If you’ve spent any time looking for a new TV, you’ve probably already heard of 8K — which claims to offer the highest-resolution picture you can get. Coming straight on the heels of recent upgrades to picture quality, 8K Ultra HD TV is indeed a groundbreaking new format, offering a whopping four times the resolution of 4K. The problem is, not only are these new 8K TVs considerably more expensive than their 4K brethren, there is also virtually no 8K content available to view on them yet.
Mike Fidler, executive director of the 8K Association, says current 8K models are ideal for any AV enthusiast interested in “the ultimate entertainment experience.” But, as we saw when HDTV first came out in the late 1990s, hardware typically hits the market well before the content. In fact, even though 4K Ultra HD TVs have been selling for about a decade, 4K content is still catching up.
So, why the slow uptake? And, more importantly, is it worth spending the cash on this new technology now or should you wait for more content? Before you walk into that TV showroom waving your credit card, here’s everything you need to know about 8K TV.
What is 8K?
8K Ultra HD TV is the newest TV format, quadrupling the resolution of 4K. By the numbers, that’s 7,680 horizontal and 4,320 vertical pixels on a screen for a total of approximately 33 million pixels (which is simply the picture elements that make up a TV picture). Compare that with 3,840 x 2,160 and 8 million pixels for 4K TV and it ends up being quite a difference.
The more pixels, the sharper, more detailed and brighter the picture. With 8K resolution, you can sit closer to a massive screen, say a 77-incher, and not see the individual pixels that create the image. That, in turn, gives you a more realistic, theater-like experience.
8K resolution also means “better circles and curves,” such as a sun setting on the horizon, says Robert Zohn, president of Value Electronics in Scarsdale, New York, whose respected annual TV Shootout judges the best TVs for a given year. By having pixels smaller and closer together, “you don’t have jagged edges at all, so a circle is more accurate,” he says. Color pops off the screen more in 8K too. Not only are colors more saturated in 8K, they’re more accurate as well. Flesh tones, for example, are more refined.
Why is 8K taking so long?
Though the first 8K TVs rolled out in 2018, high prices and lack of content have kept sales modest. Even in Japan, which has one 8K broadcast TV channel, “uptake has been minimal,” according to an April 2022 report from Omdia. In 2021, 8K TVs only accounted for 15% of all TV shipments worldwide, or about 350,000 sets. Omdia forecasts sales of 2.7 million 8K TVs by year-end 2026. For comparison, last year the Consumer Technology Association projected 28.6 million 4K TVs would ship in the US alone in 2022.
A look at the top contenders in Value Electronics’ most recent TV Shootout, in August 2022, shows that flagship 8K TVs are still a hefty investment, especially compared to 4K TVs. The winning 8K model — LG’s Z2 PUA Series OLED TV — is a jaw-dropping $24,999 for the 88-inch giant and $9,999 for its 77-inch mini. version. The LG panel edged out Samsung’s 85-inch QN85QN900B ($5,999) and Sony’s 85-inch XR85Z9K ($8,999) in the contest. But sacrifice 20 inches, and Samsung’s 65-inch version comes down to $2,599. Progress.
The arrival of 8K TV happened well before there was any native 8K content. Despite some technology statement broadcasts from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — and some 8K experiments in the UK with rugby — there’s virtually no professionally shot 8K content available to show off the overachieving pixels. You can find plenty of user-generated 8K content on YouTube and Vimeo, though.
It will be some time before we’ll see Patrick Mahomes lead the Kansas City Chiefs in 8K on CBS Sports or Amazon Prime Video. The 8K Association, a cross-industry trade alliance, says the Blu-ray Disc format won’t extend to 8K because of the industry shift from physical media to internet streaming. For their part, streaming services are still getting up to speed with 4K TV shows and movies.
So, with virtually no 8K content available, what’s the benefit of buying an 8K TV today? “To future-proof your TV,” says Zohn. Though, in reality, by the time 8K content is readily accessible, there’s a good chance you’ll already be shopping for a new TV.
