8K TV – everything you need to know

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Yes, 8K video really could be closer than you think. From 8K TVs to 8K broadcasts, there has already been a huge amount of work put in to making the resolution a reality for consumers. And, we've just reviewed one of the first 8K TVs to market in the shape of the Samsung QE85Q900R.

It's fair to say 4K TV is now mainstream. That doesn't mean we're all watching it, all of the time - but if you're sizing up a new TV and you care about picture quality, 4K resolution should be on your wish list.

And thanks to the likes of Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, 4K Blu-ray, BT and Sky, there is suddenly ample 4K content to watch. The 2018 World Cup in 4K, courtesy of the first full 4K iPlayer live trials, provided further proof of that.

But, as ever in consumer electronics, there is always something new on the horizon. The prospect of 8K certainly shouldn't affect your eagerness to go 4K - but to be informed is to be empowered, so we thought we'd round up the 8K state of play for the future-gazers among us. So, who's working on 8K? And when could we be watching it? Read on.

What is 8K?

First, let's take it back to basics. What we're talking about here is resolution. This means the number of horizontal and vertical pixels. Pixels equal information, so more pixels should mean a better quality image. That's the theory, at least.

In the case of 8K, this means a horizontal resolution of 7680 pixels and a vertical resolution of 4320 pixels, or 4320 resolution video.

By comparison, 4K video has half the number of horizontal lines and half the number of vertical lines (3840 x 2160), for a resolution of 2160. Full HD is 1920 x 1080, or 1080.

All this combines to mean 8K has four times as many pixels as 4K, and 16 times the number of Full HD.

Who is making 8K content?

8K video developments to date have largely been driven by filmmakers and TV broadcasters.

From a video-editing point of view, the higher resolution can be useful. While filmmakers may not ultimately deliver an 8K film, shooting in the higher resolution gives editors room to manoeuvre, allowing for cropping and zooming while still retaining a high-resolution image. That said, 6K cameras are currently far more prevalent in Hollywood.

Meanwhile in Japan, broadcasters have been experimenting with 8K TV for some time. Back in 2015 the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, NHK, ran a series of 8K trials, and in 2016 the company announced it was successfully demoing 8K broadcasts. So successful were they, NHK is going to launch the world's first 8K television channel on 1st December 2018. With Japan aiming to deliver 8K broadcasts in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it looks like a plan is surely coming together.

The Korean Broadcasting Corporation (KBS) is also researching 8K broadcasts, working with LG on content, possible broadcasts and displays - there was 8K experimentation at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. And if you were in Brazil during the summer, you could have even watched the 2018 World Cup in 8K.

The likes of Netflix and YouTube were, of course, quick out of the blocks when it came to 4K content, and now streaming site Vimeo has jumped aboard with 8K. A recent update adds support for HDR and 8K resolution videos. Naturally, you will need an 8K screen to really take advantage...

MORE: What is HDMI 2.1? Everything you need to know

What about 8K TVs?

Samsung's Q900R QLED 8K TV at IFA 2018

Samsung's Q900R QLED 8K TV at IFA 2018

So if we can see the fledgling shoots of 8K content, what about the compatible devices on which to play 8K video?

Trade shows such as CES and IFA are the perfect place for TV manufacturers to showcase their latest and often craziest new tech, so it's perhaps no surprise we've been seeing the odd 8K screen for a few years now.

LG and Samsung both showed off 8K TV prototypes at CES 2015, and Sharp went a step further by offering an 85in 8K TV for sale in Japan later that year.

Perhaps choosing to ignore that, and in search of some headlines, LG claimed the world's first production 8K TV in 2016.

But that's for the Asian market. Indeed, customers in Europe have had to settle for something more, er, modest. 

For example, the Sharp LV-70X500E (a 70in 8K LCD monitor) went on sale for a measly - well, comparatively - £10,999 in April 2018 (currently sold in Selfridges). It has no TV tuner, but it supports HDR10 and HLG, will upscale any content to 8K, and has four HDMI ports that will deliver native 8K.

