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16 Jan 2020

Is 2020 the year to consider an 8K TV?

A look at the TVs and technology LG and Samsung hope will convince you to choose 8K
Samsung Q950TS TV on wall

LG, fittingly, announced eight 8K TVs at CES 2020, while Samsung debuted two entirely new ranges. Sizes start at a relatively lounge-friendly 65 inches, but that still doesn't leave much space for the elephant in the room.

There is a complete lack of 8K content. Samsung addressed the situation at least, talking briefly of working with YouTube to bring 8K streaming to its TVs, but what this content will be and when it will appear is a mystery.

Whatever Samsung and YouTube cook up, it will be many years before 8K has the kind of reach that 4K now enjoys, with hundreds of hours of content available through Netflix and YouTube.

So what possible reason could there be for spending more on an 8K set, and why are TV manufacturers in such a rush to get them into our front rooms?

Top TVs of 2019 - stunning sets at their lowest prices.

8K TVs: the key facts

  • Who's making them? LG, Samsung and Sony.
  • How big are they? Samsung's smallest is 55 inches (we're not sure about its 2020 ranges though), LG's is 65, while Sony's is 75 inches.
  • How many pixels? The resolution is 7,680×4,320, which adds up to 33,177,600 pixels (we worked that out in our heads).
  • How does it differ from 4K? The pixel count is the major advance: 4K is 3,840×2,160 for a total of 8,294,400 pixels, so 8K has four times as many.
  • How does that improve the picture?Extra pixels mean extra definition, but without clever technology only actual 8K content will make use of all those extra pixels and, as we know, there isn't much of it knocking around.

Does 8K mean eight times the price?

It still feels like new technology and that rarely comes cheap, but 8K had its proper debut three years ago. So while it's not commonplace, it's not all that new either.

They are all expensive, but they aren't all ten grand or more (some most definitely are). Take these 65-inch TVs:

  • The Sony KD65AG9BU is £2,749
  • The Samsung QE65Q950R is £2,999
  • The Panasonic TX-65GZ2000B is £3,499

Which one do you think is 8K? It's the Samsung set slotting neatly between two 4K OLEDs. No one is saying £2,999 is cheap, but it hasn't taken long for 8K prices to come into line with top-of-the-range 4K models.

It's not as if the Q950R is a basic set either. It's got the same features as Samsung's top-tier 4K QLED, just with way more pixels.

Samsung QE65Q950R 8K TV
Samsung QE65Q950R 8K TV

Samsung has also said that it plans to price its 2020 Q800TS 8K range comparably to the price levels of its high-end 4K sets in 2019. You can currently buy the QE65Q90R for £2,199. An 8K TV at that sort of price could make many shortlists.

Since Samsung is currently the only brand with a 65-inch 8K TV, we don't know whether it will be alone in pricing them competitively, but we hope it is. Here's how previous year's 8K TVs have compared price-wise with 4K ones. We've chosen TVs as close in size as possible to make the comparisons fair.

It's worth noting as well that, while both Samsung TVs use QLED displays, the LG and Sony 4K TVs are OLEDs, while the 8K models we've compared them with are LCDs.

Compelling reasons to buy

The promise of 8K content to come isn't enough; there needs to be a good reason to take the plunge now in 2020. Enter upscaling: the promise to make the content you can currently watch look like it's 8K.

All the 8K TVs in the table above are powered by marketing-leading chips that use AI to analyse each frame of content and sharpen every tiny detail to bring the picture into sharp 8K focus.

This is the ace in the hole for 8K TVs and the potential reason why anyone would consider buying one in 2020. But is it enough?

Misplaced effort

Detail is rarely an issue with top-tier TVs, and most mid-range and entry-level TVs don't struggle too much with it either. Our favourites from 2019 dazzled us with the clarity of their picture.

More of an issue facing many TVs was underwhelming HDR implementation, unbalanced contrast obscuring detail, and unnatural colours.

We'd rather see manufacturers focus on those areas of picture quality rather than try and push through the resolution ceiling.

What 8K TVs are coming in 2020?

Samsung has two ranges in its line-up: the Q950TS, which is likely to cost an arm and a leg, particularly with its almost bezel-free 'Infinity Display'. The Q800TS is the other range that Samsung hinted could cost the same as its high-end 4K sets. Both will have a new tuner that supports 4K broadcasts and potentially 8K ones, too.

LG's 8K launches will be split across LCD and OLED models, with the OLEDs likely to cost significantly more. The third-generation Alpha 9 processor powers all eight TVs, and has been designed to work especially well at boosting the fidelity of lower-resolution content, such as standard and regular HD.

Sony ZH8 8K TV

Sony has 8K X-Reality Pro, which, you guessed it, upscales lower-resolution content to 8K.

You can find out more about what these manufacturers announced in our LG, Samsung and Sony CES 2020 round-ups.

Should you consider 8K?

With prices falling, and Samsung hinting at even cheaper models this year, you may not need to pay much more for an 8K set if you're in the market for a high-end TV.

The big question is how much those extra pixels really improve the picture quality. We hope to test some in 2020 and if there is significant boost to the clarity, colour and contrast of SD, HD and 4K content, then it may be worth spending a bit extra on an 8K set. But until we know for sure just how seismic (or not) that jump in quality is, we'd hold off and choose a Best Buy 4K TV instead.