8K AND ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
While many of us are only just getting used to the idea of 4K TV, some brands and broadcasters are already investigating 8K resolution video.
Yes, 8K video could one day be a reality. It may not be any time soon, and there's no guarantee it will ever happen, but from 8K TVs to 8K broadcasts, there is already plenty of investigation into how 8K content could become a reality.
It's fair to say 4K TV is now mainstream. That doesn't mean we're all watching it, all of the time, but if you're sizing up a new TV, and you care about picture quality, 4K resolution should be on the spec sheet.
And, thanks to Netflix, YouTube, 4K Blu-ray, and others, there is finally 4K content to watch. With what looks set to be the first 4K World Cup just around the corner, it really is a great time to get involved.
But, as ever in consumer electronics, there is always something new on the horizon. The prospect of 8K certainly shouldn't affect your eagerness to go 4K, but to be informed is to be empowered, so we thought we'd round up the 8K state of play for the future-gazers among us. So, who's working on 8K? And when could it really become a reality? Read on.
What is 8K?
First, let's take it back to basics. What we're talking about here is resolution. This means the number of horizontal and vertical pixels. Pixels equal information, so more pixels should mean a better quality image. That's the theory, at least.
In the case of 8K, this means a horizontal resolution of 7680 pixels and a vertical resolution of 4320 pixels, or 4320 resolution video.
By comparison, 4K video has half the number of horizontal lines and half the number of vertical lines (3840 x 2160), for a resolution of 2160. Full HD is 1920 x 1080, or 1080.
All this combines to mean 8K has four times as many pixels as 4K, and 16 times the number of Full HD.
Who is making 8K Content?
8K video developments to date have largely been driven by filmmakers and TV broadcasters.
From a video-editing point of view, the higher resolution can be useful. While filmmakers may not ultimately deliver an 8K film, shooting in the higher resolution gives editors room to manoeuvre, allowing for cropping and zooming while still retaining a high-resolution image. That said, 6K cameras are currently far more prevalent in Hollywood.
Meanwhile in Japan, broadcasters have been experimenting with 8K TV for some time. Back in 2015, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, NHK, ran a series of 8K trials, and in 2016, the company announced it was successfully demoing broadcasting in 8K.
The Korean Broadcasting Corporation (KBS) is also researching 8K broadcasts, working with LG on content, possible broadcasts and displays, with 4K and 8K broadcasts being mooted for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The likes of Netflix and YouTube were of course quick out of the traps when it came to 4K content and now streaming site Vimeo has jumped aboard with 8K. A recent update adds support for HDR and 8K resolution videos. Naturally you just need an 8K screen to really take advantage...
What about 8K TVs?
Sharp's 70-inch 8K TV
So if we can see the fledgling sprouts of 8K content, what about the compatible devices on which to play 8K video?
Trade shows such as CES and IFA are the perfect place for TV manufacturers to showcase their latest and often craziest new tech, so it's perhaps no surprise we've seen a few 8K screens in recent years.
LG and Samsung both showed off 8K TV prototypes at CES 2015, while Sharp went a step further, offering an 85in 8K TV for sale in Japan later that year.
Perhaps choosing to ignore that, and in search of some headlines, LG claimed the world's first production 8K TV in 2016.
Returning the favour, and adding an air of ridiculousness to proceedings, Sharp has this year said that its LC-70X500 8K TV will be the first consumer-ready 8K TV to go on sale. The price? A frankly silly US $73,000.
Regardless of the headline-grabbing, there are clearly 8K screen plans afoot with various manufacturers.
SiTune has also become the first brand to release an 8K TV tuner module. The tuner supports the 8K Super Hi-Vision plans of Japan's NHK broadcaster, which aim to be in place by the 2020 Olympics, and the module is ready for TV boxes or Blu-ray players.
When will we be watching 8K?
If you're in the UK, Australia, Europe or US, we're fairly confident in saying, "not any time soon".
We're always interested in the latest technology, and it pays to keep abreast of the latest developments, but we don't think 8K TV should be something affecting your buying decision now or in the near future.
As we've seen with 4K, adoption takes time. Even while 4K TV uptake has by all accounts happened faster than HD, it remains in 2017 the exception rather than the norm.
Shop floors may be full of 4K screens, but the vast majority of content is viewed by consumers in HD at best, with big broadcasters still not delivering 4K content.
Thanks to the football World Cup, 2018 - some five years after the first 4K TVs went on sale - could be a breakthrough year for 4K broadcasts, meaning even if 8K has made it on to the long-term plan, there's a serious queue.
In Korea and Japan, however, they're not wasting any time. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is the aggressive target for showcasing 8K TV in Japan, while the 2018 Winter Olympics have been mentioned as a target in Korea.
But there are plenty of hurdles: we need content to be created, the infrastructure for it to be distributed, and the equipment to watch it. There's also the not inconsiderable issue of storage - 4K is already a serious space-hogger for bang-up-to-date technology.
So, for now, 8K is by no stretch guaranteed to ever hit the mainstream - let alone any time soon. But never say never...
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