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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?  

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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.

That's why some of the biggest names in TVs, including LG and Samsung, have announced 8K TVs in their 2018 ranges.

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 and Sharp have announced 8K sets you'll be able to buy, and we don't know how much they will cost. 

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 2018

Samsung Q9S 8K TV

Revealed at CES, the Q9S is Samsung's top-of-the-line TV for 2018. It will be available in 65, 75 and 85 inches, and will likely cost more than a new kitchen.

The problem facing the TV is the nonexistence of 8K content, but Samsung has found a solution - sort of. The Q9S uses AI to upscale standard definition, HD and 4K video. The resulting resolution won't be full 8K, but it should improve the quality of the stuff you watch every day, whether that's an episode of Corrie on ITV+1 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. This is, arguably, the  Q9S's most impressive feature. If Samsung could incorporate the same technology into its 4K TVs to make standard definition and HD look better, then its TVs could be the best option for watching a wide range of content.

LG 8K OLED TV

LG's 8K display is the first 8K OLED and, at 88 inches, it's also the largest ever produced. 

Like Samsung, LG hasn't announced a price for its giant TV, but don't expect it to be any less than six figures. 

That's a lot to spend on a TV, particularly when you consider that there's no 8K content to watch on it. We don't know if LG's TV will have any tricks up its sleeve in the same way as the Q9S. If it doesn't, then this OLED is nothing more than a headline-grabbing statement TV that very few people will buy.

Should you buy an 8K TV?

No, buy a 4K one instead. Given that 4K content isn't that widely available, it be will several years before you'll be able to easily watch something in 8K.

The one potential outlier is the Q9S, with its ability to upscale any content to somewhere near 8K quality. If this makes a significant difference to how good standard definition, HD and 4K video look, then it may be worth considering, assuming the TV is anywhere close to affordable.

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