You barely peeled off the protective film on your 4K TV, and already the conversation has moved on to the next big thing: 8K. So what exactly is the 8K and how long will it take before it is worth upgrading?
When the price drops
The biggest obstacle for the average consumer is the price. We have finally reached a point where 4K screens are relatively affordable. This price will drop even more as new 4K screens are manufactured and sold on a large scale.
Panel technology is constantly evolving. In 2019, 8K TVs made their market debut and dominated the floor at CES 2020. All major panel manufacturers now produce them, including broadcast giants like Samsung, LG and Sony.
Emerging technology is expensive because the economy of scale is simply not there. It is difficult to minimize costs when your main customers are early adopters. Now that these panels are entering large-scale production, the manufacturing price will start to drop.
Sony comes out one of the first 4K televisions for sale in 2012 at a cost of $ 25,000. It was little more than a high-resolution LCD screen, and lacked features like high dynamic range (HDR) or FreeSync support. Over the past eight years, panel technology has been completely transformed. Technologies like HDR have proven to be the real stars of the show.
You can buy an 8K TV now if you want. Sony’s MASTER series starts at $ 9,999 and goes up to $ 59,999. Not only are they expensive, but they also aren’t fully future-proof. It is not known what additional technologies will emerge during the standard’s maturity.
Like Sony’s beginnings, the first 4K TVs have not stood the test of time too well. They lack the dynamic range and contrast ratio of modern OLED, QLED and Mini-LED models. They were also expensive at the time, just like the current 8K models. You’d better wait for the foreseeable future.
When there is a lot of 8K content
One of the main reasons that has slowed the adoption of 4K is the lack of content. When it first appeared on the scene in 2012, producing 4K content was an expensive undertaking. 4K cameras were expensive and reserved mainly for professional filmmakers. Image processing and editing also required expensive and powerful computers.
Over time, the costs associated with 4K have come down as cameras have become more common and computers have become more powerful. When 4K content was cheaper to produce, more content was produced in 4K. The same will be true with 8K.
Currently, very few streaming platforms offer 8K content. A handful of services in Europe and Japan do, but Netflix, Hulu, HBO and other big hitters are currently capping at 4K. YouTube has 8K content, but no way to filter for that, it’s bundled under 4K for now.
Until you can easily get 8K content, whether through a subscription or the largest video hosting service on the web, 8K is simply not worth it.
Rise in power could help bridge the gap until native 8K content becomes current. The best 4K TVs already include sophisticated scaling algorithms that interpolate pixels to improve image quality, rather than simply stretching the image.
While scaled content may not match the perceived (or actual) resolution of native 8K footage, 4K content would still be better on an 8K screen.
When your Internet is faster
According to Netflix, one hour of streaming 4K HDR content consumes 7 GB of bandwidth and requires a connection of 25 MB or better. These are estimates and the actual numbers vary, but we will take them at face value for now.
Because 8K footage has double the vertical and horizontal resolution of 4K, there are four times the number of pixels on the screen at once. That’s four times more data than necessary to produce a 4K image. At these figures, one hour of 8K HDR content would consume 28 GB of bandwidth and require at least a 100 MB connection.
According to Speed test, the global average speed of fixed broadband is around 75 Mb down and 40 Mb up. This means that at least half of the world’s population experiences speeds below this average. Even in the United States, which is currently ranked eighth in the world with an average download speed of 134 MB, there are big differences in speed available depending on where you live.
This number will have to improve considerably before the streaming services can fully commit to 8K. As physical sales of games and movies continue to decline, it is clear that the Internet is the content delivery infrastructure of the future. And this infrastructure will have to evolve to meet the data-hungry demands of tomorrow.
It’s possible 5G will play a role in the 8K streaming solution. In 2019, Samsung partnered with SK Telecom to produce an 8K display concept that uses 5G speeds to deliver content faster than a fixed broadband connection. This is still far from a viable solution because most countries have not yet deployed 5G on a large scale. And Apple hasn’t even released a 5G-compatible iPhone yet.
When most smartphones can shoot 8K videos
Consumer adoption of 4K sensors has played a huge role in bringing 4K into the public eye. Smartphones could film in 4K before 4K TVs were widespread and affordable.
In 2014, Sony introduced the FDR-AX100, the first “prosumer” 4K camera for $ 2,000. The same year, Samsung introduced the Galaxy S5, one of its first phones to have a 4K sensor. Apple followed suit a year later, with the release of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
These advances have helped normalize 4K in the minds of consumers. It turned technology from a futuristic buzzword into something else your smartphone could do.
It didn’t matter that these early 4K smartphone sensors produced decent 4K images (it wasn’t); it was a sign of things to come.
We are on the edge of smartphones that shoot 8K videos. Qualcomm released a trailer for 8K footage shot earlier this year with its Snapdragon 865 5G chip.
If we consider that many people still accept the 4K capabilities of their devices, it could take four or five years before 8K is as widespread as 4K today.
When PlayStation 6 (or 7) is available
PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will launch in late 2020, ushering in the first true generation of 4K consoles. Sony and Microsoft both released draft consoles that could handle some form of 4K, but the games were still designed with the base 1080p in mind.
Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are often recognized for their role in HD failover. People eventually abandoned their large, bulky standard definition CRT displays in favor of thinner LCD panels with “HD ready” stickers. A console that could output a 1080p signal warranted the purchase of a new television for most players.
The same is likely to be true of 4K and Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. If you’re looking for a console to play the latest games, you’ll probably want it to look its best. While early adopters already have 4K displays, others will follow as consoles mature and exclusive big-budget games arrive.
We don’t even know if there will be a PlayStation 6 console, but most players don’t see them disappearing anytime soon. Given that the market expects a kind of generational leap with each new generation of consoles, the transition to 8K seems to be a logical next step.
The only question is whether the material will be good enough at this point. After all, it took two generations of consoles to complete the transition to 4K.
When people talk about 16K (or whatever comes next)
While we are currently speculating on the future of 8K, 4K has just taken hold. Most streaming services have a decent library of 4K content. Many older movies and TV shows are being remastered and scaled to 4K to meet demand. We’re also about to see the launch of two next-generation game consoles that will both support 4K natively.
So, of course, by the time the world is ready for 8K, the conversation will go to 10K, or 16K, or whatever we haven’t heard of yet. In the tech world, it’s always the next big thing, even if the big thing today is always exciting.
Don’t buy one yet
Beginning of 2020, buying an 8K TV is a bad idea. The content is not there, it is very expensive and panel technology is evolving rapidly. By the time 8K is ready for prime time, the cost of manufacturing micro-LED screens will have dropped dramatically.
You’d better spend that money on a compatible 4K screen, a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X and a Netflix Premium subscription.