TV Executives on 4K UHD & OLED
In the second part of our vendor round table (Part 1 appears in the July print edition of Dealerscope), major TV suppliers discuss how dealers can best couch 4K, and give their views on the OLED category’s present and future potential.
DEALERSCOPE: What are consumer misconceptions about UHD, and what are you doing to help your retail partners clarify the technology and promote your UHD sets? How can the industry avoid making similar presentational missteps as occurred with the 3D rollout?
Rey Roque, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Westinghouse Digital: Consumers will see the value in the pixel density – much like what’s happening in smartphones and tablets. They’ll see the value in user-generated content, as 4K cameras become more widely available and lower in cost. There’s a lot of PC-based content and digital camera content that can benefit from this. Immersive gaming, which requires you to be closer to the screen, will also help drive adoption. We don’t think 3D and UHD are similar pitches. 3D was burdened with the glasses, and you really needed 3D-authored content. We think that decent upscaling, within or external to the set, can make UHD practical for a variety of existing 1080p content.
Scott Ramirez, Vice President, Product Marketing & Development, Visual Products, Toshiba: I don’t know that all of them understand 4K. But honestly, I don’t know if they understand what 1080p Full HD is, either. But I think people understand that 1080p is better than 720p and that 4K is better than 1080. To really feel it, though, you have to see it. The questions on their minds are, does it really look better than HD? Can I get content for it? And does it make my current content look better? Those are things that will make them decide whether it’s worth a premium price. We’ll try to provide high-quality demo content to retailer to allow them to show the true 4K benefits.
We want to show how good the TV looks with native 4K but also how great the upconversion process is, so in the content we provide will be examples of both. It will be provided on a flash drive, and the TVs are set up that it will auto run and auto repeat on the sales floor. We have to work with the retailers to assure that these get plugged in in all the stores; that’s a process we’re working on right now.
Dave Das, Senior Vice President, Home Entertainment Marketing, Samsung: Consumers are understanding UHD better this year than last. I’ll contrast that with the 3D rollout. For UHD the consumer benefit is clear and at the most basic level, it’s four times the resolution of Full HD. It’s something the customer can see with their naked eye at retail. With 3D, a big hurdle was asking the consumer to don a pair of glasses, which is not as convenient an experience. With UHD, it’s a lean-back experience that doesn’t require any other physical hardware.
To help retailers sell UHD, we are rolling out in over 2,500 storefronts curved UHD endcaps designed to educate consumers on its benefits. A subset of that is that in Best Buy select stores we have the Samsung Entertainment Experience initiative, where the consumer can see all the different technologies Samsung offers, done in a vignette, or story, format. They can walk up to a station and learn about UHD but also about complementary audio – soundbars or our Shape wireless multi-room audio system.
Tim Alessi, Director, New Product Development, LG: Consumers are doing a lot of research online and we’ve tried to tell a clear story on our website for when they do pre-purchase research. Also, how we work with our retail partners is critical. Resolution is an easy concept for consumers to understand when they’re thinking about picture quality. But you don’t get the impact till you stand in front of it and see it.
There has been some stuff written that Ultra HD is only good for larger screen sizes 85 inches or bigger. But the added resolution gives an intangible quality of realism that you have to see to appreciate. You can get a 55-inch – and we’ll even have a 49-inch out. Ultra HD gives consumers more options to get bigger screens in smaller spaces, and even if your viewing distance isn’t what a technical definition would say is optimal, you’ll still get that feeling of realism based on higher resolution. The real payoff is you can sit closer and not see the pixel structure. There’s going to be something for almost everybody out there in terms of screen size and budget as well.
Julie Bauer, President, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co.: We hold many training sessions with our retail partners to educate them on UHD so that they are enabled to have that conversation with consumers. We also provide content and research online at www.panasonic.com for consumers to do their own independent data-gathering.
