Widescreen, flatscreen, curved, 3D, HD, Full HD, 4K HDR. What's the next thing you'll find appended to this recent list of television evolution? 8K.
That's right, the TV industry is pushing forward with its next big thing, giving manufacturers something new and shiny to sell to you.
But is your 4K TV about to become redundant? Not quite.
Stick with us and we'll explain everything.
What is 8K?
If you've been following the TV story in recent years, you'll already know that 8K is a step forward from 4K. It refers to the resolution of the display. While 4K is 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, 8K moves up to 7,680 x 4,320. That means there are 7,680 pixels on the horizontal axis and 4,320 on the vertical.
You might hear it referred to as 4320p (like Full HD was 1080p), you might hear it referred to as Ultra HD 8K (4K was also branded as Ultra HD), or Super Hi-Vision (as Japanese broadcaster NHK is calling it), but we suspect it's just going to be called 8K.
But don't make the mistake of thinking that this is just about pixels, because this is also about HDR - high dynamic range - too. Going forward, HDR is part of the package of what your TV will deliver.
Who is making 8K TVs?
TV manufacturers don't stand still. You'll remember how quickly 3D came and went, based on the reaction of customers. It was heralded as "the next big thing" at the time and now it's barely supported.
It's no surprise that everyone is working on 8K TVs, but Samsung was one of the first, launching the Q900 in 2018. Samsung has now announced a larger 98-inch QLED 8K TV, but its big rivals are now offering 8K TVs in 2019 too.
Beyond Samsung and LG, Sony is a huge player in TVs and has an 8K set of its own. The Sony Master Series ZG9 is the company's new 2019 flagship TV model offering an 8K display at 98 and 85-inch sizes - going big is what matters with 8K.
Sony has a new processing engine - 8K X-Reality - to handle the upscaling and this is a full array LED TV. Sony isn't doing 8K in OLED and new releases stay at 4K so far.
TCL - one of the biggest manufacturers of TVs globally - is also going to be offering an 8K model, teaming up with Roku to offer an 8K Roku TV. Again it will be an LED TV and little is currently known about what it will offer - only that it will be available in late 2019.
Sharp is on what's it's calling "second-gen" 8K, i.e., its second 8K panel that you can buy (if you live in the right place) and already has a professional 8K monitor available to buy, the LV-70X500E.
Toshiba has shown off 8K as a concept. Toshiba's TVs are manufactured under licence by Vestel, so it's likely that 8K will appear in brands from across the Vestel group when the time is right - and likely to be more affordable than some of the others.
So there's a growing range of TVs - and while the expected players are there - Samsung, LG, Sony - the message coming from some of the other manufacturers suggests that 8K TVs will be available at prices that will be more universally acceptable.
Why do you need an 8K TV?
This is the million-dollar question - or more likely the $10,000 question. With 4K HDR now finding its way into the mainstream, the justification for 8K is pretty tough, especially as those Ultra HD TVs are so good.
The real justification for 8K comes down to growing demand for size. People are buying bigger TVs and are happy to have bigger TVs in their homes. Where 15 years ago you might have had a 28-inch TV, now 55-inch is common; 65-inch and above is where most of the growth in TV sales is expected in the next 5 years.
You can currently get big 4K HDR TVs - up to about 85 inches - but it's in these larger sizes that the 8K benefits will reside. As the screen gets bigger - and you stay sitting in the same place - more pixels means more visible detail. Pushing out to 98 inches with 2019 models shows you where 8K is heading.
It's likely that you'll have Full HD up to 40 inches, 4K up to 60 inches and then 8K above that in the future, so 8K only really applies to those bigger sizes - if the TV is too small, the pixels will be too tightly packed for you to be able to see any difference in the image.
But why do people want bigger TVs? It's to increase the sense of immersion.
As detail increases you can sit and marvel in front a huge image that feels like it's engulfing you. It's here that big 8K TVs have a natural advantage, because it increases the angles that light comes into your eyes.
This, in turn can increase the separation between fore and background, creating more of a pop to visuals, and giving you a more immersive viewing experience. Of course, you can't sit too close because you'll have to constantly move your head to see the full image, so minimum viewing distances still apply.
What about 8K content and upscaling?
We'll talk about these two things together, because there is no 8K content. There are some samples, there's support for 8K resolution on Vimeo and the Japanese broadcaster NHK is aiming to film the Tokyo Olympics 2020 in 8K, but otherwise the implementation isn't widespread.
There's no support from optical discs (at the moment), there's no Netflix in 8K and it's not a format that's being widely used for content capture either - cameras are currently few.
So 8K in the now and the foreseeable future is all about upscaling. Samsung, at the launch of its 8K TV at IFA 2018, spent most of the time talking about upscaling because that's what's going to be vital for convincing early adopters that an 8K TV is worth buying over a 4K TV.
So what will 8K upscaling do? It will use AI to analyse images and correct them, boost colour and replace information that might be missing by analysing previous frames. It will sharpen edges, remove jagged edges on things like text and reduce noise in areas where there's not a lot of data - like the block colour of a blue sky for example.
None of this is really new, but it is a new system, according to the information we have from Samsung about its technology.
One of the techniques will be near-neighbour interpolation (analysing neighbouring pixels to make corrections) and with more pixels in an 8K display there's more opportunity to make smooth graduations, because there are more neighbours.
Samsung has confirmed that it's using machine learning and AI in its 8K upscaling solution, but the power demands will also be high, as there will be a lot of processing to do.
So that's the story so far: there's no content, but everything you pump into an 8K TV is going to be upscaled to make it look better.
Is an 8K TV upgrade worth it?
We've seen plenty of demos of 8K upscaling and we've been impressed with the overall performance of the experience - but what else would you expect. We've also fully reviewed the Samsung Q900R (at 85-inches) and it's easy to see that it's the apex of Samsung TV technology, with a great HDR experience - but that's not necessarily going to be a reflection of the entire 8K market - or indeed the performance of these TVs at smaller sizes. Of course, moving into 2019, Samsung is introducing new TVs.
As with any new technology, the appeal is there for cinephiles and tech fans, but we need a lot more to happen before we'd wholeheartedly recommend you run out and buy an 8K TV. There will be a lot more to add to the story of 8K in 2019 with new models incoming.
As for the timeline for 8K content, we're still many years away from that being commonplace.
How much will an 8K TV cost?
Samsung's Q900R is now available to buy, while 8K is expensive, it's not astronomical. The 65-inch Samsung Q900R is priced at £4,999 in the UK and the 75-inch model is priced at £6,999. There's a £14,999 price for the 85-inch model, and in the US it's priced at $14,999.99.
As we suspected, Samsung is being fairly aggressive in pricing - and we know that these prices tend to fall fairly quickly after launch. There's currently about a £2000 premium over Samsung's top 4K television. While the prices exclude most normal people, early adopters might have something to be excited about, especially at the 65-inch size.
Sharp has its 70-inch 8K display on sale for £10,999, but it's technically a monitor and we're expecting a lot more activity around early 8K TV models in early 2019.
We will of course update with more details about models and prices as they become available in 2019.