But that scarcity won't last long, as the gloves came all the way off at IFA 2018. Not only did the likes of LG, Toshiba and TCL all display working 8K screens on their show floors, Samsung actually showed off its first range of 8K TVs (in 65in, 75in, 82in and 85in variants) and, we've just reviewed the QE85Q900R from that very range. 

Native 8K looks great on that set and it's an accomplished upscaler too, which is great given the current lack of content. At £14,999, it's pricey, but the smaller models probably represent better value for money if you're desperate to get your hands on the latest TV tech.

As for other brands, 8K veteran Sharp, which has been displaying 8K TVs since 2016, is now onto its 2nd-gen 8K models. Sony, like LG and Toshiba, is also at prototype stage. At CES 2018, it proudly demonstrated an 85in 8K display, powered by the new X1 Ultimate picture processor we hope it is fitting to future ranges of 4K OLED and LCD TVs. In our brief demonstration it looked glorious - and really very bright indeed.

MORE: Samsung QE85Q900R review

And other 8K products?

As with the 4K train, TVs are likely to be followed up with 8K Blu-ray players, games consoles and the like.

The first (and only) non-TV 8K product we've seen so far is Sharp's 8K soundbar, which sat loud and proud on the brand's 8K-centric stand at IFA 2018. While we don't know much about the soundbar, we can only presume its HDMI ports are HDMI 2.1-certified enabling them to pass-through 8K content, no doubt in preparation for those 8K broadcasts in Japan

The soundbar was also billed as offering Dolby Atmos and supporting 22.2-channel surround sound. NHK (the Japanese broadcaster working on 8K programming, remember) is advocating 22.2-channel sound as the sonic standard to accompany its 8K 'Super Hi-Vision' video.

MORE: OLED vs QLED - which is the better technology?

When will we be watching 8K?

LG claimed a 'world's first' at IFA 2018 with its 88in 8K OLED TV

LG claimed a 'world's first' at IFA 2018 with its 88in 8K OLED TV

While we're always interested in the latest technology, and of course it pays to keep abreast of the latest developments, we don't think 8K TV should be something affecting your buying decision now - or in the near future, for that matter.

After all, unless you have access to both an 8K TV and NHK's 8K broadcasts (which is nobody outside Japan), it seems a bit pointless. 

Naturally, Samsung would argue that its 8K TVs' AI upscaling will make the most of 4K (and even Full HD and SD) content, and while they sure looked promising on a trade show floor, it's a claim that's yet to come under our jurisdiction. 

Then, as we learned from the early days of 4K, there are the rules and regulations that could see early adopters lose out with an early-wave 8K TV that doesn't support some future hardware necessity.

Also, adoption takes time. Even though 4K TV uptake has, by all accounts, happened faster than that of HD, it still remains the exception rather than the norm.

Shop floors may be full of 4K screens, but the vast majority of content is viewed by consumers in HD at best - and even the intrepid BBC has only lately dipped its toe in the 4K water.

Thanks in part to the football World Cup, 2018 could be seen as a somewhat breakthrough year for 4K broadcasts - some five years after the first 4K TVs went on sale. While still a way from permanent 8K broadcast fixtures, we now know that they're doable, both in a live and on-demand workflow. And that they work.

Needless to say, this puts 8K at the back of a pretty long queue of upgraders, no matter what broadcasters and manufacturers might desire.

In Korea and Japan, however, they're not wasting any time. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is the aggressive target for showcasing 8K TV in Japan, even if the 2018 Winter Olympics came around a little too soon. We'll be interested to see how the NHK's broadcast 8K channel pans out.

But there are plenty of hurdles: content needs to be created, distribution infrastructure needs to be devised, equipment on which to watch it made vaguely affordable. There's also the not inconsiderable issue of storage - 4K is already a serious space-hogger for bang-up-to-date technology.

So, for now, 8K is still far from the mainstream - let alone any time soon. But never say never...

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