8K TVs Are Coming - Genius or Madness?

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Buy a 4K TV

Samsung prototype 8K TV
John Archer

While many other TV features have come and gone over the years, the one that seems to resonate most consistently strongly with consumers is the resolution. 

High definition TVs exploded onto the scene when they were introduced to a world bored with their old standard definition TVs, and now 4K TVs (which deliver four times as much resolution as HD TVs) are having a similarly rapid market impact.

It’s not entirely clear to me why resolution above all else should always seem to capture the buying public’s imagination; there are other aspects of TV picture quality that can have at least as much impact as the number of pixels being used. But the cold, hard sales facts speak for themselves.

The Next Generation of Resolution

With this in mind, I guess it was always going to be inevitable that the huge R&D divisions all the major TV brands employ would start exploring the development of TVs with even more pixels in their screens than 4K’s 3840x2160. What I really didn’t expect, though, was to find new ‘8K’ TVs going on sale already. Yet sources tell me that this is exactly what’s going to happen before 2016 is out. 

I’m not at liberty yet to reveal precisely which brands are intending to launch 8K TVs this year but rest assured they include a couple of household names. 

Not surprisingly their debut 8K TVs will be aimed for now at the ultra, ULTRA high-end market. But the fact remains they will be available to buy before the end of 2016. Even though I’m not at all sure they should be…

8K Can Certainly Work - On Very Big Screens

There’s no doubt that 8K screens can deliver incredible pictures. I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few of them now from a number of manufacturers - most notably LG, Samsung, and Sharp. And in every case the picture quality has been so good it almost defies description - mostly because even on the sort of huge screens 8K demos invariably use (we’re talking 80 inches and more here) having more than 33 million pixels to play with means you simply can’t see any trace of visible pixel structure. Which means essentially that you feel like you’re looking through one gigantic window at the world your retinas simply perceive as real. 

So why am I not convinced of the need for 8K TVs now? First, you really do need a massive screen to really enjoy the benefits 8K can deliver. Today’s 4K resolution is ample for any screen up to 65 inches, maybe even 75 inches (as proved by the Sony 75X940C reviewed here).

Second, native 8K content is going to be almost impossible to deliver. Even getting 4K into our living rooms continues to cause the AV and telecoms industries huge headaches three years after the first 4K TVs appeared due to the sheer volumes of data associated with 4K video files/streams (a guide to finding 4K content can be found here). So you can just imagine the meltdown the broadcast, streaming and even disc-based video industries would go into when faced with the truly monumental amounts of data associated with 8K. 

8K Olympics

It should be said that Japan’s NHK broadcaster is working on getting 8K broadcasting up and running in time for the 2020 Olympic Games. But it’s pretty much impossible to imagine a similar experiment taking place anywhere else in such a short time frame. So all most people will be able to do with an 8K TV for the foreseeable future is watch upscaled 4K and even HD content on it. And we can’t help but think that calculating all the extra pixels necessary to turn HD and even 4K into 8K will represent a truly significant challenge for even the most powerful video upscaling engines.

By far my biggest issue with the idea of launching 8K TVs already, though, is that surely they can only harm the still nascent 4K TV market. After all, nothing puts people off buying a new technology more than finding out the NEXT big thing is seemingly just around the corner.

To be fair, the likely vast cost of the first commercially available 8K TVs will mean that anyone in the market for a new TV will pretty much be forced into buying a 4K TV rather than an 8K one. Nonetheless, selling 8K TVs now seems to me like an even more lunatic case than usual of the TV industry getting so far ahead of itself that it runs the risk of cutting off its nose to spite its face.