8K TV: What you need to know
After years of concept models, you’ll finally be able to buy 8K TV this year. Should you care?
4K is dead, long live 8K!
OK, not really. But the day will come when 4K goes the way of all those lower resolutions and is replaced by a bigger number, in this case 8K. The first 8K TV to arrive on the market will be the 85-inch Samsung Q900 this fall.
We’ve seen concept 8K TVs for years, but the Q900 is the first you can actually buy. It’s not the first in the world, however – that honor goes to the Sharp 70-inch LV-70X500E 8K monitor that started shipping earlier this year to Europe (for 11,000 euros) after going on sale in late 2017 in China, Japan and Taiwan. These TVs will almost certainly usher in more 8K sets in 2019 and beyond, like an 8K OLED TV from LG. Now that the age of 8K TVs is almost upon us, you might have some questions.
Does this mean 4K TV is already obsolete? Do you need to rush out an buy an 8K TV this year or risk being unable to watch your favorite shows? Should you throw your brand-new TV out the window in a fit of disgust at its appallingly low 4K resolution?
The answer to all of these questions is “no.” Here’s why.
What is 8K?
A traditional HDTV from a few years ago is 1080p, which means it has 1,920 pixels horizontally, and 1,080 vertically. Many digital cinema projectors — the ones in movie theaters — have a resolution of 2,048×1,080. Because it’s common in Hollywood-speak to only refer to the horizontal resolution, they call that “2K” but it’s basically the same as the HDTV 1080p you have at home.
The term “4K” comes from the digital cinema side, too, with a horizontal resolution of 4,096, hence “4K.” However, on the TV side, manufacturing efficiencies meant we got double the horizontal and vertical resolutions of 1080p HDTV, so 3,840 by 2,160. Everyone colloquially calls this “4K,” though the technical term is Ultra HD. This has four times as many pixels as 1080p HD.
TV resolution confusion: 1080p, 2K, UHD, 4K, 8K, and what they all mean
Which brings us to 8K. You guessed it: twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of 4K, for a whopping 7,680×4,320 and 33,177,600 total pixels. Not only is that four times the resolution of 4K, that’s an incredible 16 times more pixels than 1080p.
|Resolution name||Horizontal x vertical pixels||Total pixels||Other names||Found on|
|8K||7,680 x 4,320||33,177,600||Ultra High-Definition (UHD), Super Hi-Vision, UHD-2||Concept TVs (so far)|
|4K||3,840 x 2,160||8,294,400||Ultra High-Definition (UHD)||Most midrange and high-end TVs|
|1080p||1,920 x 1,080||2,073,600||High-Definition (HD)||Smaller, less-expensive TVs|
|720p||1,280 x 720||921,600||High-Definition (HD)||32-inch and smaller TVs|
Do you need 8K?
Not even a little.
As we’ve explained many times with 4K TVs, there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to resolution. The human eye can only see so much detail, and extra pixels beyond what you can discern are basically wasted. To get anything out of higher resolutions and their proportionally tinier pixels, you need to sit closer, get a bigger TV, or both.
It’s rare that anyone gets a large enough TV — or sits close enough to one — to justify the need for 4K resolutions. 8K is excessive overkill… at least for a TV. If you’re talking about massive theater-size screens like Samsung’s Wall or Sony’s Cledis, 8K would be amazing. But since 4K is hard to discern when comparing to a 1080p TV, 4K to 8K from 10 feet away will be pretty much impossible.
Based on the math of human visual acuity, you’ll need to sit really close to an 85-inch 8K screen to get any benefit of the extra resolution. Carlton Bale’s superb home theater calculator, for example, says you’ll need to sit 3 feet or closer (to a screen that’s more than 7 feet diagonal) to see all the detail of 8K, and 5 feet or closer to see the full benefit of 4K. In other words, from further than 5 feet away you won’t be able to see any benefit of an 8K TV compared to a 4K TV. And that’s at 85 inches. You’ll need to sit even closer to smaller TVs to discern the benefits of 8K.
What about content?
Without 8K content, an 8K TV is just a 4K TV with a few thousand dollars stuck to it with masking tape. Samsung talked up fancy “AI” upscaling technology on the Q9S, designed to improve the look of mere 4K and 1080p sources on an 8K screen. But to get the most out of all those 33 million-plus pixels, the incoming source needs to be 8K too.
There are three main aspects to getting any new format viewable in your home: the content itself, transmission and playback. The Samsung 8K TV and others that will surely follow represent the playback side, that is, the TV or projector in your home. That’s the easy part.
Content is tougher. First off, there are only just a few cinema cameras capable of capturing 8K. Japan’s NHK has been dabbling, and will likely transmit a significant portion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 8K. There has been some 8K content shot at the last several Olympics, so expect even more. There are a handful of channels on YouTube that showcase 8K content, mostly nature documentaries and the like.
Red, one of the main camera companies used for Hollywood movies, has several models that can record in this resolution, as do a few others. Interestingly, there have already been feature films shot in 8K. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the first, followed by Mortal Engines, The New Mutants and a few others that are upcoming. Creating 8K content is more challenging, as the cost for these cameras, plus the computers and storage capable of dealing with hundreds of terabytes, if not multiple petabytes of information, do not come cheap.
Few standards, lots of megabits
The most difficult part will be transmission: getting this modicum of 8K content to your home. There is currently no standardized way to get 8K content to your shiny 8K TV. Presumably, as more content becomes available, a special app within the TV will get you access to this high-res media. This is likely what Samsung will have to do for you to be able to see anything in 8K on its 8K TVs.
Don’t wait for 8K
So if you’re thinking about buying a new TV this year, does this mean you should hold off? Well, if your current TV works, you should probably hold on to it regardless, but new 8K TVs shouldn’t be a factor. For one thing, these early TVs will be very expensive. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pricing is astonishingly high. We’re also many, many years away from any sort of widespread 8K content. We arguably don’t have widespread 4K content, and no one is talking about scrapping 4K to go directly to 8K.
The other aspect is a warning that will be seconded by countless 4K early adopters: There is no guarantee these early 8K TVs will end up being compatible with any future 8K standard. There are tens of thousands of 4K TVs that can’t play any current 4K media content. Why pay exorbitant amounts of money on a TV that barely has any content now, and might not be able to play any later? Bragging rights, I guess, and if that’s your thing, who am I to stand in your way? Just keep in mind that current HDR 4K TVs look vastly better than every first-gen 4K TV and cost a fraction of the price.