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LG 8K TV.

ULTRA-HIGH-DEFINITION television in the form of 8K TV was all the rage at the recent CES (an annual trade show organised by the Consumer Technology Association) in Las Vegas this month.

It’s not that 8K TV is something that’s radically new. The first actual 8K TV was showcased at the CES as early as 2013, when Sharp unveiled an 85-inch prototype model. However, it’s only this year that major brands, in particular LG and Samsung (and to a lesser extent, Sony) are coming out with commercial models that will be available for the public to buy.

Even if you don’t know exactly what 8K TV is about, you can probably guess it’s a major upgrade from 4K TV, which itself was a major upgrade from Full HD TV. Basically, 4K offered four times the resolution of Full HD; meanwhile, 8K offers four times the resolution of 4K (or 16 times the resolution of Full HD).

In case you’re wondering why 8K is four times that of 4K (rather than two times), it’s because we’re dealing with two dimensions: horizontal and vertical lines. That is why 8K (33,117,600 pixels) offers not double but quadruple the resolution of 4K (8,294,400 pixels).

While the hardware for 8K is ready for prime time, the content is not. None of the major streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, Apple TV+ and Hulu is offering 8K content. You can’t even get 8K Blu-ray discs yet.

In fact, the only major broadcaster offering 8K is Japan’s NHK, which has been experimenting with this new high-definition format and plans to transmit the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 8K.

NHK is a leader in this space, having started dabbling with 8K as early as 2016. It had in fact broadcasted part of the 2016 Rio Olympics in 8K though these broadcasts were only viewable at special theatres (and not homes). Later, in December 2017, NHK launched a dedicated channel showing 8K content.

So, if you’re an early adopter (someone who can afford and can’t resist new gadgets), what content is there for you to watch if you don’t happen to live in Japan? Plenty — if you’re willing to accept upscaled 4K content.

UPSCALED CONTENT

Samsung 75 inch Q900 8K TV.

As a practical matter, 8K TVs are designed to “upscale” 4K content to 8K. Samsung has showcased this but putting two 85-inch TVs side by side. One is a 4K TV playing 4K content while the 8K TV is playing upscaled 4K content. Apparently, the difference is very obvious with the latter looking considerably higher definition than the former, though both are playing the same source content.

Upscaling 4K to 8K is done through the use of a dedicated 8K processor and some artificial intelligence (AI) which upscales 4K content frame-by-frame in real time. Basically, the AI system analyses the 4K source images and “corrects” them by boosting its colour and replacing any information that might be missing to upscale it to 8K (sharpening edges and reducing noise in the image, etc). In short, you input 4K and out comes something that looks like 8K. Sounds like magic but that’s what AI can do.

Two major brands are betting big on 8K. LG unveiled a total of eight 8K models, ranging in size from 65 inches to 88 inches. Samsung, meanwhile, has three 8K models that range from 55 inches to 98 inches. (More modestly, Sony has a model that comes in 75 inches and 85 inches).

LG boasts that its TVs offer what it terms, “Real 8K”, because it adheres to the Consumer Technology Association’s definition of 8K. This certification is different from the one used by Samsung, which has adopted the 8K Association’s certification. None of this will really matter to consumers though because very few people actually care about a TV’s certification. To the general public, an 8K TV is an 8K TV.

Like all new technology, 8K TV is very pricey at the moment. A quick check online shows the Samsung Q900 75-inch 8K TV is selling for a whopping RM60,000. That’s not exactly chump change.

Processor.

Unless you’re a rich early adopter type, this TV is probably not for you until a few years down the road, when prices have dropped considerably. But do you even need it, even if you could afford it? The answer is a clear no.

What’s the Difference

As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t much 8K content available yet. And even if there were, there’s only so much high-definition images that the human eye can discern. If viewed from a distance, the human eye cannot really tell the difference between a 4K and an 8K TV. It’s different if you come up close to the TV of course, but how many people watch TV close up?

It would make a difference if you like your TV to huge though because then you can really tell the difference between the two formats. I remember a time when a 28-inch TV was common. Today, a 55-incher isn’t uncommon and the average size of high-definition TV just keeps going up. When you start looking at 65 inches and above, 8K will really make a difference.

It goes without saying that in the coming years, 8K TV will grow increasingly common. The question is how long will that take for it to become genuinely mainstream? Perhaps two years or so, given the rate of technological advancement. It is then that the prices are expected to start to plummet.

“On a unit basis we don't expect 8K to exceed 1 per cent of volume until 2022,” says Stephen Baker, vice president of Industry Analysis at NPD Group. Analysts expect that by that time, mid-range 8K TVs could be priced around US$1000.00 to $2000.00. By then, more content in true 8K should also be available.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at [email protected].

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