TV screen technology explained
What is 8K TV?
By Martin Pratt
Article 6 of 9
8K TV offers a sharper, more detailed picture than ever before. But with 4K content still thin on the ground, should you rush out to buy a TV with four times the pixels?
The first 4K TVs were released back in 2012. Although 4K technology has been around for a while, UK broadcasters still don't have 4K channels.
Of course, just because the tech world is eager to introduce something new, doesn't necessarily mean you need to scrap your 4K TV. The introduction of 4K content has been glacial in terms of speed, but can the same be said of 8K shows and movies? Or will Hollywood, streaming services and UK broadcasters be quicker to react this time?
Everything you need to know about 8K TV
Unlike some other TV technologies (HDR, we're looking at you) 8K is easy to understand. An 8K TV has four times the number of pixels of a 4K TV, which, in turn, has four times the number of pixels of an HD TV.
The resolution on an 8K TV is 7,680 x 4,320 for a total of 33,177,600 pixels. This enormous number of pixels means an 8K TV can display incredibly sharp, crisp images that show more detail than a 4K TV could manage.
We're in the early stages of 8K TVs. Only LG, Samsung, Sharp and Sony have announced 8K sets you'll be able to buy, and it will come as no surprise that they are extremely expensive. Samsung's cheapest range starts at around £4,999 for the 65-inch set while models from rival brands are all bigger and will cost more as a result.
What can you watch in 8K?
Here's the elephant in the room - there's no 8K content. No 8K Blu-rays, no 8K streaming services and no 8K channels.
The only way to watch something in 8K would require you to move to Japan, where national broadcaster NHK is trialling an 8K channel, or buy an extremely expensive 8K camera, hire some actors and make your own show.
This isn't unexpected. The companies making the content are always playing catch-up with the TV technology. It was the same when 4K TVs were first released.
Streaming services are usually quickest out of the blocks; it only took Netflix three years from when 4K TVs were widely available to start offering some of its programming in ultra-HD, and now Amazon Video has several 4K films and shows to watch.
To stream 4K content, you need a good internet connection. Netflix recommends at least 25Mbps to get a reliable stream. 8K streams could feasibly require double that, and only a handful of internet service providers offer speeds of 50Mpbs and over.
The 8K TVs coming in 2020
Samsung Q950TS 8K QLED TV
The Q950TS is Samsung's top-of-the-line TV for 2020. It's available in 65, 75 and 85 inches.
The problem facing the TV is the non-existence of 8K content, but Samsung has found a solution - sort of. The Q950TS uses AI to upscale standard-definition, HD and 4K video. The resulting resolution won't be full 8K, but should improve the quality of the stuff you watch every day, whether that's an episode of Corrie on ITV HD or a 4K copy of Blade Runner 2049.
The AI works by analysing objects on screen, and smoothing jagged edges to make everything appear crisper.
These top-tier 8K sets have a stunning design with one of the smallest bezels we've seen on a TV. Samsung calls it the Infinity Screen and it is impressive. To put it in perspective, the typical screen-to-body ratio is between 80 and 90%, but on the Q950TS it's 99% screen.
Samsung Q800T 8K TV
This is the most interesting of Samsung's 2020 ranges. It's expected to be priced similarly to Samsung's high-end 4K QLEDs and it's available in 55 inches, making it the smallest 8K set around.
You can get a bigger one, too - sizes go up to 98 inches.
It doesn't have the lovely Infinity Screen, but the same processor powers both 8K ranges, so we should see some nice upscaling as SD, HD and 4K footage is sharpened up to 8K like a sword on a whetstone.
LG Signature ZX 8K OLED TV
LG's 8K 88-inch OLED is one of the biggest available. Unlike the RX, it doesn't roll up in its base, but it's an attractive TV that you may not want to hide away.
If it lives up to the 8K potential you may not want to turn it off either. The processor is all-important here. In the absence of any actual 8K content to watch, it must upscale lower resolutions so you can't tell the difference.
Expect this one to be expensive.
Sony ZH8 8K LCD TV
The X1 Ultimate processor is the chip tasked with making the ZH8 relevant. It will do its best to upscale SD, HD and 4K content to something close to 8K.
It's not the TV of choice if you're short on space - the smallest model is 75 inches - but there are some novel features to tempt you beyond it being 8K. The frame and screen vibrate to create sound that's more positional. It should seem as though audio is coming from the right part of the screen - a character's moving mouth or a car engine - for example.
Panasonic has yet to get involved with 8K TVs, which isn't exactly a bad move when you consider that we're still some way off a steady stream of 8K content to enjoy.
Should you buy an 8K TV?
No, buy a 4K one instead. Given that 4K content isn't that widely available, it will be several years before you'll be able to easily watch something in 8K.
But also, maybe. The ability of these TVs to upscale any content to somewhere near 8K quality is intriguing. If this makes a significant difference to how good standard definition, HD and 4K video look, then it may be worth considering, assuming you can afford one.
We'll be testing some 8K in 2020, so we'll be able to say whether they offer any real advantage over the best 4K sets.