Don’t buy an 8K TV until you read this…

February 13th, 2017 Back

One of the big headlines from this year’s CES (that’s the Consumer Electronics Show, keep up) in Las Vegas: 8K TV isn’t so much on the horizon, it’s right at your door. The ultra-high-definition format features twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the 4K UHD, hence the name. It’s a startling level of detail and clarity, and it’ll be arriving in your living room sooner rather than later. So long as you’ve got the scratch to drop on one after upgrading your HD set to a 4K, anyway.


4K has become the next big thing, with streaming video services beginning to offer the ultra high definition resolution, and video game companies getting on board as well (Sony’s recent, upgraded Playstation 4 was supposed to offer 4K and HDR). But already the next big thing is ready and waiting, and it’s twice as good. Want to know more about 8K television? We’ve collated all the latest information about how it works when it’ll become the standard and – crucially – how much it will set you back. Hint: you should probably start saving up your allowance now…


What exactly is 8K?


8K is exactly what it sounds like: it’s double the resolution of 4K, meaning an even-more-ultra HD. With four times as many pixels – 7680×4320, or 33,177,600 pixels, if you want the precise numbers – it’s possible to create richer, higher definition images. Plus you can sit with your nose pressed up against an 8K screen, and those pixels will be so small you won’t be able to see them. That’s the sort of resolution we’re talking about. The main difference for the casual viewer between 4K and 8K is not only the fidelity and sharpness of the image but also the depth of color and quality of light.


The 8K screen boasts 33 megapixels, a frankly ridiculous level of image quality. Compare that to the two megapixels of regular HD, or the eight megapixels of 4K, and they seem a bit paltry. The size of the pixels means that even on a 65” monitor, you wouldn’t be able to make them out; as it stands, the 8K televisions currently being made stand to be a lot larger than that. Rather than 1080p, it broadcasts in 4320p. Right now, it’s the highest possible resolution available for both watching and filming video.


The sense of realism is increased by the fact that 8K video has the capability shown in 120 frames-per-second, a higher speed than even 4K’s standard 60 frames-per-second (which is a fair kick up from the usual). You also have the option of downgrading to 60fps, 50fps, 48fps, 24fps or whatever you prefer, although the higher frame rate makes for less motion artifacts and blur. Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies were screened at 48fps in some theaters and, whilst audiences took a while to adjust to the increased speed, it’s since begun to catch on.


The forthcoming Marvel superhero movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is being shot on the ultra high definition RED Weapon camera, making it the first feature to be filmed in 8K. The high resolution is also used for the restoration and preservation of classic movies, with Sony releasing an 8K version of Lawrence of Arabia for the iconic epic’s 50th anniversary. If you’ve ever been to a planetarium, the high resolution is the sort exhibited there, where the stars above look as real as the ones outside the domed auditorium.


360-degree cameras for amateur filmmakers, the GoPro Omni VR and Insta360 Pro, were also unveiled at CES 2017. So 8K content can be and is being filmed, but it’ll be a while before the infrastructure to enjoy it outside of specialist cinemas and the like will be in place. Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray discs have only just begun to hit store shelves, and we’ve yet to see a real standard set for 4K TV broadcasts. 4K is in its infancy, so it’ll take a while still for 8K to be brought to term.


How does it work?


What does all that mean? Essentially, you’re going to get image quality bordering on IMAX levels at home. That’s pretty incredible. It also means that broadcasting at that level (and, eventually, providing streaming content such as the sort VIDGO provides) is difficult at the moment. 8K fidelity requires a bitrate of 500 Mbps, the sort you get with ultra fast fiber broadband internet connections.


Television display with comparison of resolutions. Full ultra HD 8k on modern TV.

Television display with comparison of resolutions. Full ultra HD 8k on modern TV.

In 2015, Sharp showed off a prototype 8K receiver bigger than a VCR. Hopefully, by the time 8K television becomes the standard, it’ll be better integrated into the TV sets themselves rather than heralding a return to cluttered entertainment centers.


There’s also the issue of when 8K is necessary since on smaller monitors the difference between it and other HD resolutions would be harder to judge. To make the most of it, you really need to be splashing out on a big screen. If the format becomes the standard for streaming and broadcast home entertainment, you’ll likely not need to invest in new laptops or tablets. It’ll be a marginal difference on those smaller screens.


Sharp got on board with the format early, having perfected an 8K monitor panel a few years ago. Right now their 8K televisions are technically 4K sets that manage to handle the higher resolution. How? Well, said LED panels are able to handle an even greater scope than the usual RGB spread, leading to an overall better definition of the picture. It’s their patented “Quattron Pro” technology which boosts the already-impressive standard 4K to its upper limits and beyond, essentially by splitting down the existing pixels.


