8K is somewhat of a mystery to me. Despite making its debut in 2013, and becoming truly commercially available in 2018 with the Samsung Q900R, I'm yet to see anyone truly adopt the format. In fact, I personally don't know anyone that's upgraded to an 8K TV, nor do I know anyone that's interested. So is 8K a sinking ship? And what exactly can be done to save it? Honestly, it comes down to the lack of support in the format department, as I certainly have no interest in 8K while it's still centred around upscaling.
Don't get me wrong, I can certainly see the benefits of 8K. At IFA 2023 I came across my first 8K TV in the Hisense booth, and admittedly the detail and clarity were dazzling. That being said, it was all overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of uncanniness that set me slightly on edge. I'm not sure if it was adjusting to a level of definition and sharpness that I'm not used to, but I wasn't enamoured.
But enough of my issues, as 8K TVs continue to be produced by most major players including Samsung, LG, Sony and TCL, so there is clearly some demand, right? Well, that might not actually be the case. Just last year, it was reported that 8K TVs made up a microscopic 0.15% of global TV sales in 2021 (via Forbes). This translates to roughly 300,000 to 350,000 8K TVs being sold in a year; for reference, an estimated 210 million TVs were sold in 2021.
So what's holding 8K TV back? In my humble opinion, it's a combination of high prices alongside a near void of authentic 8K content. Starting with prices, while 8K TVs have become cheaper as time goes on, they're still subject to notably higher price tags over equivalent 4K models. Take, for example, Samsung's current lineup, which features a wide mix of screen technologies. The 65-inch QN800C, Samsung's combination Quantum Dot and Mini LED TV with an 8K resolution, launched at £3200, although it can currently be found for roughly £3000. Comparatively, Samsung's flagship 4K Neo QLED model, the QN95C also at 65 inches retails for £2500, although this will likely be subject to sales in the near future.
So 8K costs more than the equivalent 4K models at launch, and considerably more when we take into account drops in pricing as these models age. This feels like an obvious statement to make, but it's worth mentioning as we now look at the differences between the models. Both have the same amount of HDMI 2.1 ports, both support HDR10+ and Dolby Atmos and, fundamentally, both use the same screen technology in terms of Mini LEDs and Quantum Dots. So realistically, you're paying for the 8K resolution, which, at the end of the day, will be mostly used for upscaling content.
Most, if not all, 8K TVs use a machine learning algorithm (AKA clever internal processing) in order to upscale 4K and HD content to 8K resolution. While this is impressive and certainly a welcome feature to boost resolution, it unfortunately isn't exactly a good look for 8K. So why not play some native 8K content instead you may ask? Unfortunately, there isn't any. Well, you can stream YouTube in 8K but if you're looking to watch proper movies or TV shows in 8K then you're stuck with upscaling.
In fact, back in 2019 the executive director of the 8K Association, Chris Chinnock, cast doubt on the possibility of 8K Blu-rays ever happening. Four years ago, he said that the chances of an 8K physical format were "a low probability" as the Blu-ray Association decided against moving forward with 8K Blu-rays.
Since then we've had little in the way of development in this area, although the technology is theoretically now available. The introduction of 1TB optical discs last year sparked some hope, as the usual Blu-ray is only capable of storing up to 100GB. The maths check out here, with a 4K movie being roughly 20 to 22GB per hour, so the average two-and-a-half-hour movie is about 51GB, whereas an 8K movie is 36 to 38GB per hour, meaning you'll need a disc capable of holding at least 92.5GB. This doesn't take into account all of the extra information needed on a Blu-ray disc such as different language tracks, deleted scenes and special features.
While a physical 8K format isn't without the realm of possibility, there doesn't seem to be much, if any, development taking place. We're not even going to scrape the surface of disc player requirements either, as 4K Blu-ray players are struggling as it is, so we daren't think about an 8K player.
So, we turn to streaming as our saviours, and it's not particularly good news either. While we did mention YouTube as the only proprietor of limited 8K content, Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and others are more than happy to settle on 4K, and so are we. The file sizes of 8K movies would require high-speed internet connections and would likely dominate the bandwidth of your home wi-fi network.
Frankly speaking, 8K seems to be a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. While the screen technology has been available for some time, it seems like the 8K TV manufacturers didn't really have a game plan past releasing the hardware. Who knows, 8K could well and truly take off in the near future and I could be sorely wrong – but for now, I'll pass.
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