Takakiyo Fujita, Vice President, Home Entertainment and Sound, Sony: Some consumers believe there is not enough 4K content to warrant purchasing a 4K TV. However, Sony offers over 200 titles via our Video Unlimited 4K service – the world’s largest library for 4K content – with even more content being continually added. Other major content providers, like Netflix, are also starting to offer 4K content. Also, because Sony’s 4K Ultra HDTVs upscale all content, no matter what content you watch, it will look better on Sony’s 4K Ultra HDTVs. Another misconception is that all 4K TVs are created equal. It is not just about more pixels; it is about better pixels. Sony 4K UHD TVs are constructed differently using exclusive technologies like the 4K X-Reality Pro processor, Triluminos Display and X-tended Dynamic Range. These technologies ensure that in addition to more detail, Sony 4K UHD TVs can provide a wider range of colors and wider brightness range (visible contrast).
Jonathan Frank, Vice President, Marketing, Hisense: The top three misconceptions:
• “Mastered in 4K” FHD content is not 4K content… picture quality of upconverted 1080p content is demonstrably better on a 4K TV but is not as spectacular or immersive as 2160p content.
• You’ll need to upgrade your current “high-speed” Internet service and 10/100-Ethernet / 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi router to receive and distribute 2160p content in your home.
• 2160p content is not yet available via CATV/SAT and Blu-ray; compared to 4K-Display, the connectivity of Tru-4K televisions are “future-proof” features.
Frank Kendzora, Executive Vice President, Seiki: The top misperception may be consumer expectations for experiencing the same 4K Ultra HD visual experience without 4K content at home with today’s HD content. Seiki is proactively addressing this by introducing 4K upconversion innovations as companion technology, such as U-VISION 4K Upconversion HDMI cable and Blu-ray disc player, for 4K Ultra HD TVs that make them more practical for today’s TV buyers. 3D and 4K Ultra HD are quite different. 4K is a new digital entertainment experience that goes beyond what HD or even 3D HD can offer. We can better present 4K Ultra HD TVs now by displaying what’s currently possible with current HD content. Seiki is doing this now by building retail displays that highlight 4K upconversion capabilities, rather than just native 4K capabilities of the TV.
Chris Larson, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, TCL: The biggest misconception is around content. The truth is that you do not need 4K content to enjoy a UHD set. Done properly, we can upscale standard HD content to look fantastic on a 4K set. The fact that TCL makes more UHD sets than just about anyone else in the world means that not only are we more experienced, but we have the worldwide volume that allows us to invest in R&D in hardware and software solutions that provide this performance.
Jim Sanduski, Senior Vice President, Strategic Product Marketing, Sharp: It’s something that’s easy for consumers to grasp, because it’s a resolution story: there’s one level of resolution in UHD 3840×2160. In moving from standard to high definition, if you’ll recall, there were three diffierent specs: 720p, 1080i and 1080p. I’d argue that this transition will be easier. Consumers understand resolution and can see it with their eyes. As an industry, we need to do a really good job about educating them about how they’ll get 4K content to play on the television. A Blu-ray 4K standard, to my knowledge, has not yet been finalized, so the first availability will be through streaming. You already have Netflix, for example, streaming House of Cards. We, working with our channel retail partners, need to do a good job in educating consumers about how they can get this content. We’ve provided them with 4K content that we can play on the TV and will provide them additional content with this wave of introductions. It will be supplied on a USB stick that plays a video loop.
Drew Pragliola, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, AmTRAN (JVC): Personally, I think the problem isn’t so much misconceptions as it is a lack of awareness. We are engaging with our retail partners, providing educational content for their web sites, spelling out the benefits of JVC UHD TVs. We’re committed to promoting our products within all channels throughout Q4 and beyond. UHD will become mainstream when native content becomes readily available from movies to sporting events, which from all indications will begin in Q1 ’15.
DEALERSCOPE: Will you be promoting OLED alongside UHD – and if so, how will it be positioned vis-a-vis UHD so that dealers can tell a clear story to customers?
