The other big problem with 8K TVs (aside from the lack of content)

The other big problem with 8K TVs (aside from the lack of content)
(Image credit: Samsung)

8K TV is everywhere at CES 2020. We’re only a few hours into the show but based on the early news and first press conferences, there’s going to be a whole heap of 8K talk this year. 

Before the show had even started details emerged of the LG 8K TV line-up – and it was telling that it was details on the 8K TVs that the company decided to announce first. Boldly claiming to be "the company delivering the Real 8K experience", LG announced it will reveal eight brand-new 8K TVs at CES 2020, from 65 to 88 inches.

Sony's 2020 TV range wasn’t released but rather leaked ahead of the official announcement at CES, and again it was all about the 8K ZH8 TV that promises to lead the family.

Samsung then kick-started the show with a humdinger of a press conference and it was clear in amongst the super-size MicroLED screens that its the 8K TVs that are the company’s new flagship focus for this year, with the top-of-the-range Q950TS bezel-less TV (pictured, top) hogging the limelight.

Panasonic’s press conference is still to come, but it’s not just the big global players getting in on 8K. Chinese brands Skyworth and Konka (huge in China, now announcing their plans to go global) also have 8K TVs to show-off at CES, and we could yet see more from the likes of Hisense and TCL.

So it’s fair to say 8K is now front and centre in the TV market. They’re available from a range of manufactures, at a wider range of screen sizes, and, inevitably, at slightly more affordable prices than last year's select models. 

But nevertheless, even the early adopters among us are well within our rights to be rolling our eyes. For it is very early days for 8K TV. In fact, for many of us, it remains early days for 4K, with TVs only reaching mainstream sizes and prices relatively recently and the amount of 4K content only now starting to climb in core markets such as Japan, the UK and US.

And of course, as even the most casual observers would be quick to point out, there is the matter of the most obvious issue: there is next to no 8K content available. Anywhere. So while you could have bought an 8K TV in 2019, and, by the looks of it, you will be heartily encouraged to buy from a much larger range of 8K TVs in 2020, you’re not going to have any 8K content to watch on it. That’s the obvious, and quite typical, problem that comes around every time new video tech is launched.

But this obvious issue, leads to something that's perhaps not as widely known. And that's the fact that not only would you be watching 4K or HD resolution content on your 8K TV for the foreseeable future, this lower resolution content may well look worse on your new 8K TV than it would on a 4K TV. And that's not ideal.

Samsung's 2019 Q950R 8K TV

Samsung's 2019 Q950R 8K TV (Image credit: Future / Undone, Amazon Prime)

When we compared the flagship 4K and 8K TVs from Samsung last year, we were blown away by the snippets of 8K content we were treated to, but we preferred the performance of 4K video on the 4K screen. As we said in our review of the 8K Q950R, “The problem is that when feeding the same content into both the Q950R and Q90R, we’re still too often drawn to the Q90R’s delivery. Surprisingly, this has less to do with resolution than with colour balance and black performance, but it’s an issue all the same.” Again – not ideal.

And it’s not a Samsung issue, it’s an upscaling issue. An 8K screen has a huge number of extra pixels to fill when dealing with 4K content, with 75% of the picture having to be produced by the TV’s upscaler. You could rightly say it’s miraculous that 4K video looks anywhere near as good on an 8K TV as on a 4K screen. But if you’re spending serious money on an 8K TV, that will be scant consolation.

The good news is that TV manufacturers are well aware of the issue and are focusing on improving the upscaling technology in 8K TVs as a result. This year’s just-announced Samsung 8K TVs feature the new Quantum Processor 8K which uses machine learning to analyse and identify the characteristics of individual pixels, and then “restore different elements of the image to create a pristine 8K picture, regardless of the content source”. We expect to hear about similar processing developments to aid upscaling from other TV brands, too.

Furthermore, TVs are now able to be updated and upgraded over time by firmware updates, meaning any future processing updates can in theory be brought to older sets purchased by early-adopters. 

The consumer electronics market loves to sell the next big thing as soon as possible to tech-hungry enthusiasts but despite the hype, we think it really does seem too early for 8K TV to be a worthwhile proposition. The lack of 8K content, naturally, and the potential pitfall of 4K video performance, have us very much in the wait and see camp for now.

