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Want to buy an HDTV in Japan? You'll have to look hard!

by David Watkins | 2月 11, 2015

I took the opportunity of being in Tokyo this week to visit one of the country's leading consumer electronics retailers, Yodabashi Camera. The Akihabara branch I visted is vast with products arranged into clear categories across 6 floors. I headed straight to the busy Audio Visual floor to check out the 4K TVs on show and I was immediately struck by just how much floor and shelf space was taken up by 4K models. In fact you had to look pretty hard to find a non-4K set. Row upon row of 4K TVs were arranged by screen size from Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and Mitsubishi as well as South Korea's LG. Each brand also had a generous section of wall space to show off their flagship products. Sizes for 4K models ranged from 40-inches up to 65-inches with the lowest price I found being LG's 49-inch UB8500 at ¥148,000 ($1240). At the other end of the scale, Sony's 65-inch X9500 model was on offer for ¥799,000 ($6700).

In common with other markets around the world, Japan's TV market is trending towards larger sizes with 50-inch and above sets accounting for 14% of TV units sold during 2014 compared with 10% in 2012 and just 6% in 2010. Consumers who are in the market for these larger sizes increasingly have no choice but to buy a 4K version as vendors are drastically reducing their line up of 1080p models in those larger sizes. However, it was interesting to see that Japanese consumers have a wider range of sub 50-inch 4K TVs to choose from than we have seen so far in Europe or the USA. The 40-49-inch screen size category accounts for around 20% of TV sales in Japan. 

The staff at Yodabashi were very helpful and there was always someone on hand to ask a question to despite how busy the store was. On the downside very few of the 4K sets seemed to be displaying actual 4K content and when they did it looked to be a pre-loaded show reel. Therefore, on the rare occasion that a 1080p and 4K TV were next to one another I did find it difficult to see an improvement in the picture quality or resolution on the 4K set, even at 55 and 60-inch sizes.

Soundbars were also prominent on the shop floor from a variety of TV and audio specialist brands. The soundbars were often displayed below the 4K TVs but sadly were not always connected and working. Surprisingly there did not seem to be much in the way of TV and soundbar bundling offers.

Before leaving I checked out the audio section and got lost for a few minutes in the aisles of bluetooth speakers, mostly low-end products but some higher end devices were on display from the likes of Bose and Sony. High resolution audio equipment was also fairly prominent but there was no sign of any multi-room audio capable devices. High-end audio brands such as Yamaha, Marantz, Onkyo and Pioneer all had their own enclosed area on the store floor in which brand representatives were on hand to demonstrate the latest range of products from Hi-Fi systems to AV receivers, floor speakers and even professional mixing decks.

Yodabashi Camera certainly does a great job in terms of offering consumers choice and advice and while the sheer size and range of products on offer may seen overwhelming at first, the stores are easy to navigate and consumers are given plenty of opportunity to test products out for themselves. I know a few European retailers that would benefit from taking a leaf out of Yodabashi's book!

David Watkins

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