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With all of the media focus on Apple Watches this week, here’s a reminder that the living room big-screen still rules the tech roost in the home, and ground zero for the exploding 4K Ultra HDTV market is right here in the U.S.A.

A “Connected Home Devices” study tracking global Ultra HDTV unit shipments released by market research firm Strategy Analytics this week said 4K Ultra HDTV is blossoming and North America is expected to emerge as the world leader in household penetration within the next five years.

More on what’s pushing the interest, where other regions rank in order and why you might want to consider an upgrade to 4K with your next TV purchase after the break:

The report goes on to say that this new global demand for 4K UHDTVs is being driven by entry level price points starting below $1,000, a greater availability of models and consumers looking for the latest technology as they go to upgrade their original flat panel TVs.

Strategy Analytics predicts global shipments of Ultra HDTVs more than doubling in 2015 to 27.5 million units, and continuing to more than 100 million a year by 2018. Just over 4.5 million UHD TVs are expected to ship in North America this year, representing 17% of the global total up from 12% in 2014.

What this means is that 4K Ultra HDTVs are going to quickly displace Full HDTVs (a.k.a. 2K or 1080p) as the resolution of choice for a majority of new TV set buyers in the not so distant future.

“Ultra HD will become the standard resolution for virtually all large screen TVs within 3 to 4 years’ time and we will see it penetrate further into smaller screen sizes as manufacturing efficiencies improve,” said David Watkins, Strategy Analytics Connected Home Devices service director said.  “As we saw with the transition from SD to HD, it is the TV manufacturers who are leading the Ultra HD charge although significant steps are being made on the delivery infrastructure and content production parts of the value chain. As the inevitable price competition eats into the ability of the TV vendors to make any meaningful profit from selling Ultra HDTVs, many brands are adding support for wider color gamuts and high dynamic range in order to differentiate their models and charge a premium over standard Ultra HD models.”

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As for the popularity of curved-screen UHDTVs compared to more traditional flat varieties, Watkins told HD Guru: “Flat screen UHDTVs will account for the vast majority of UHDTV sales over the next five years as curved options will continue to carry a significant premium while brand support for such screens will start to wane. Samsung is continuing to push the merits of curved screens and will be the leading vendor for such TVs but there is a growing sense that several other brands are stepping back from the curve. Preference for a curved screen is largely subjective and was always going to appeal to a certain group of TV buyers who are looking for innovative designs and something different to show off to their friends and family.”

TV shoppers today now must ponder whether or not they need or want a set that is going to take advantage of new 4K Ultra HDTV content that will be coming out to address this capability, and whether or not they feel they will personally benefit from the picture improvement. Remember, screen size makes a big difference in the average viewer’s ability to discern a difference in resolution quality between a Full HDTV and a 4K Ultra HDTV. The larger the screen is, the bigger the improvement.

Sixty percent of all Ultra HD TVs shipped globally in 2014 were 50-inches or larger in size, while a quarter of all 50-inch and larger TVs shipped were Ultra HD, Strategy Analytics said.

In 2015, the most discernible picture quality improvements will come from higher-end 4K Ultra HDTVs incorporating new wide color gamut technology and high dynamic range support.

In many cases, the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses factor alone will be a sufficient motivator to make the investment in a 4K UHDTV, whether larger or smaller than 50 inches. The forecast calls for greater availability of Ultra HDTVS 50-inches and smaller in 2015, accounting for the majority of Ultra HD TV shipments globally by the end of 2016. Similar adoption patterns followed the launch of Full HDTVs (1080p), which went on to displace 720p and 1080i TVs, despite experts saying at the time that visually perceptible improvements were subtle at best in screen sizes under 50 inches – less so when the content wasn’t produced in native Full HD.

Those more motivated by bargains will undoubtedly start to see the value of 2K HDTVs rising as prices are reduced along with the number of model options in the months ahead. A few brands have already opted to begin carrying over many of last year’s 2K HDTVs into the new model year, rather than make any further investments in the aging display technology.

Many Americans will go with the latest and greatest. According to Strategy Analytics, North Americans are expected to step up their UHDTV purchases in a big way, outpacing Western Europe, Australia, South Korea and China, respectively, in total UHDTV household penetration rankings. Of course, those numbers are also impacted by overall population size, and China has the largest household base of 368 million homes (and growing rapidly) compared to the third-ranked United States with approximately 117 million.

Clearly the trend has been established. The market research firm said that shipments of 4K Ultra HD TVs grew 633% in 2014 to reach 12.1 million units with Asia Pacific accounting for 75% followed by North America (12%) and Western Europe (11%). What will your next TV be?

By Greg Tarr

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