Nevertheless, with the 8K bandwagon set to gain momentum at a rapid pace, we certainly can’t wait to see the 2020 8K TVs in action to see if they can change our minds. Not least as that bezel-less Samsung 8K QLED really does look stunning...

Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is the Content Director for What Hi-Fi? and Future’s Product Testing, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for almost 20 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).

  • What Hi-Fi? said:
    Will the picture actually be worse than a 4K TV?

    The other big problem with 8K TVs (aside from the lack of content) : Read more
    I don’t quite know what to think here, all other reviews of the Samsung Qled Q950r 8K TV are saying it’s the best HDR picture they have seen apart from you guys. I asked the Samsung guys in John Lewis and they say easy the 8K TV, I could‘ve bought either because my parents bought my 55-inch of me and I decided upon a 65-inch and it was between the Q90r and the Q950r TV, I liked the idea of the 10 year screen burn warranty of the Q90r but everyone was saying the 8K was better.

    Anyway I really like the Samsung Q950r so much so we bought 2 of them. Clearly to us it’s better than OLED so I guess the Q90r according to you guys is one special TV!
  • And some people say Samsung TVs are too bright and look false, but I find the Q950r to be a really natural picture whereas the Q90r did look a bit false even to me and I like bright TVs.
  • fazalmajid
    This reminds me of the incredibly short-sighted articles 3-4 years ago about how you didn't need 4K TVs and there would never be 4K content. A 4K TV has 8 megapixels, and most people's digital cameras produce 24MP or more these days. TVs are not just about about displaying whatever glop Hollywood sees fit to ram down our throats, but also displaying your own content like photos, and you want your TV to do the best possible job there.
  • Friesiansam
    Even notwithstanding their potential for displaying digital camera pictures, there is still no point in paying through the nose to be an early adopter of 8K tvs, except for bragging rights.
  • fazalmajid
    Friesiansam said:
    Even notwithstanding their potential for displaying digital camera pictures, there is still no point in paying through the nose to be an early adopter of 8K tvs, except for bragging rights.

    Certainly, but the article doesn't just say "wait until the 8K price premium dwindles", just a blanket statement there won't be any 8K content (quite likely) and 8K is pointless, which is just as luddite as those who claimed 4K was pointless 3-4 years ago. It didn't take very long for 4K to take over the market, 5 years IIRC.

    I don't know if 8K will follow the same trajectory, but what other innovation do TV makers have to convince people to upgrade? MicroLED, perhaps, but that is going to take a lot more effort to bring down in price than simply doubling the resolution of the masks used for etching transistors onto glass panels for 8K screens. I'd guess 2022 is when choosing a 8K TV will be a no-brainer.
  • d2erima
    Isn't the real problem with 8K TVs that biology and physics makes it pointless at the screen sizes most people have in their living room? Sure, it's great to be able to watch the olympics in 8K in a movie theatre, but at 65" or 75"?

    Better to spend the required bandwidth on higher frame rates and lower compression (resulting in fewer artifacts) at 4K resolution.
  • fazalmajid
    d2erima said:
    Isn't the real problem with 8K TVs that biology and physics makes it pointless at the screen sizes most people have in their living room?

    A 4K 48" TV is 90dpi, hardly Retina resolution viewed up close, as you would if it's displaying photos and artwork on a wall. A 8K TV would be 180, still not gallery grade 300dpi but more tolerable.
  • Atomic Flip
    Yeah sadly the facts of the technology and it’s limitations evade most people. Even those who might be considered technically knowledgeable.

    The singular fact this article covered, which will be a matter of truth for the foreseeable future is:

    1. The video processors/scalers (which are absolutely necessary for any digital television to display aligned and perspective correct images at all) are simply not powerful enough at a remotely appealing price point to drive all the individual transistors on such a large matrix as 8K.

    This has been a truth for ever in the digital video world, long before the consumer availability of digital television but these limitations were overcome by a comfortable margin by the early 2000’s and considering we’re had well over a decade of blissful and steady pace adoption of 1080p (up from 480p) we hadn’t really had to content with such enormous leaps in processing or intelligence with those video scalars to really need to worry about quality issues moving from a 480i (original analogue broadcast standard) display to a 720 or 1080p, let alone 480p display.

    In any case, the authors of the article are spot on with this cautionary warning and indeed it is uncertain to what degree one can say they will notice or care. I however will keep my expectations in check on such a move and won’t adopt 8K for at least a few generations. If only for the matter of processing performance for that scaling and mapping of images.