8K Resolution — Beyond 4K

Just as 4K settles in, 8K arrives on the scene

8K is already on the horizon as the next frontier in display technology. In basic terms, 8K resolution is four times that of 4K and 16 times that of 1080p. By pixel count, 8K is 7680 x 4320. That's 4320p, or the equivalent of 33.2 Megapixels.

8K, 4K, HD Resolution Comparison
RED.com, LLC

Why 8K?

What makes 8K significant is that it effectively "erases" the appearance of pixels. With the amount of detail provided by an 8K resolution, even a wall-size display will present as "pixel-less." The rendering of fine detail on an 8K televisions is unprecedented. While there are some 8K televisions currently for sale, there is virtually no 8K content available to enjoy.

Obstacles to 8K Implementation

With billions of dollars invested in existing HD, 4K, and UHD broadcasting, the widespread adoption of 8K in TV and streaming is a ways off. The market is still getting used to and, in some cases, catching up with 4K. But that hasn't stopped TV makers like Samsung and LG from showing off the latest 8K screens.

8K and TV Broadcasting

One of the leaders in developing 8K for TV broadcasting is NHK of Japan, which has proposed its Super Hi-Vision video and broadcast format as a possible standard. This format is not only intended to display 8K resolution video but can also transfer up to 22.2 channels of audio. A 22.2 channel system can accommodate any current or forthcoming surround sound format. It can also support multiple language audio tracks, which would make universal worldwide TV broadcasting more practical.

As part of their preparation, NHK is aggressively testing 8K in the TV broadcasting environment. The goal is to provide 8K broadcasting feeds for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

NHK began 8K broadcasting in Japan in late 2018, starting with a single channel via satellite transmission. Viewing requires an 8K TV as well as a dedicated satellite dish and receiver. However, while NHK is able to provide 8K broadcasts, there are concerns that many partner broadcasters, such as NBC, cannot.

8K and Connectivity

In order to accommodate the bandwidth and transfer speed requirements for 8K, physical connectivity for forthcoming TVs and source devices have to be upgraded.

An upgraded version of HDMI (ver 2.1) has been made to accommodate TVs, switchers, splitters, and extenders. In addition to upgraded HDMI, two additional physical connection standards, SuperMHL and Display Port (ver 1.4) are available for use with 8K.

The speed of adoption is at the discretion of manufacturers, but compatible tech started appearing in select TVs and related devices in 2019.

8K and Streaming

You need a very fast broadband internet connection — upwards of 50mbps or higher — to stream in 8K. Although this is not out of reach, it can easily clog up bandwidths and slow access for other users on a network. It can also chew into monthly data caps very quickly. Moreover, broadband speeds vary, not just by ISP but by time of day. There's no guarantee that actual speeds will come close to advertised speeds.

Both YouTube and Vimeo currently offer 8K video upload and streaming options. Even though hardly anyone can watch videos in 8K, you can access 4K, 1080p, or lower resolution playback options of the provided 8K content. That said, once 8K TVs start landing in homes, YouTube and Vimeo are ready. Other services like Netflix and Vudu can be expected to follow.

8K TVs and Video Displays

Samsung Q900 8K Smart HDR QLED TV
Samsung Q900 8K Smart HDR QLED TV. Samsung

A small but growing selection of 8K TVs have already hit the U.S. market. There are several models from Samsung, ranging in size from 55 to 85-inches and starting at $2,500. Sony is selling at least two 8K models, and LG has five. Sharp is producing and marketing a 70-inch 8K TV in Japan, China, and Taiwan, with pending availability in Europe. There's even a $4,000 32-inch 8K PC monitor from Dell.

8K and Video Projectors

Digital Projection Insight Laser 8K Projector (L) — JVC DLA-NX9/DLA-RS3000 8K eShift Video Projector (R)
Digital Projection Insight Laser 8K Projector (L) — JVC DLA-NX9/DLA-RS3000 8K eShift Video Projector (R). Digital Projection and JVC 

8K is also making slow inroads in the video projection space. There's one model from JVC (4K with eShift to achieve 8K) and one from Digital Projection (real 8K). Both are very expensive.

8K and Glasses-Free 3D TV

8K also allows for glasses-free 3D TV. With the larger screen sizes and vastly increased pixel counts, 8K TVs can provide the needed detail and depth required for glasses-free 3D. Although Sharp and Samsung have both shown off prototypes devices, Stream TV Networks has provided the most impressive demonstration so far. The high cost will be something to reckon with — and, of course, there is the question of available content. However, 8K-based glasses-free 3D definitely has implications for commercial, educational, and medical use.

8K and Film Preservation

8K can be used alongside HDR and Wide Color Gamut for film restoration and mastering projects. Some movie studios are taking select classic films and preserving them as 8K resolution digital files. These will serve as pristine sources for mastering to Blu-ray/Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, streaming, broadcasting, and other display applications.

While 1080p and 4K are the current go-to HD formats, mastering from an 8K source ensures the best quality transfer available. Mastering in 8K also means that films or other content would not have to be remastered every time a new high-definition format comes into use.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of a TV's ability to transmit and display 33-million pixel resolutions, the key to 8K's adoption will be affordability and the availability of real 8K content.

Unless TV and movie studios start producing and remastering content in 8K, along with the compatible distribution outlets, there is no real incentive for people to spend cash on a new 8K TV. And while 8K may be breathtaking on large screens, for screens that are less than 70 inches, 8K is simply overkill. Most people are happy with their 1080p or 4K Ultra HD TVs anyway.

Those that make the jump to 8K TV now will have to settle with viewing upscaled 1080p and 4K content for almost all of their TV viewing for the next few years. Some upscaling looks great. For example, Samsung's AI Upscaling is very effective, but it still doesn't deliver a full quality 8K viewing experience.

Just like with 4K TVs, as sales increase production costs will drop, and then you will see more 8K TVs in stores. 4K TVs have already pushed most 1080p TVs off the shelves, and there's no reason not to expect the same for 8K TVs in the coming years.