The first 8K TV was introduced by Sharp at the 2012 CES and almost 9 years later, we are still not convinced that you need to upgrade from 4K at this point. Are consumers buying 8K TVs? Absolutely. Are any of us here rushing out to buy one? It might happen at some point but there needs to be a lot more content before that ever happens.
8K TVs offer four times the resolution of Ultra HD 4K TVs and there is no shortage of models from Sony, LG, Samsung, TCL (1,2), and Hisense – but that doesn’t mean that you are missing out right now if you don’t own one.
Gamers don’t really need one either for their PS5 (if you can find one) or Xbox Series X. Both gaming consoles can technically deliver 8K content but are there any games yet that delivers that level of resolution?
My nephew (who competes professionally on the circuit in tournaments) and son are both tech geeks who grew up with 1080p and 4K TVs and are obsessive gamers. Neither one could point me to any 8K content on their respective consoles.
What Makes a TV 8K?
The Consumer Technology Association has specified the following standards a TV is required to have to wear the 8K Ultra HD logo:
1. Display Resolution: The TV has to be able to display at least 7,680 pixels horizontally and 4,320 vertically on a screen.
Here is how the number of pixels display with 8K compares to other TV resolutions:
Resolution Pixels Total Pixels 8K 7680 x 4320 33,000,000 4K 3840 x 2160 8,200,000 1080p 1920 x 1080 2,100,000 720p 1280 x 720 921,600
NOTE: Most 720p TVs display 768p HD resolution, but are marketed as 720p TVs. 1366 x 768 pixels = 1,048,088 total pixels (1 megapixel).
Although 8K resolution is 4 times the number of pixels of 4K Ultra HD, the difference is still difficult to see on TVs with screen sizes below 85-inches. Unless you have better than 20/20 vision, you might not be able to tell the difference at all unless you sitting a foot or less from the screen.
However, 8K resolution supports the ability for TV makers to offer much larger screen sizes where pixels are still relatively small and close together resulting in more pixels per inch (PPI).
2. HDMI 2.1: At least one HDMI input capable of accepting that resolution, at 50 or 60 fps (depending on region). There are also lots of other benefits to HDMI 2.1 which are available for use on 4K and 8K TVs (4K TVs just don’t use the 8K specific features).
NOTE: HDMI 2.0/a/b only supports 8K at 30 fps.
3. HDR: Most 4K UHD TVs have HDR capability, so this is being carried on to 8K TV specifications. Although all HDR formats are supported, compatibility with specific HDR formats is determined by the TV manufacturer. For example, Samsung TVs are not compatible with Dolby Vision.
4. Upscaling: This is the ability to upconvert lower resolution signals. This is important since most of the content being viewed on 8K TVs is of lower resolution content. To build on this requirement, the top TV makers incorporate sophisticated AI Upscaling processors to make lower resolution content look better on an 8K screen.
5. 10-Bit Color: 8K TVs are required to have the ability to receive and display 10-bit color content. What this means is that there are 1,024 shades of gray and over a billion colors. However, the content has to be mastered in 10-bit color to take advantage of this capability. While some streaming content and UHD Blu-ray discs support 10-bit color, broadcast/cable/satellite TV and Blu-ray discs only support 8-bit color which translates into 256 shades of gray and 17 million colors.
NOTE: Just as with 4K, capability with 3D is not an official part of 8K Ultra HD specifications. However, that doesn’t rule out 3D implementation at some future point at the discretion of the 8K Association. 8K 3D has been demonstrated at CES so it is technically possible.
Content is King
Although 8K TVs can work with most of the content sources that are currently available, to take full advantage of 8K Ultra HD, you need access to content that is produced and distributed in 8K. The following sections discuss how this fleshes out.
8K and Streaming
To stream content in 8K, you need a very fast broadband internet connection — upwards of 50 mbps or higher. This is not out of reach, but it can clog up bandwidth and slow access for other users on the same network. In addition, monthly data caps would be reached very quickly. Another factor is that broadband speeds vary, not just by your internet plan, but by the time of day. There’s no guarantee that real-world speeds will be close to advertised speeds.
However, Intel has been working on a solution where 8K streaming can be successful with the current broadband infrastructure and add speeds lower than previously thought possible.
YouTube and Vimeo offer 8K video upload and streaming options. If you don’t have an 8K TV or an 8K TV that is compatible with file formats that YouTube and Vimeo use, you can still access the videos in 4K, 1080p, or lower resolution. The major streaming services (Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video) all offer select content in 4K, but when they will offer anything in 8K is still to be determined.
8K and TV Broadcasting
On the TV broadcast side of things, Japan has started limited 8K broadcasting via satellite, but it will still be several years away when 8K TV broadcasting will be available on a limited basis in the U.S. especially since the ability to broadcast in 4K is still in its infancy. Only South Korea is offering substantial 4K TV broadcasts right now, having started in 2017.
8K and TV/Movie Production
Of course, another barrier to the availability of 8K content is that even with the increasing number of 8K capable video cameras coming into use, movie and TV studios really don’t have an end-to-end 8K production and distribution capability of any consequence as that requires a huge investment in equipment, especially computer processing power. Also, movie theater projectors currently in use are either 2K or 4K
However, the 8K Association has established itself as a guiding force to facilitate a smooth evolution towards any needed 8K production and distribution infrastructure and promote 8K in the consumer market.
8K and Physical Media
Another issue is that it has been indicated that the current UHD Blu-ray format will be the last disc-based format available. Although it is technically possible to develop an 8K disc-based format for distributing video content, it’s not officially a part of 8K content distribution plans at the current time.
8K and Gaming
Gaming has become a major factor in content distribution. We touched on 8K Gaming briefly near the top of this article. Yes, the PS5 and Xbox Series X platforms support 8K resolution. However, it’s not enabled yet on either console as there are no 8K games available yet. This means if you have a PS5 or Xbox Series X, upgrading to an 8K TV isn’t necessary at this point.
However, if you go the PC Gaming route rather than the game console route there are some 8K Games available that you can play if you have the right hardware. Of course, you would most likely be using an 8K monitor rather than an 8K TV view them. Whether you will see a visual difference between a 4K and 8K game also depends on the size of the screen and how close you are to it.
Why You Will Eventually Buy an 8K TV
Regardless of all the reasons why you might want or not want to buy an 8K TV, if marketing trends continue, TV makers already no longer offer many 1080p TVs larger than 43-inch screen size. Almost all TVs with screen sizes 43-inches are larger are 4K TVs.
At some point, TV makers will decrease the number of 4K TVs manufactured and fill store shelves with 8K TVs. Currently, 8K TVs typically start at the 65-inch screen size. Just as it is hard to find a 1080p or 720p TV or a non-smart TV in any resolution, in a few years, it may be hard to find a 4K TV, especially in the 65-inch and larger screen sizes.
This means that if you purchased a 4K TV since their introduction, by the time you need a replacement, there is a good chance it will be an 8K TV whether you want one or not. One positive indication is that prices are starting to come down, with TCL leading the way.
The Bottom Line
Buying an 8K Ultra HD TV is a decision that each consumer needs to make. However, with the current state of 8K infrastructure and content availability, it’s best to push that decision off unless you are buying a TV larger than 80-inches.
If you are considering a TV purchase in 2021, 2022, or maybe even in 2023 a 4K UltraHD TV will do you fine.