It's been a hard time for TVs at your local Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). The company has been fighting falling TV sales, with comparable consumer electronics sales -- sales in stores open for more than 14 months -- falling 5.8% over the holiday quarter. To try to jump back to the front of the pack, the chain is going to start carrying 4K TVs at 700 of its locations, starting this weekend.
What is 4K?
4K TVs are called ultra-high-definition because they have double the vertical and horizontal resolution of normal 1080p TVs. It's more, more, more, and Best Buy is hoping that it's going to catch on the way HDTVs have. Right now, the market is too undeveloped for this to be an immediate boost to Best Buy -- but we'll talk content in a second. First, how much difference does 4K make?
Carlton Bale, a tech writer, has written an excellent synopsis of what 4K means for the home viewer. Looking at the offerings that Best Buy currently has, you can buy either a 55-inch Sony (NYSE:SNE) or a 65-inch Sony for $5,000 or $7,000, respectively. According to Bale, to get the full effect of a 4K over a 1080p HDTV, you'd need to be sitting about 5 feet from the TV -- take a second to envision how that works with a 55-inch screen.
Now, in Best Buy's defense -- or, more broadly, in the defense of the 4K TV producers -- Bale also points out that if you're 10 feet from your 35-inch TV, HD doesn't really matter. That hasn't stopped people from buying 35-inch HDTVs, though.
But what about content?
Here's the bigger issue with 4K right now -- there's not a lot to watch. Sony has announced a 4K player, but the $700 add-on isn't out yet. Sony is also going to have a 4K video service, which will deliver 4K videos direct to consumers. The 4K TVs also take advantage of Sony's "exclusive upscaling technology," which is supposed to give owners a 4K experience no matter what they view.
While other films have been converted to 4K, the media player is really the key to enjoying the new films on your new TV. On the future horizon, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has said that it's going to be streaming 4K content in the next two years. The company shot much of its House of Cards series on 4K, and it hopes to have some of the content ready later this year.
The bottom line is that 4K isn't going to be the savior of Best Buy, but it's almost certainly going to draw some foot traffic in. People love a show, and the Best Buy stores are one of the only places in the U.S. to see 4K in action. At some point, it will probably catch on because we love new, shiny things. By that point, though, other retailers will carry the TVs, and Best Buy will be back in the position it's in today.