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Japanese TV makers bet on super-HD as World Cup looms

AFP | Sunday, Jun 8, 2014

TOKYO - With a hopeful eye on the approaching World Cup, Japan's embattled TV makers are hoping the key to their rescue can be found on the second floor of Bic Camera's downtown Tokyo outlet.

Sales of big-screen televisions with super-high definition 4K technology are picking up at the nationwide electronics retailer, and their fatter profit margins are offering a lifeline to one-time industry giants Sony and Panasonic.

Retailers report that demand for the cutting-edge technology - with four times the resolution of standard HD sets - has surged sports fans shell out big bucks with the football World Cup kicking off in Brazil on Thursday.

"Many customers are coming to buy a new TV set because of the World Cup," said Daisuke Kogure, visual products floor manager at Bic Camera's Yurakucho outlet.

In a corner of the store devoted to 4K screens, crystal-clear images of footballers and flowers show off the new technology.

"Even though commercial broadcasting is still to come, customers are still interested in seeing photo images and movies on 4K television screens," Kogure added.

On Monday, a consortium of major Japanese broadcasters, TV manufacturers and communications firms began test broadcasts of satellite television programmes in 4K across the country of 128 million, with some World Cup games set to be shown.

The move comes with Tokyo's backing as it looks to boost the competitiveness of the world's number three economy - neighbouring South Korea is already testing 4K technology for cable programming.

Sony president Kazuo Hirai recently pointed to the ultra-high-definition technology as a possible saviour for the company's money-losing TV unit, which has bled about 790 billion yen (S$9.8 billion) over the past decade.

Hirai's efforts to drag the TV business into the black have so far failed, but he has repeatedly shrugged off pleas to abandon a division that he insists remains central to Sony's core business.

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