Soccer fans who have splashed out on top-of-the-range ultra-high definition (UHD) TVs in time for the FIFA World Cup next month may not get to watch any matches in the new format.
Only three matches will be filmed in UHD, which boasts resolution four times higher than the full HD standard. That is because even in Japan, where the format was invented, few broadcasters have the ability to transmit the large amount of data required for UHD over conventional broadcast satellites.
Analysts say World Cup fever is likely to give UHD sales a quick boost, though the longer-term outlook remains unclear, partly due to the uncertainty surrounding content distribution.
Dependence on broadcasters highlights the risks TV makers such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and LG Electronics Inc take when promoting new technology. Plasma screens were short-lived, 3D is widely regarded as a gimmick, and smart TVs - with features akin to smartphones - have not become mainstream.
"Distribution and content are the biggest hurdles for UHD adoption," DisplaySearch analyst Hisakazu Torii told Reuters.
The World Cup is arriving at least two years before regular UHD broadcasting becomes plausible, analysts said.
UHD content is indeed scarce. Sony Corp, which sees widespread UHD adoption taking as much as seven years, is among a minority in offering films in the format over its online Video Unlimited service, accessed through smart TVs.
Even so, Samsung and LG - the biggest TV makers by market share - are not missing a chance to boost UHD sales. The World Cup, which comes every four years, offers an opportunity to charge a premium for UHD before competition drives prices down by as much as 50 percent by year-end, industry watchers say.
"Demand for UHD TV will drive global TV market growth," Simon Sung, vice president of Samsung's visual display division, told analysts last week while discussing 2014 market conditions.
UHD shipments will reach 13 million TVs this year from 2 million last year, or about 6 percent of an overall market destined for its third straight year of decline, according to researcher IHS.
Sung said he expects the global TV market to grow this year, albeit by a low single-digit percent, citing the World Cup as a factor.
The process to make HD and UHD TVs is not so different, said analysts. So Samsung and LG - like panel makers such as LG Display Co Ltd - likely invested in UHD just a tiny fraction of the pair's