The market for ultra-high-definition (UHD) TV panels reached a significant new benchmark in March when global shipments exceeded 1 million units for the first time, driven by vastly increased deliveries from the industry’s three largest makers of the high-end panels, according to a new report from IHS Technology (NYSE: IHS).
UHD TV panel shipments amounted to 1.1 million units in March, nearly a threefold increase from 384,300 units a month earlier in February, as shown in the attached table. The gains are even more spectacular when measured from the same time a year ago in March 2013, when total UHD TV panels had not yet cracked the 150,000 mark.
“From the time UHD TV panels were introduced to the world for the first time in 2012, demand for these cutting-edge displays has been slow in growing, mainly because the televisions using the panels have proved prohibitively expensive,” said Linda Lin, senior analyst for large displays at IHS. “But with the technology becoming more pervasive, coupled with increasingly aggressive marketing from panel manufacturers, UHD TV panels are starting to take off.”
Contributing to the market’s exceptional showing in March were UHD pre-stocking orders for China’s Labor Day holiday at the beginning of May, and the FIFA World Cup in June. Holidays in China are often a high point of anticipation for panel makers as Chinese consumers shop more, while global sports events like the World Cup trigger higher sales than usual for large-sized or higher-technology television sets.
UHD TV panels feature four times the resolution of full high-definition 1080p panels, boasting even higher contrast ratios and extremely lifelike images. Underscoring the dramatic surge of shipments in March, four of the market’s six panel makers enjoyed shipment growth rates last month exceeding 100 percent compared to February levels.
South Koreans help stoke market
Of the world’s six top UHD TV panel makers, Taiwan’s Innolux led the market in March. Its shipments for 50-inch panels alone amounted to approximately 210,000 units, making up 47 percent of the firm’s total UHD TV panel deliveries.
In second place was Samsung Display Co. (SDC) of South Korea, whose 55-inch panels climbed 160 percent for the month. SDC also mass-produced new 40- and 48-inch UHD TV panels for the first time.
In third place was fellow Korean maker LG Display Co. (LGD), which also enjoyed the biggest month-to-month growth at 395 percent. It shipped new 42-inch UHD panels for the first time while also doubling shipments in 49-, 55-, and 65-inch panels.
Even though South Korean makers are late to the UHD TV panel market, they are now beginning to launch lower-cost UHD TV displays, including the so-called “Green” panels from SDC and G+ panels LGD. The Green panel, for instance, allows the reduction of UHD panel manufacturing costs by using fewer display driver integrated circuits and a different pixel pattern with only three-quarters of true 3180 x 2160 UHD resolution,
But even if the picture quality for lower-cost Green UHD panels is not nearly as good as those with true UHD resolutions, the cheaper cost of the former is catching the attention of TV vendors, IHS believes.
Other top global UHD TV panel makers include AUO of Taiwan in fourth place, China’s CSOT in fifth, and Japan’s Sharp in sixth. The top four makers each had monthly shipment growth rates surpassing 100 percent, while AUO and CSOT each saw shipments in March rise by more than 50 percent.
Price will be key to accelerating growth in 2014
The major driving force this year in UHD panel growth will be the expansion of South Korean makers because of their new lower-cost panels. By year-end, UHD shipments are forecast to reach 15.2 million units, up sharply from 3.1 million in 2013, accounting for 6 percent of the total LCD TV panel market this year. Panels 60-inch or larger will be the star performers, expected to take 27 percent of the total UHD panel space.
The strongest demand at present for UHD TVs comes from the Chinese TV market, where the advantages presented by UHD resolutions play especially well to consumers. Having already adopted 3-D technology and the Smart TV concept—both of which are better realized on UHD panels—the Chinese market understands the benefits of UHD TV panels, said Kacie Cavanaugh, analyst for large displays at IHS.
UHD panels to increase faster than other TV panels in next five years
Shipments of UHD panels are likely to increase faster than the total TV panel market. Demand for UHD panels will grow to 68.4 million units by 2018, up 350 percent from 2014, IHS predicts. In comparison, TV panel shipments in general will rise just 12 percent.
Two major obstacles to the success of UHD technology in the market place are the high price of both the panel and the end unit, as well as the lack of readily available content.
The lack of higher-resolution content continues to be a problem for UHD because no broadcast programming is available so far. However, streaming UHD content has become available in the U.S. and is planned for other regions as well, and some set manufacturers are offering UHD film titles with their UHD media players. Even if the upscaled material does not match the level of a true UHD screen, the picture is still of higher quality than what full HD can deliver.