While I thought the most interesting display story at CES was the introduction of new things such as MicroLEDs and rollable OLEDs, the most important thing for TV buyers in the near future is that 8K TVs have gone from being just demonstrations on the show floor to actual models that consumers can buy.

Just about every major vendor was showing large 8K TVs, including Samsung, LG, Sony, TCL, Hisense, and Sharp. All of these sets have a resolution of 7680-by-4320 pixels—and thus show 33 million pixels, 4 times the number on a 4K UHD set and 16 times the number on a 1080p FHD set. Makers say the additional pixels give the pictures more depth; and in almost every case, 8K sets have all of each vendor’s latest and greatest picture technology. The result is some stunning displays.

There’s even a new 8K Association (8KA), a coalition of TV makers Hisense, Panasonic, Samsung, and TCL, and panel manufacturer AU Optronics, designed to develop industry standards and promote the technology.

The biggest knock against 8K is that there is no native content. In fact, you still hear that about 4K TVs (although the streaming services now actually offer a fair amount of 4K programming). You also hear that you can’t see the dots on a 4K TV or even a standard FHD (1080p) set unless you get very close. 

While it’s true that even inexpensive televisions look great compared to the models of a decade ago, side by side, you can see the differences between FHD and 4K UHD, and even 4K and 8K. The difference comes down to the color, contrast, and the quality of the upscaling hardware and software.

While there isn’t a lot of 8K content—NHK in Japan just started a channel, which debuted with 2001: A Space Odyssey and has plans for the 2020 Olympics—almost all of the major vendors were talking about the special image processing they use to upscale 4K or even 1080p content so it looks better on the 8K sets. I was skeptical at first, but the side-by-side demos of 4K and 8K sets do show that the higher-resolution models are a bit more realistic. Of course, today’s 4K sets usually look quite good, and 8K today is a significantly more expensive option.

Now, this isn’t to say that most people will buy 8K sets this year. In fact, the Consumer Technology Association (the group that puts on CES) predicts that in 2019 just 200,000 8K sets will be sold in the US. It expects that number to grow to 1.5 million a year by 2022.

In part, that’s because 8K sets still come at a premium price, and really only make sense for 65-inch and larger TVs, a relatively small but growing part of the TV market. (Remember that an 8K 65-inch set would have about the same resolution per inch as a 4K 32-inch set.) 

The average size TV is increasing—the CTA predicts that the average set size sold in in 2019 should be 48 inches, up slightly from last year. More

By Michael J. Miller