8K TVs Are Coming, But No They Won’t Make Your 4K TV Obsolete
Stephan Jukic – January 14, 2018
Bigger and better TVs are a normal aspect of the constantly evolving nature of today’s consumer electronics market. Manufacturers work on pretty tight margins and it’s in their best interest to push you into buying one of their new TVs each year if at all possible. That’s where the larger profit is.
Now for CES 2018, this has been taken to its extreme in the form of several new 8K TV prototypes from brands like LG, Samsung, Sony and others with all the functional trimmings of content support, connectivity and design which could easily make these specialized televisions into consumer market models when their creators release them onto the market. In other words, you as a consumer might be tempted to worry that not only is the regular 4K TV market advancing just a bit too fast for the ultra HD television you already own to stay worthwhile, but that it might soon be entirely superseded by a new 8K TV market that sends 4K to the margins the way 4K sent 1080p HD to the margin of what most people really want to buy.
Well we’re here to tell you that this is one very distant thing to worry about.
8K TVs are already here, yes, and they’ll start selling for real very soon (some already have even). But from that to market domination a great big gulf still exists and it’s going to take a while to fill for a pile of different technical, practical and market reasons. There have been some legitimate reasons for people to fear buyer’s remorse in buying themselves a new 4K TV that’s “not quite good enough” and this applied particularly in the earlier couple years in which ultra HD TVs started being a serious thing, but 8K meaningfully replacing 4K any time in the immediate future is not something to worry about.
For starters, 4K TVs are now dominant on the television market. Virtually all new TV releases from every major brand are now ultra HD models and total shipments for 2018 are expected to exceed 22 million units, or roughly half of all TV sold. This means that even for 4K to dominate further requires a greater percentage of market share take-over before TV makers can make a large redirect in the direction of pushing 8K onto people. This is going to take at least a few more years to pull off. The market for 4K TVs took at least three years to move from being something nascent and barely known to these TVs becoming a basic home entertainment “requirement” for anyone looking to get a new TV. The same friction will apply to 8K.
Secondly, more importantly perhaps, there’s the content side of things. While 4K TVs will probably make up almost half of all new TVs sold for 2018, 4K content itself is still absolutely in the minority of all new TV content from any source available. Broadcast OTT 4K video pretty much doesn’t exist yet in the U.S at least and even in the world of streaming internet entertainment, where ultra HD video has advanced the furthest and fastest, the majority of all available content is still 1080p. This is changing in favor of 4K at an accelerating pace but still slowly. For 8K content the difficulties will be the same or worse due to the sheer bandwidth requirements of the larger format. Since at least some useful native 8K entertainment is a minimum requirement of making an 8K TV worth buying, these obstacles to the content side definitely doesn’t help with creating demand for 8K TVs any time soon.
Yes, an 8K TV could upscale any 4K content and probably make it look great, along with all the HDR trimmings you could throw at the display but again, to what purpose if no native 8K content to speak of exists and no demand for it either. It’s true that some of these same issues existed for 4K TVs when they were first being pushed at the public despite a near total absence of native 4K ultra HD entertainment sources but at least for a display with native 4K resolution, already plentiful 720p or 1080p video sources can be scaled up to that size reasonably well most of the time. Scaling 1080p and 720p or lower resolution content to stretch across the whopping 17 million or more pixels of an 8K display will be a much more problematic.
Essentially, a large volume of native 4K content will have to first exist for workable upscaling to 8K TVs for those 8K TVs to be worthwhile until some 8K video sources start to arrive. In basic terms, until there’s plenty more 4K video, enough of it to effectively substitute a great deal of existing non—4K entertainment most people watch today, then 8K TV displays simply won’t be worth the hassle even if they’re perfectly feasible from a design standpoint.
Even if, or more so WHEN 4K TVs get displaced by 8K models as the dominant new editions released by each manufacturer in, say in about 4 or 5 years’ time, 4K will keep being great. It will if anything be better than ever due to further developments in HDR and content availability, and content creators will likely continue to focus more on upscaling fantastically clear 4K video to 8K displays than on producing native 8K recordings, at least for a while. Again, this means that 4K content for 4K TVs will be plentiful and those TVs being made today or next year will handle it wonderfully, regardless of possible 8K TV domination further up the premium electronics food chain.