When it becomes the new ultra-HD standard, of course, it won’t just be a fancy workaround meant to increase the quality of 4K. 8K sets also require the new HDMI 2.1 format, also announced at CES 2017. The innovative input is necessary to enable 60fps content, so investing in a couple of the cables is a good way of future-proofing your home TV setup even if you’re not going to be an earlier adopter of an 8K television.


When will it be available?


Actually, 8K broadcasts have already started! In Japan, ultra high-definition was tested during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Public broadcaster NHK has been toying with the technology since 1995, if you can believe it, and recently began airing a “Super Hi-Vision” channel. The test broadcasts included over a hundred hours of content, a mixture of 8K and 4K, including highlights of the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games (in collaboration with the BBC, who are presumably also working on 8K content as a result; ultra high def Planet Earth, anyone?) and a concert by J-pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.


The NHK cracked 8K all the way back in 2000, and previously showed some of the earliest HD TV shows in the eighties. The broadcaster intends to show a substantial amount of the 2020 Tokyo games in 8K, too. Not only does their Super Hi-Vision tech support the higher image resolution, but it also encompasses 22.2 channel audio. That means the format would be compatible with basically any existing or future surround soundsystems, and would make it easier to package together multiple language audio tracks for international broadcast.


Dr. Keiichi Kubota, NHK’s Executive DG of Engineering, explained that the network intended to skip over 4K transmissions entirely, in favor of going straight to 4k: “It took two decades to take hi-def from the lab to public demos. We’ve made the same progress with Super Hi-Vision in half the time. Our experts have set a target date of 2020 for experimental broadcasts, but there’s the possibility of bringing this forward. We want to begin as soon as possible.” They’re working on 8K Blu-Ray, too, and last year they unveiled a prototype 8K television made up of four 65-inch 4K OLED, combining to a 130-inch display only one millimeter thick.


8K televisions will begin to hit the market at the beginning of next year, with many projected to launch at CES 2018. The availability of both the televisions and content broadcast in the ultra high definition will be somewhat limited at first, becoming more widespread until it’s the dominant model by 2020. Until they invent 16K, that is. If you prefer to be ahead of the curve, though, you could import a Sharp 85-inch LV-85001 from Japan. Dell’s 31.5-inch UP3218K monitor, meanwhile, goes on sale in March of this year. You might not have much to watch, but you’ll have enough bragging rights to entertain yourself for a while.


Whilst plenty of manufacturers showed off 8K TVs at CES 2017, they were often “concept” sets, similar to the experimental cars exhibited by the motor industry but never actually mass produced and sold to the public. LG, Panasonic, and Sony seem committed to 4K OLED televisions for the time being, although if 8K does indeed become the standard, they will likely have something waiting in their back pockets. With all that said, recent research which studied the prominence of 4K television content in the US predicts that 8K resolution will be widespread by 2020, so they better get their act together – and quickly.


What will it cost?


That same research claimed that 8K smart TV shipments will grow more than three times between 2020 and 2021, to reach more than 400,000 per year by the end of the projected period. Which means that a lot of people are going to spend a lot of money on televisions. If you want to be ahead of the game, there are only a scant few options for buying 8K televisions right now.


In 2015 the full-size Sharp set would set you back $130,000, and they haven’t got much cheaper since. Meanwhile, the smaller Dell monitor is expected to retail at $4,999. These are early attempts at bringing the cutting edge technology to a more affordable price, with an eye to making 8K the standard by 2020. Understandably, many consumers will be balking at the idea of upgrading from their already-pricey 4K televisions so soon.


Sharp has another, smaller model currently only available in Asia. The Aquos LC-80XU930X debuted at CES in 2015, and makes use of that pixel-splitting 4K upscaling technology. The Aquos cannot play native 8K content yet, although it is HDR compatible and its Android OS means it hosts a number of streaming platforms (including Netflix, which claims it will soon offer the higher resolution.) It’s currently being marketed across Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and beyond, and retails for $16,000. Like the larger model, the Sharp TV boasts a 176-degree viewing angle. That means that, unlike existing LCD and plasma sets, the image is not darkened when you’re not sat directly in front of the screen.


Other manufacturers have been more cagey when it comes to pricing. LG were already touting their own 98-inch “super UHD” television at 2016’s CES, but did not announce how much it would cost when it eventually hit shelves. Word on the street was that the LG UH9800 would retail for something in the range of $130,000, like the Sharp model, although both that and Samsung’s mooted 8K UN98S9 television failed to go on sale to the public last year as originally planned. Both the LG and Samsung models featured curved and bezel-free (which is to say, no noticeable border around the) screens, meaning they would also not have the issue of a tinted image when viewed from the sides.


All industry knowledge seems to be suggesting that the old Sharp price is not an indication of how much 8K TVs will be when they become more readily available. You can certainly expect to pay out something closer to the $16,000 by that time, and presumably they’ll become even more affordable by the time they’re being produced at the projected rate by 2020. Until then? Try not to think too hard about the pixels in your 4K television, and maybe put some many away to go and see the Tokyo Olympics in person!




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