Last year, and 8K televisions — those that aren't prohibitively expensive — may finally become a reality this year. It's a far cry from October 2018 when we at GearBrain first experienced an 8K television, showcased in the corner of a London hotel suite.
Then, the Samsung Q900R shone bright with its 30 million pixels recreating footage of a Golden Retriever puppy, drone shots of cities, and vegetables unearthed in crisp slow-motion. It looked great, of course, and Samsung spoke at length about how it used artificial intelligence to turn 4K and even HD footage into 8K. Of course, the TV had to do this because no real 8K content actually existed. Beyond Samsung's own demo footage, there was nothing to watch.
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The other hurdle, of course, was the size of the TV, at 85 inches, and its price – a cool $15,000. It was a glimpse at the future, but one that felt a long way away, especially as 4K broadcasts were still rare in 2018 and technologies like HDR were only just getting up to speed.
When will prices fall?
Fast-forward two years and in early 2021 8K televisions are somewhat closer to reality. A report issued by Deloitte at the end of 2020 predicted that one million 8K televisions will be sold globally in 2021. And, while the average 8K TV retail price is seven times that of the average TV, Deloitte believes 8K TVs could fall to $1,500 by the end of this year.
A fall from today's average 8K retail price of $3,300 to less than half that in a single year seems like a tall ask, but this month's CES technology show lends credence to that prediction. Although prices were thin on the ground, the show was packed with new 8K televisions from all of the usual suspects, including Samsung, LG, Sony and TCL.
While many focused on the new mini LED and micro LED technologies — explained in more detail here — 8K was a popular CES subject. TCL, the Chinese technology firm known for delivery quality TVs at more affordable prices, said for 2021 its entire 6-Series range will have 8K resolution. This commoditization of 8K resolution is good news and will help bring 8K into the mainstream, but TCL's decision to continue selling last year's 4K models in 2021 suggests 8K prices will remain high for now. Prices for these screens haven't been revealed yet, but they are likely to be among the cheapest for 2021, and potentially below $2,000.
Samsung and Sony also have new 8K televisions for 2021, with the Q900A Neo QLED and Z9J respectively. Screen sizes are still large, starting at 75 inches, but features like HDR and support for a 120Hz frame rate mean these televisions will be a perfect match for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 game consoles. The same goes for LG's QNED Mini-LED 8K screens, also starting at 75 inches. All three manufacturers have kept prices and availability details to themselves for now.
So while prices are unknown at this stage, there is hope of 8K TVs falling below $2,000 by the end of the year, putting them within reach of more consumers than ever before. But will there be anything to watch? Unfortunately, the problem of a lack of 8K content is likely to remain.
Is there any 8K content to watch?
The short answer is no, not yet. But broadcast trials have taken place, with more to come, and the movie industry is able to remaster some very high-definition analogue and digital recordings into 8K. In fact, movies shot on 70mm film have the equivalent resolution of 8K and some classics have already been remastered into the new format, ready to be shown in their true glory on an 8K television.
These include 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was broadcast on Japan's NHL national broadcaster back in December 2018. The channel has also since shown My Fair Lady in 8K, and Deloitte says "dozens" of movies shot in 65mm or 70mm could be upgraded to 8K too, including IMAX content, which is usually shot on 65mm or 75mm film. Similarly, more recent content shot in 6K then distributed in 4K could be upscaled and remastered in 8K.
No streaming service currently offers 8K, but Amazon Prime and Netflix have both shot some content using the resolution, then released them at 4K. The good news is the 8K originals exist and could well be streamed at their native quality in the future. But, even though some content is available, 8K streaming won't happen overnight. It will require a huge technological undertaking to bring 8K into homes over an internet connection, as even today's streamed 4K is of much lower quality than the 4K content on an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc.
As of late 2020 YouTube has an 8K streaming option, but this is limited to televisions with Android TV and for now it is a very small rollout.
As for broadcasting 8K, some trials have already taken place. In the UK in February 2020, BT Sport broadcast a live 8K soccer match between Arsenal and Olympiacos, albeit only to a single TV in a spectator box at the stadium itself. In Spain, an 8K broadcast trial took place in October 2020, and Japan's NHK had planned to show the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 8K, but the pandemic saw that delayed until at least July 2021.
For now, the majority of broadcast content is HD with standard dynamic range (SDR as opposed to HDR), and 720p resolution. In some cases, standard definition remains the norm, and for most viewers 4K broadcasts are reserved for a handful of elite sports events and pay-per-view movies.
TCL's 6 Series TV will be upgraded to 8K in 2021TCL
Video games and 8K
Both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are claimed by their manufacturers to be 8K compatible. However, both Sony and Microsoft have opted to launch the consoles with 8K video output disabled. They say this is because no 8K content is available yet, but when it is the option will be switched on.
User-generated 8K video
Strangely, it looks like the most common place to find 8K video in the short term will be on smartphones – which don't have 8K displays. Samsung's Galaxy S21 family can shoot 8K video, which is theory can be watched on one of the company's 8K televisions, but the number of consumers with both devices will likely remain tiny for much of 2021. In this case, shooting in 8K means a video can be cropped significantly (effectively zoomed in on) while still being at a 4K or HD resolution.
To conclude, 2021 will see a number of new 8K televisions hit the market. Their prices are expected to be lower than ever, and if you are in the market for a new TV costing between $1,500 and $2,000, and want a screen size north of 65 inches, then ticking the 8K box could make sense for you.
However, beyond early adopters with the budget and space for such a TV, we recommend waiting at least one more year. By 2022 and especially 2023, prices should be below $1,000 — and, perhaps more importantly, by then there could finally be enough 8K content worth buying a new TV for.