about smaller numbers, they (DTH operators) also have been struggling with the realization of the revenues, as far as HD is concerned. I hope there is content availability and content appreciation from the consumers end directly. At the end of the day if the consumer is not paying for it then the content availability does not make a viable business plan. So if we are not going to charge that money no matter what technology comes into play you will never have a viable option for this. But does it really make sense for someone to launch a channel like 4K UHD? That really waits to be seen. Still the DTH operators are struggling with their numbers as far as HD is concerned. So if you are not able to increase your numbers on HD then how will we speak about 3D and 4K? It is a great initiative and I appreciate that somebody in the market should take a leader’s stance and try out new things.”
Taking the lack of 4K UHD content argument into consideration, Anil Khera, CEO, Videocon d2h raises the point that HD TV’s started selling many years before HD channels came in the country. “People want the latest products and innovation at home, so that when the signal comes, whether it is one year or longer, they want to be ready with the product to enjoy the facility when it happens to come. So I think that is the reason why people start thinking and buy the technology before you have a 4K live feed to enjoy. All the major broadcasters are aware of this (4K UHD) and are excited about that we have an uplink centre and satellite ready to beam 4K signals and I think that has given them the impetus which is required to create 4K content. I think we can expect announcements from them soon as well.”
However, according to US research firm IHS, consumer demand for 4K UHD TV’s will remain negligible in the next five years, with shipments not accounting to more than 1% of the global LCD TV market. The research firm further predicts that shipments worldwide of 4K UHD TV’s will reach 2.1 million units by 2017 from 4,000 units this year. However, this will only account for 0.8% of the global shipments by 2017.
Though this may be so, there are some TV broadcasters who are positive and see this technology being adopted by users eventually no matter how long that might be. Such is the view of Ruchir Tiwari, Cluster Programming Head – Hindi Movie Channels, ZEEL (Zee Cinema, &Pictures, Zee Classic), “Technology is the future and obviously such edges are very critical, but India is a different market. Look at how HD has now grown over the last three to four years. It takes time but I guess only the future can tell. Everybody will turn to such technology as we go further. HD might not be growing faster but it is growing well and you can now see the impact on most channels (that have turned to HD). People are liking it, so feedback has been very positive which means it will pick very drastically.”