Should you be worried about 8K TV?

TVs

by Geoffrey Morrison March 29, 2017 10:16 AM PDT @TechWriterGeoff

Just when you thought you could take a breather and buy a new 4K TV, it seems like 8K is just around the corner.

Already Japanese broadcaster NHK, along with Sharp, Sony, Samsung, LG and others, has shown or announced plans for 8K TV and/or 8K broadcasts. New 8K compatible video standards are being rolled out now. And every year at the annual CES where new models are introduced, concept TVs with 8K resolution are on display.

So is that new 4K TV already obsolete? Will you need to rush out and buy new 8K gear to watch TV?

The answer, thankfully, is no and no. Here's why.

What is 8K?

Typical HDTVs have 1,920 pixels across, and 1,080 pixels vertically (aka 1080p). Ultra HD "4K" TVs have 3,840 pixels across and 2,160 vertically.

8K TVs will have 7,680 across and 4,320 vertically, for a total of over 33 million pixels.

Which all seems impressive, except...

4K for now

Despite the plethora of 4K TVs on the market, we've still barely started the 4K transition. It took years for HD to replace SD, and going from HD to 4K isn't likely to take less time. Sure, the TVs are available, but the vast majority of content is still HD. There's no broadcast 4K yet, and even the biggest 4K sources like Netflix, Amazon and Blu-ray disc offer only a small fraction of their catalogs in 4K.

So it's important to keep in mind (in general and for this article) that TV technology always outpaces content. It's a lot easier for a TV manufacturer to add pixels than it is for a TV network to completely change every piece of gear it owns to do a different resolution.

So while networks are moving (inching) toward 4K, and some are closer than others, it will be years before the majority of content is 4K. By comparison, if a TV manufacturer wanted to release a 12K TV next year, it could do it because the changes required are minimal in comparison.

Tech demos vs. real products

Another important aspect to keep in mind is there's a big difference between a tech demo and a real product. Sharp showed an 8K TV at CES... 2012! That doesn't mean it planed to sell it (and no, I don't count a $160,000 TV as "selling it"). Sony and Panasonic have announced plans to have 8K TVs ready by 2020, but again, these are going to be the price of a Porsche, not a Kia.

NHK's talk about 8K is showing off something cool it can do, not least because it wants to do that something on the biggest stage possible: the Olympics. Coincidence that NHK is working on this and Tokyo is hosting the 2020 games? Nope. Pushing the limits of technology and getting a little positive press to go with it is not a bad plan. It already demoed it at 2016's Olympics, provided you went to a place in Japan that could show the 8K content.

Or to put this another way, if SpaceX unveils a rocket tomorrow that can go to Mars, it doesn't mean we're going to Mars tomorrow.

8K in the future doesn't matter today

Eventually we will absolutely have 8K TV. It's the inexorable march of technology. Do we need it? Nope. Does anyone want it? Maybe.

Increasing pixels is the easiest technological "advancement" when it comes to TVs (this is partly why we got 4K so soon after HD). Making the actual 8K TV isn't hard, but creating and distributing 8K content sure is. With HDMI 2.1 we have a consumer cable that can do this resolution and more. So there's that.

Should you hold off on buying a 4K TV because of 8K? Definitely not. We are many, many years away from 8K being any kind of reality. Just because a few manufacturers are talking about selling 8K TVs in a few years means... well, basically nothing. Even when said TVs are under $5,000 it will still be years before it's mainstream. And remember, NHK was experimenting with broadcasting HD signals in the '80s, and we still didn't get actual HDTVs until the late '90s.

There is always something new around the corner. If you're always waiting for it, you'll never get anything new (which is OK too, but that's a different article).

And even when we have 8K, your 4K TV will work fine and still play all HD and 4K (and probably HDR) content. Will there be a time when all new content is 8K? I guess, maybe, but that's decades away.

So should you worry about 8K? Nope.

Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, TV resolutions explained, LED LCD vs. OLED, and more. Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel.

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