OPINION: I’ve been following the path of 8K for a few years now, and I feel it has never quite felt on the cusp of breaking out.
Recently BT Sport conducted its first live 8K broadcast into people’s homes, two years after itt held the first live public 8K broadcast. Trusted Reviews was there at the Emirates stadium back in 2020 to cover that public broadcast.
Of course, that gap in time can be put down to pandemic-related issues, but 8K needs a wow moment and it’s struggling to find it. Samsung has been its biggest advocate, and as a leading member of the 8K Association the South Korean firm has driven adoption by bringing prices down year-on-year.
But like a Scotsman in a caber toss, Samsung is doing the heavy lifting. Sony usually bring out one model a year, LG a few expensive 8K OLED and QNED TVs, and TCL have pushed the format in the US but less so in the UK or Europe.
And these TVs aren’t small – most are 65-inch+. 8K, like 4K, works better on bigger screens. Americans have room for 75- and 85-inch TVs, but what hope do the rest of us have to accommodate those behemoths? Yes there are 55-inch 8K screens but if 8K is about scale then these sizes miss out.
4K has reached a level of maturity and saturation, the distribution pipeline is widening, and more broadcasters and services are offering content in 4K and HDR. The question I ask myself is why would broadcasters move to an 8K pipeline when they’re still grappling with 4K?
Not only is there a lack of native 8K content, but a bigger problem is also its delivery. Rakuten TV announced an 8K service three years ago that but there’s been little news since. Physical media seems out of the question and streaming speeds required for 8K are quite high – north of 80mbps – and while compression with improved codecs can bring that down to 60mbps, is that still a native 8K signal or a compressed one? That’s the problem with streaming. Convenience, yes, but fidelity? I’m less sure about that.
One of 8K TV’s biggest attributes is that it makes 4K look better, which is not perhaps the headline you want when you’re selling the positives of an ‘8K’ TV. However, 4K content does look superior on a QN900A than it did on a Panasonic JZ2000 OLED: cleaner, sharper and more detailed. But will you pay a few thousand more for that privilege? Unlikely.
There’s a range of issues afflicting 8K from price, size and distribution. While the 8K Association (8KA) is growing, names you might expect to see are missing with effectively no-one on the content creation side and those there on the display, testing and chipset side. Samsung is there twice (Samsung and Samsung Display), and so is TCL (TCL and CSOT).
I suspect with the 8KA the feeling is if we build it, they will come, but when? There’s no real certainty about the format at this time, no real traction behind it. It is a great piece of technology, but is struggling to force its way into the mainstream conversation. Right now, 8K is Sisyphus rolling that rock up a mountain and it could be slow going for some time.