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Sound and Vision: The signs aren’t looking great for 8K TV

OPINION: 8K is an area I’ve talked about a lot these last few years. Whether it’s EU energy rulings or if 2023 is a ‘make or break’ year for the format, recent years have felt as if 8K is rolling a rock up a hill. Major events like CES and IFA pass by without much, if any, news about 8K. It’s been slow going.

And sales data from Korea suggests there’s more toil ahead in 8K’s future. According to Pulse News, global sales of 8K TVs are down by 30%, and aren’t likely to recover the level of sales achieved in 2022 until 2026. Sales of 4K TVs went up nearly 6% in comparison.

Reasons provided for the downturn were energy restrictions, a lack of 8K content, and high prices in this ‘cost of living’ era. In the end I think the effects of the energy ‘restrictions’ were somewhat overblown, a case of not enough information ahead of time leading to presumptions being made that haven’t really come to fruition just yet. At least some brands have managed to find a way pass it.

And although 8K TVs are generally less expensive than they were in 2019, the recommended retail price is still a fairly big jump over a 4K TV. And with a relative lack of 8K content being distributed – who knows whether TNT Sports will pick up BT Sport’s baton in testing 8K streaming – the future for 8K TVs is currently as dim as the picture when energy saving mode is activated.

There have been more troughs than peaks charting the progress of 8K and given the ebullient confidence Samsung had in its first years, 8K has never truly hit the heights it should have. And that’s a disappointment because I’m certain that if you saw an 8K TV in action, you’d be convinced it is a genuine jump up from 4K TVs. Samsung’s TVs have looked spectacular.

Samsung QE65QN900A 8K TV Avengers Infinity War
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

But the real kicker is the lack of any content in the format. 8K programming has been slow to develop, and I’d have thought that with the TV industry giddily obsessed with streaming, that would have been the area to experiment. But experimentation hasn’t been extensive – there have been a few trials here and there – 8K cameras at UFC events, several BT Sport trials, and Roland Garos in 2019.

Rakuten TV also announced an 8K TV streaming channel in the same year but I can barely find anything info about it. And NHK in Japan has an 8K broadcast channel that runs for 12 hours a day – but otherwise, 8K hasn’t generated much momentum.

It’s a chicken and egg situation where in order for 8K TVs to generate more sales, there needs to be a regular flow of content that persuades customers to part with their cash. But for content creators, there needs to be enough demand as well as the infrastructure in place to distribute it. We’re struggling to get major sports events in 4K at the moment, so how much hope is there for 8K?

I wrote earlier in the year that 2023 was a make-or-break year for 8K and the cracks are showing. It doesn’t mean the whole 8K enterprise is done and dusted, consigned to cemetery where 3D TVs have lain for the past several years, but perhaps 8K remains ahead of its time and not something that piques most consumer interests.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it may be that trying to force through change in the hope that the industry rallies in unison doesn’t always work. Sometimes it’s best to wait.

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