8K TVs Are More Awesome Than 4K Models, But Don’t Buy One. Here’s Why
Stephan Jukic – March 1, 2019
Both the idea and physical examples of 8K TVs have been around for more than a couple years so far. Even when the first mass market 4K televisions started to pick up some serious traction, major brands like Sony and others soon started showcasing concept models with stunning 8K resolution, offering 4 times the pixels of their 4K UHD cousins.
Now, in 2019, these televisions have gone from a strictly conceptual existence to actual mass market availability like never before. This was the case even in 2018 as well, as we saw from Samsung at IFA last year but when CES 2019 rolled around, the 8K display trend was taken to new heights. Thus, right now, you can buy an 8K TV in several different sizes from Samsung with prices starting at about $5000 and other options are even available from Sony, LG and so forth.
We think that buying any of them is a really bad idea and all the extra visual quality these TVs deliver is wasted along with the extra money you’d spend on them. Let’s explain why.
Without a doubt 8K TVs are incredible creations. 33 million pixels crammed into a screen makes for picture sharpness and clarity that comes closer than anything ever has before to life-like digital representation of visuals. Combine this with high dynamic range color and contrast performance and what you get is a television that performs like nothing you’ve ever seen before, in which even staring at a giant 88 inch screen from just inches away still makes it hard to distinguish individual pixels.
In other words, the technology itself is awesome, and it leaves 4K in the dust as far as sheer specs go. This is not the problem. No, the major problem is content, and pricing just as they were for 4K when they first emerged. Today’s 8K TVs are expensive and usable only for upscaling available 4K content or performing the even more ridiculous task of making 1080p or 720p and lower resolution video display smoothly across their 33 million pixels, and that’s it.
Before we move onto the major content issues, there’s the size and price problems with any 8K TV. For you to even really distinguish a visual difference between 4K resolution and 8K resolution, you need to start looking at TV screens of at least 75 inches or more, and serious appreciation of the difference between the two only really fleshes out at around the 85 inch plus mark. This means buying from among some really damn expensive televisions, at least for now.
Sony’s 98 inch 8K television from CES 2019 and LG’s own 88 inch 8K model with OLED display to make things even more absurdly premium are both going to cost well over $10,000 (to pick the absolute most conservatively low figure we can imagine) and Samsung’s own largest 8K QLED TV now available, the 82 inch Q900, is retailing for $10,000.
Of course, these prices will shrink. 4K TVs once cost a fortune and now models with better display performance than anything available just four years ago can be bought for less than $1000 with screens as large as 65 inches. Spending just a bit more than $1000 can get you 75 inches of display space in 4K and with high quality HDR from some brands.
The same will eventually be the case with 8K as the new resolution establishes itself more (and it will, just like 4K did). Even the TV size issue isn’t going to be a problem. As 8K TV market share expands, smaller and smaller models will be available at that resolution and the fact that it’s indistinguishable from 4K to the naked eye won’t matter at all. After all, tiny little laptop and even smartphone screens now come with 4K resolution despite this being completely indistinguishable from 1080p or 1440p in such small displays.
All of these factors will change in favor of 8K TVs and their affordability to consumers within two or three years.
This of course brings us back to the really pressing problem with 8K TVs: Content. Currently, not a single bit of commercial movie, TV show or even documentary video from any streaming, disk or broadcast source exists in 8K resolution and this isn’t going to change any time soon for some obvious reasons. Yes, you can find YouTube links to light and pretty boring scenic videos filmed in 8K on YouTube, and if you can even get your TV and the app to work together well enough for that video to play back at native resolution, great but this certainly doesn’t amount to much, and definitely not when it comes to thinking about the price of an 8K TV as it stands right now.
When it comes to actual commercial content from Netflix, Amazon, Vudu or anyone else (and forget 8K Blu-ray for now, considering how long it took for them to even start releasing 4K Blu-ray discs), no company even has serious plans for 8K content any time soon and they’re not likely to. The reason why is fairly simple: it takes a hell of a lot of storage space, computing power and special recording equipment to even film and master 4K movies. The same goes for compressing and transmitting them over the internet or other digital transmission mediums to streaming media apps or VOD services. Lots of money has been invested over the last few years to make this reasonably profitable and thus we now have a decent range of 4K UHD content choices for the global consumer market.
However, doing the same thing for 8K means a whole new level of hardware investment and that’s going to take a lot of time. Partly because its expensive by itself but also partly because for there to even be any incentive for it, enough people have to own 8K TVs and have the correct broadband connectivity for receiving 8K content in them. Both of these things are going to move quite slowly for at least a few more years. And when it comes to broadcast TV sources of 8K content, expect even more delays. The ATSC 3.0 standard is only now being sort of pushed for eventual widespread delivery of 4K video through broadcast TV channels, so you can imagine just how much longer it will take for that to upgrade still further for 8K content.
Our Guide to today’s absolute best streaming media set-top boxes for all the 4K ultra HD content you can handle
What does this leave for the time being? Upscaling stretched to new levels:
Samsung, LG, Sony and other 4K TV makers all have internal upscaling engines in their televisions that work superbly at making 1080p content and even 720p broadcast video sources or well-formatted SD movies look sharper than normal on a 4K TV. These technologies work remarkably well (particularly for well-mastered 1080p and 720p video sources) but they’re not the same as true native 4K resolution. This however isn’t a big problem because the difference is usually small and native 4K entertainment does at least also exist to justify buying a 4K TV.
In 8K televisions, there is first of all no native commercial 8K entertainment content to speak of as a basic justification, and the upscaling that all other content gets has to be stretched out much more. All 8K TV makers claim or would claim that their TVs can make native 4K video look a lot like 8K video on their new TVs using technologies similar to Samsung’s 8K processor in the video below). This may indeed be true but 4K content is by itself fairly scarce and upscaling of lower resolutions across the much vaster pixel space of an 8K TV can create dubious video quality.
Where does this leave you, the consumer right now? In a situation where buying an 8K TV means spending a ton of extra money for no concrete gain at all. This is why 8K TVs are awesome technology, but for now nearly useless in practical terms. In our sincere recommendation, if you’ve got enough money to even seriously consider buying one of these televisions, instead just go for a gigantic 4K model with all the best in HDR and backlighting technology, or even OLED! You’ll still save a ton and get much better value from what you bought. It’s too early for spending home entertainment money on 8K.