8K: Upscaling and beyond
When it comes to the content front, Fidler says to stay tuned. “Thanks to the extensive number of professional 8K cameras being used by filmmakers to ensure the highest resolution possible, this content will eventually find its way into the market in parallel with the increased number of 8K products,” he adds optimistically.
Expect 8K to be part of next-gen gaming systems too. Sony and Microsoft have said PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X consoles will be upgradeable in the future to support native 8K video at 60 to 120 frames per second. And it’s encouraging to see that the heavyweights Amazon Prime Video, Google, IMAX and Roku are part of the 8K Association.
Though you can’t watch your favorite shows and movies in 8K on Amazon Prime, Netflix or Disney+ today, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the benefits of an 8K TV. All 8K TVs have advanced processors that allow them to upscale 4K, and HD content, to 8K resolution — so everything you watch will be automatically upgraded with extra color and definition. The better the quality of video you start with, the better it will look in 8K. By most accounts, 4K movies and shows look better when upscaled on an 8K TV.
You don’t have to wait for the pros to deliver 8K content if you have a high-end camera or select smartphone. Believe it or not, a number of high-end digital still cameras offer 8K video recording, which you can then watch on your television. The Fujifilm X-H2 mirrorless camera ($2,000 for the body, $2,500 with lens), for one, records 8K at 30 frames per second. The higher the frame rate of the recording, the smoother the video on your 8K TV.
And if you’re not ready to invest in a pricey camera, Samsung’s newest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S23 Ultra (from $1,200), boasts 8K video recording at 30 frames per second. That’s an upgrade from 8K at 24 frames per second in the previous year’s model — though once you get into 33-million-pixel file sizes, transferring the video becomes challenging. Samsung says you can share your 8K video via Wi-Fi or use its Tap or Smart View features to watch it on a Samsung TV. You can also upload to YouTube using Samsung’s Gallery app, but that comes with a warning. According to Samsung, “the video may take some time to upload due to the file size.”
8K TVs available now
LG uses AI in its Alpha9 Gen 5 processor to automatically adjust the TV’s settings to match picture and sound quality to the content you’re watching. Gamer-friendly features result in reduced input lag, stuttering and tearing. The smart TV, with LG’s WebOS 22, has built-in access to the top streaming services, plus more than 300 free LG Channels.
Samsung’s Neo QLED TV is based on Mini LEDs, known for their high-brightness picture. Mini LEDs, combined with quantum dot technology, create a billion shades of color. A Gaming Hub combines console and streaming games in one place with speeds up to 120Hz, and streaming channels are available through Samsung’s Tizen TV platform. SmartThings compatibility enables control of compatible smart home devices from the TV screen.
This Mini LED TV is designed to make the most of Sony’s PlayStation 5 so details are easy to see even in high-contrast scenes. The TV automatically switches between game mode and standard mode to ensure the best playback for games and movies. With Google TV inside, it offers hands-free voice control to help you find a favorite show or get viewing recommendations.
TCL’s AiPQ Engine, with machine learning, intelligently enhances the picture during viewing for the optimum color and contrast. Automatic game mode selects the smoothest action, lowest latency and best picture settings for games. Built-in Roku TV gives direct access to free and subscription-based streaming services.
When it’s time to upgrade your primary TV, consider the value proposition of 4K versus 8K. For considerably more money, you’ll get improved brightness, more realistic color, crisp detail, deeper blacks and a better overall viewing experience with an 8K TV. You’ll also be ready for 8K video and games when they hit the market. Photography buffs and Samsung Galaxy S23 smartphone owners can also create and enjoy homegrown 8K content today.
But for most of us, budget rules. Consider that LG’s flagship 8K 77-inch OLED TV is $9,999 and its high-end Gallery Edition 4K counterpart is $4,449, and the choice is a no-brainer. For now, 4K TVs still deliver the best bang for the buck.