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4K TV Display Drives the World, But which 4K? RGB or RGBW?

10 December 2015 David Hsieh

In 2012, 4K (3840x2160) liquid crystal display (LCD) TV panels were pioneered by Taiwanese companies. The shipments of 4K LCD TVs grew to 3 million in terms of unit in 2013 and then surged to 19 million in 2014 and are expected to record 39 million in 2015. In 2014, 4K LCD TV accounted for 8% of the total market share, drastically up from 1% in 2013 and is expected to take up a 14% share in 2015, securing a double digit market share. The 4K LCD TV panel market is growing steadily despite the sluggish global economy and industry downturn. It has played a critical role in boosting the profitability of display manufacturers as a high-end product.

Like three dimensional (3D) TVs that had two different types-patterned retarder and shutter glass-there exist two different types of 4K (3840x2160) LCD TV panels depending on how the pixel is composed: The RGB type; and the RGBW type. The former creates pixels using the conventional three RGB subpixels. The latter, which includes a white subpixel, has three subpixels in each pixel, but the pixels are aligned in a different way from the RGB type, such as in the order RGB, WRG, BWR and GBW.

Recently, there has been intense competition between the two methods, dividing the 4K LCD TV panel market into two different camps. This trend is similar to the competition between the patterned retarder and shutter glass types in 2010 when 3D LCD TVs were first introduced. At that time, one camp argued that the resolution of the image could be reduced by half due to the 3D delivery method applied by the other. However, according to the other camp, the fatigue on eyes would be aggravated because of the method of sending the left and right images separately with a time lag, which was used by its counterpart.

Currently, a similar debate is going on regarding the 4K pixel composition method. Some argue that a genuine 4K must have all RGB in one pixel and others argue that the RGBW method is beneficial in terms of high definition and energy consumption.

Currently, shipments for both RGB 4K and RGBW 4K are increasing. According to IHS, the shipments of the 4K LCD TV are forecast to increase from 39 million units in 2015 to 66 million in 2016, a 168% jump. The RGBW 4K market should grow fast too, recording 15 million shipment units in 2016, up from 6 million in 2015. Consequently, its market share should increase by 7 percentage points to 23% in 2016 from 16% in 2015. (The outlook for RGBW 4K LCD TV panels is not an official outlook of IHS but is an insight from an industry observation.)

The RGBW 4K market should see more players with Chinese names joining the market on top of Korean brands in 2016. Also, the Chinese market seems to be more positive toward RGBW 4K LCD TV compared to other regions. In fact, a regional breakdown of RGBW 4K shows that Korean companies are expected to have a market share of 98% in 2015, but with the full-fledged participation of Chinese firms, they should take up about 29% in 2016.

However, RGB 4K should also continue rapid growth to reach 51 million shipments in terms of unit in 2016. This is due to the fact that there are a larger number of RGB 4K players than RGBW ones. In particular, Taiwanese panel makers are only concentrating on RGB 4K.

Whether which type will be more successful in the market depends on consumers' decision. Higher image quality and affordable price levels will be a key to the success. In this respect, ultimately, both methods will advance mutually with each camp learning from the strengths of the other and improving their weaknesses, providing a positive influence on expansion of the entire market.

Already, there is movement towards 8K, going beyond 4K. Taiwan-based Innolux Corp. showcased 65-inch 8K panels at an exhibition, pioneering the 8K market as it did the 4K market. In addition, Korean companies that were laggards in the initial stage of the 4K market are expected to move quickly to respond to the 8K era. In this sense, the 8K era is not far away. The technology developed for 4K should bring forward the opening of the 8K era.

David Hsieh is a display senior analyst for IHS
Posted on 10 December 2015

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