If you’ve been paying any attention to the tech world over the past several weeks, you are likely very aware that the Consumer Electronics Show, the industry's largest tech trade show, took place in early January. And if you went looking for info and photos about the show, you probably found dozens of articles talking about this year’s hot TV topic: 8K resolution. And if you took a step further and actually read any of those articles, you probably heard a lot of arguments for and against 8K TVs. I’m not here to sway your opinion one way or another (can’t we all just get along?) but I will lay out the pros and cons of moving into the ultra ultra high res future.
First of all, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what exactly 8K TVs are. Most of us are familiar with 4K TVs by now: they pack in four times the number of pixels as HDTVs for sharper, more realistic pictures. 8K TVs take it another step farther and add four times as many pixels as 4K for a truly arresting picture.
Now that you understand what 8K TVs are, let’s wind the clock back a step for more context. The very first 4K TVs arrived in late 2012 with price tags of around $20K or more but it wasn’t until the first half of 2013 that 4K TVs arrived in force on the consumer market. Early 4K TVs were produced by a limited number of major brands and cost around $7,000 for a 65” model. Costs have fallen over the years and now a budget 65” 4K TV can be purchased for as little as $400, a price that is accessible to more people.
And that brings me to the first set of pros and cons: PRICE.
Con: The upcoming 8K TVs are not going to be cheap. Most brands haven’t released pricing information yet, but Samsung announced a price of $4,999 for its 65” model. However, most industry insiders agree that five thousand dollars for an 8K TV is extremely low, so expect to see prices go up from there when other brands release their 8K models later this spring. Higher prices obviously mean that fewer people will be able to buy a new 8K TV for their homes this year, but given enough time (years) the prices will come down.
Pro: Is there a pro to higher prices? Not for you or me, but higher prices can mean bigger margins for TV manufacturers and the retailers that sell their products. Manufacturers make single-digit profit margins on the televisions they build, but by developing new premium products and technologies they are able to raise prices and increase the profit on each unit they sell. What about that inexpensive Samsung 8K TV mentioned above? That’s Samsung making a play for sales volume at the expense of higher margins: they want to sell more TVs than their competition and they’re willing to trade higher per-unit profits for higher unit sales.
How many people are actually looking for an 8K TV? Only those who can afford it and want a large-screen TV, which leads us to the SCREEN SIZE argument.
Con: The answer to the question of how many people intend to buy an 8K TV in 2019 is 20,000, according to IHS Markit, a market analytics firm. That sounds like a lot but it’s really just a drop in the bucket compared to the 22.2 million 4K TVs that are expected to sell over the same time period. One limiting factor will be price, as discussed above. The other is screen size: not everyone wants (or has room for) a really large TV in their home. 8K TVs will come in screen sizes 60” and above. Some will get as large as 98”, but the majority of purchases will be for 65” models, which is already a popular 4K screen size for a fraction of the price.
Pro: Why so big? Large-screen TVs are helped by a higher resolution. If you think about resolution as a specific number of rows and columns of pixels, you can begin to see that as a screen size gets bigger, the same number of pixels get spread out to cover a larger surface area. At some point 4K resolution with its 8-megapixel image isn’t enough to make really big screens look good. But when you increase the number of megapixels to 33 (that’s 33 million pixels!) the problem goes away and hanging a massive TV on your wall suddenly makes more sense.
OK, I have money to burn and I want a really big screen. Is there anything to watch on my 8K TV? Aha! The CONTENT debate.
Con: Of course there’s nothing to watch. This is a new technology and besides, many content creators and distributors are still catching up with 4K so they’re not even working in 8K yet. It took until 2016 for the industry to figure out how to cram all the data necessary for a 4K movie onto a single Blu-ray disc so you know that new discs won’t be coming any time soon. You won’t find any TV stations broadcasting in 4K because the infrastructure isn’t there yet, and although you can stream 4K, not all streaming content is filmed in 4K, let alone 8K.
Pro: We heard all the same arguments when 4K debuted so we can guess how this will play out as well. It’s true that not all new source material is created using 4K, but there are many streaming and satellite options that provide 4K content, including popular sources such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. And the industry is already hard at work developing new technology that will allow 8K streaming with the release of the new HDMI 2.1 specification, including a new Ultra High Speed HDMI cable capable of transmitting uncompressed 8K video with HDR. Assuming that popular streaming sources will want to keep ahead of the industry, it likely won’t take long for them to offer 8K content as well. And don’t forget that most 8K TVs will upscale lower-resolution content so everything you see will look better than 4K from the start. If you’re in the market for a new TV and you want to future-proof as much as possible, 8K may be the choice for you.
OK, so the bottom line is that 8K TVs are going to be expensive, big, and there won’t be much native content on them. If those things aren’t a deterrent for you, congrats! Enjoy your big, beautiful TV. However, if you can’t justify the expense and prefer to wait a couple of years for a lower price and more incentive in the form of original 8K content, feel free to join me and the rest of the happy 4K TV owners who are going to watch this one from the sidelines for now.
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