Alessi: This isn’t all that difficult for us. When people see OLED, they’re blown away by the picture quality – the black levels, which are better than plasma, and by the color reproduction and contrast. From what we understand, LG is going to be the only company marketing OLED in any sort of meaningful way. We were proud to introduce OLED to the market in 2013 with a 55-inch model and have since added a second model, the Gallery OLED, with a frame. And we’ll be introducing three additional models this year – two are Ultra HD as well, so we don’t have to ask people to compromise on anything. They can get the latest OLED panel technology with all the great color and contrast it offers, as well as 4K Ultra HD resolution. In Q3, we’ll introduce 65- and 77-inch Ultra HD OLED sets.
Ramirez: In 2014, we are not supporting OLED. It is a promising technology, especially in its black levels, but the production processes are not mature enough or efficient enough for OLED to make sense for most consumers. We’ll watch, and there will be a time when it makes sense but it just isn’t 2014. As far as how it’s positioned versus 4K UHD, we don’t believe it should be positioned versus 4K at all. We think OLED should be 4K. Basically, there should be 4K UHD LED and then 4K UHD OLED. And OLED then just becomes a step inside the larger 4K UHD category. At this point, 2K, or 1080p, OLED is confusing for the consumer, in that they have to choose between a type of panel technology versus a resolution. But once OLED is 4K, it’s no longer confusing – now you’re just looking at levels of 4K, and that’s easy for people to understand. And when 4K OLED comes into a reasonable premium price point, I think that’s when it’s going to make sense. I can’t say when that will happen. It could be 2015 or 2016. It all depends on how the manufacturing processes keep moving forward.
Das: Regarding OLED, we will continue our R&D investments according to market demands. That means that last year, we were the leader in OLED space, but there have been some challenges with respect to yield. So when the technology is right for it to be more readily available for consumers, we have it and are ready to bring it to market. Our focus for 2014 is on UHD and on curved UHD at a variety of price points and screen sizes.
Fujita: We currently are not offering a consumer OLED TV. Our focus is on 4K Ultra HDTVs and premium HDTVs. Sony continues developing and looking into reliable ways to mass-produce OLED displays for consumers while continuing to build experience via providing OLED displays for professional, medical and broadcast use.
Bauer: We have not yet announced our plans related to the arrival of OLED technology in the marketplace, so it would be premature to comment on promotional plans related to OLED.
Larson: Although TCL has big plans for OLED in the future (including OLED panel production at China Star, our panel company), we do not see this technology fitting with our strategy in 2014. We intend to focus our efforts on a superior connected experience in our 2K line with TCL Roku TV, while insuring that our 4K experience presents a picture quality second to none. One benefit of being a vertically integrated manufacturer is that we can move to new technology as it fits our perception of marginal utility. We do not need to “force” a change to accommodate a supplier.
Sanduski: We do not have any OLED products in our lineup, but instead, we’re taking a different tack. We think that even without OLED, Sharp has the broadest portfolio of panel technologies and resolutions. We’ve introduced Q+ technology, which addresses the mainstream consumer. Three key things about it: using our proprietary Quattron technology, which has that fourth yellow subpixel, we double the vertical resolution and deliver 10 million more subpixels of resolution than a conventional three-color Full HD panel. Second, our built-in upscaler takes a signal and reproduces greater resolution. Third, the HDMI inputs accept 4K signals which, on a Q+ television, look in somes cases almost indistinguishable from a 4K set. It’s the industry’s fullest high-resolution HDTV at a good value that fits in the sweet spot between Full HD and 4K, and it’s priced more as a premium Full HD television. Those are in virtually all of our sales-assisted channels including the national electronics superstores, and we’re well pleased with consumer reaction to the product. There are five models, and as we look to 2015, we’re looking to expand the models further.
Roque: We have no plans for OLED at this time. We think that backlit LED, both edge and direct, with or without local-area dimming, still has a lot of legs in terms of driving UHD without changing technologies.
Frank: Hisense is not offering OLED in the U.S. market in 2014.
Kendzora: While OLED is within Seiki’s capabilities to produce for the U.S. market, we currently have no plans to introduce the OLED and compete with our 4K Ultra HD offerings.
Be sure to check out the Dealerscope July 2014 issue’s TV Round Table, for more comments by these executives on the TV market.