LAS VEGAS — 4K TVs had a coming-out party here five years ago. Now, the ultra high-definition format is hitting its stride.
4K Ultra HD televisions have experienced a successful slow burn since the first units went on sale in October 2012. Then last year, consumers embraced the TVs, which display four times the resolution of standard HDTVs. As prices fell, they bought about 10 million 4K LCD TVs, according to the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the Consumer Electronics Show that runs here through Sunday.
CTA anticipates another 15 million 4K LCD TVs will be sold this year, driving the installed base of 4K TVs to 34 million or more, meaning as many as one in four U.S. households potentially could own one by the end of 2017.
Helping drive the uptick: more content to watch and lower prices for TVs. DirecTV, Amazon, Netflix and other streaming services have increased the amount of 4K video content they deliver. Plus, consumers are shelling out for a surprisingly resilient source of movies — super high definition movie discs.
That's why, along with a wave of new 4K TVs set to debut at CES, there will also be new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players.
"It’s not surprising that some consumers remain interested in physical media and disc players," said Mike Fasulo, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics, which will introduce its first 4K Blu-ray player expected to hit stores early this year (no price yet). "For true connoisseurs, physical media still offers the best quality video," he said. With a disc player, "you can watch a 4K HDR video in your cabin in the woods, without worrying about a reliable Internet connection or bandwidth limitations."
Samsung and Panasonic announced 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players last year here at CES and brought their first models to market in 2016 (Samsung's currently sells for $350, Panasonic's for $700). Microsoft's Xbox One S system, released this summer (starting at $250), also plays 4K Blu-rays. And Oppo, which brought out its first player in December for $549, has a higher-end model (no price yet) due in stores early this year.
Six out of 10 4K TV buyers at Video & Audio Center stores also buy a 4K Blu-ray player, says Tom Campbell, chief technologist for the L.A.-area retailer, which sold the first 4K TV in 2012. "People love the picture quality," Campbell said.
Prices of 4K TVs should continue to decline, making them increasingly attractive to consumers. The average price for a 4K set in North America dipped below $1,000 for the first time last year, according to IHS Markit Technology. This year, the average should fall to about $830, IHS estimates. "A lot of shoppers jumped into the market in 2016 as prices fell sharply," said Paul Gagnon, the firm's director of TV sets research.
TV makers will emphasize 4K this year, too, with 4K TVs making up more than 40% of TVs shipped in North America this year, he estimates. In 2016, 4K accounted for 27% of TVs shipped.
4K "is definitely going mainstream by the end of 2017," says Mike Dunn, president of product strategy and consumer business development at 20th Century Fox. "Pretty soon, if you are going to buy a television for your living room I don't think you'd buy anything other than a 4K TV with HDR."
Hollywood is hopeful that 4K can sustain physical movie discs as a medium of delivery. To help entice consumers to purchase the higher-priced discs — a 4K Blu-ray may cost $25-$30, compared to a standard Blu-ray at $15-$20 — studios have packed most releases with a 4K disc and standard HD disc, as well as a downloadable copy for watching on portable devices and computers.
Even though players only became readily available mid-year, more than 1.8 million 4K movie discs were sold in 2016, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, a home entertainment industry trade association. So far, 4K discs are outpacing by three times the sales of the original Blu-ray Discs. Studios expect to release 250 movies on 4K in 2017, adding to the 110 titles out already. Biggest seller so far? Deadpool.
4K Blu-rays are "really the best way of watching a movie in the home," says DEG president Amy Jo Smith. "People are going to see the difference, akin to the transition from the tape to the DVD."
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.