8K televisions just aren’t worth it (yet)

CES 2019 is right around the corner, and among the other goodies, expect to see a few 8K TVs.

Both LG and Samsung have been hyping up their upcoming 8K screens in advance of the biggest tech trade event of the year. Samsung’s Q900R has already been trickling into the market, and LG has several in the works for 2019.

But while you may be tempted by the allure of 7,680 x 4,320 resolution and over 33 million pixels, you might want to pump the brakes. Don’t toss your 4K set in the bin just yet.

Detail, if you look closely

It’s all about pixel density. When you quadruple the pixels as 8K does, you get more detail. An 84-inch 8K TV has the same pixel density as a 42-inch 4K TV.

But here’s the thing: an 8K resolution only makes sense if the screen is huge enough to be impractical to most consumers. (Not to mention impractically expensive; the 85-inch 8K Samsung Q900R will set you back $15,000.)

And to really notice the detail difference, you need to sit really close to the screen, and nobody does that. That’s true even when going from 1080p to 4K.

Besides, we’re already approaching the limit of what the human eye can perceive. In other words, if you expect a dramatic improvement over 4K, you’re going to be disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong: these TVs look fabulous. Standing in front of a huge, 8K screen playing 8K video is a cool experience. But I wonder how much of that is due to the ultra premium screen itself, rather than the pixel density. Top-of-the-line OLED displays provide deeper blacks and higher contrast, and it’s easy to confuse that with resolution.

Content playing catchup

Some may disagree with me regarding 8K’s visual advantages. Even if that’s the case, know that 8K’s primary selling feature may be seldom used.

It took the industry a long time to catch up to 4K. Arguably, they’re still not there. Most content is still distributed in HD or even standard definition. It’s unlikely to expect much new content in true 8K, and frankly it remains to be seen if the industry ever adopts it.

There are also numerous technical problems. Many films are still only mastered in 2K, even if they’re shot on 4K cameras. 8K televisions like the Samsung Q900R do a marvelous job of upscaling, but there’s no visual advantage to it.

Additionally, TechRadar suggests that without a high enough frame rate, 8K video will be plagued with motion blur, and there’s nothing to suggest the industry is prepared to shoot and distribute 120 FPS 8K video on a wide basis.

I’m yet to be convinced that 8K offers anything more than hype and a dubious technical advantage over 4K. I certainly wouldn’t drop the serious money these TVs command until I know the industry is going to support it.

Regardless, 8K TVs are here, and they’re going to be the next big thing. Really big.