The New Ultra HD
It’s taken some time, but ultra-high-definition (UHD, or 4K) is now effectively the standard resolution for TVs larger than 40 inches. The next step is 8K, and if you just upgraded to 4K, the idea of 8K on the horizon is reasonably irritating. Let us assuage your fears and anger by explaining just what 8K is and how long we’ll be waiting for it.
8K is a higher resolution standard than 4K, quadrupling the total number of pixels just like 4K did with 1080p. 8K is 7,680 by 4,320 resolution, or approximately 8,000 horizontal pixels. 4K, by contrast, is around 4,000 horizontal pixels at 3,840 by 2,160, and 1080p is around 2,000 horizontal pixels at 1,920 by 1,080. Just as there are twice as many horizontal pixels for each resolution, there are also twice as many vertical pixels. This means each step quadruples the number of pixels, and that 8K has 16 times the number of pixels as 1080p.
Why are they called 8K and 4K instead of, say, 2,160p and 4,320p? Basically, it’s easier to say and write. The higher the numbers, especially when they aren’t nice, round numbers, the more confusing it gets (though we have seen 4K referred to as 2,160p in some technical specifications). 4K and 8K are simple terms that get the point across by rounding up the number of horizontal pixels. 4K is also referred to as ultra-high-definition, or UHD, so 8K might eventually get its own descriptor at some point. Considering how many people say “4K” and not “UHD,” however, it’s unlikely any acronym rebranding will catch on, and calling it 8K is here to stay.
So There Are 8K TVs Now? I Just Got 4K!
Yes, there are 8K TVs now. They’re rare and expensive, though. One of the very first available in North America, Samsung’s Q900, costs $5,000 for 65 inches (and $70,000 if you want a 98-inch model). It uses the same quantum dot technology as Samsung’s 4K Q9FN line, so it probably has excellent color performance, but the sticker shock still exceeds that of most OLED TVs you can buy. The 65-inch Q9FN is just over half the price at $3,000, and LG’s 65-inch OLEDC9P is $3,500. And, of course, you can find excellent LCD 4K TVs for much less than any of that, with other models and brands.
Spending an extra $1,500 for an 8K TV doesn’t mean you’ll be able to watch 8K media. That’s because there really isn’t any, for consumers. It took years of development for 4K video to become standardized in streaming and physical media. Even with the Q900 and any other 8K TVs available to buy in the US, you won’t actually have anything to watch on it.
Unless you have the most absurdly powerful gaming computer on the planet or access to experimental broadcaster streams, you won’t be getting any 8K video. Instead you’ll be processing 4K or lower resolution video and upconverting it to 8K. Samsung emphasizes its sophisticated 8K upconversion system to help offset the lack of native 8K content. It might be very impressive and help perk up 4K media to look good on an 8K TV, but you can’t synthesize fine details from nothing, and upconversion is always inferior to native video.
Is 8K Better Than 4K?
From what we’ve seen so far at trade shows and workshops that show off the new TVs, it could be. Just like the change to HDTVs and then to 4K, screen size and distance to the screen is a big factor. If you’re watching from a couch, you won’t notice much of a difference between 1080p and 4K on a TV smaller than 40 inches. The distinction between 4K and 8K will likely be similar, though we haven’t seen enough to test yet.