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. Samsung has already said that it will support 8K HDR 10+.
The 8K Association (8KA) - an industry body formed to oversee the development of the 8K ecosystem - was formed in January 2019 and has outlined some basic public specs for what an 8K TV should offer, including: 7,680 x 4,320 pixel resolution; input frame rates of 24p, 30p, 60p; more than 600 nits peak brightness; HEVC support; and HDMI 2.1.
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 (Q950 in the UK) in 2018. Samsung subsequently announced a full range of models from 55-inches upwards.
LG announced the LG OLED Z9, a 75-inch flagship 8K model, for 2019 at huge price but also offers an 8K LED model - the 75-inch SM9900 NanoCell, which is more affordable. For 2020, LG has eight 8K models, including two OLED and six NanoCell LCD.
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 OLED releases stay at 4K so far.
TCL - one of the biggest manufacturers of TVs globally - is also going to offering an 8K model, teaming up with Roku to offer an 8K Roku TV. We expect to see a lot more 8K action around CES 2020 and through the year.
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 at some point in the future.
What about 8K standards?
Whenever anything happens in TV, there's a set of standards and some badging that comes along. In the case of 8K, we're seeing different factions pushing 8K standards and wanting to push its label as the one to look for. On one side we have the CTA - Consumer Technology Association - who has paired up with LG to push the term 8K Ultra HD. LG will also be using the expression "Real 8K", suggesting that anything else isn't real 8K.
On the other side of the park, the 8K Association along with Samsung has announced the 8K Association Certified badging, looking to assure buyers that they're making the right choices.
Ultimately, most of this doesn't matter: for 4K we saw a similar range of labelling but that seemed to have little impact on the point of sale.
Why do you need an 8K TV?
This is the million-dollar question - or more likely the $6,000 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 practically there is no actual 8K content right now. 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, there's no Netflix in 8K and it's not a format that's being widely used for content capture either. That may change in 2020, with the suggestion that even smartphones will offer 8K capture, but that's a long way from it being a studio standard that's widely available.
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 and that message remains true a year later.
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.
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. We've seen a number of demos and reviewed Samsung's 8K TV and remain impressed by how well this upscaling performs.
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?
This very much comes down to who you are and what you demand from your TV. Let's separate the argument from absolute resolution: for a company like Samsung, its flagship TV is the Q900/Q950. It is designed for the best performance, regardless of the content that you're feeding into it. It's also the company's 8K TV and that upscaling performance is great. So buying a top level 8K has some merits, because you're not just buying resolution.
At the same time, the lack of 8K content from a convenient source might pose something of a barrier to adoption for many people. That, we're sure, will come crashing in over the next 3-5 years, at which point we're expecting 8K to be much more commonplace. With that in mind - and the average life of a TV set being around 5 years at least - there's probably a lot of evolution to come before you'll be natively watching 8K content and getting the most from an 8K TV.
With that in mind, it's hard to recommend a "cheap" 8K TV which we might see appear over the next 12-18 months. If you're not buying quality, you'll probably not get a great 8K experience.
How much will an 8K TV cost?
The prices of 8K TVs are high as they are cutting-edge right now, but we expect that to fall rapidly as manufacturing scales up and development costs are slowly offset. You'll remember how expensive 4K TVs were 5 years ago - and all indicators suggest that 8K will go through the same sort of cycle.
LG NanoCell 8K 75SM9900PLA 75-inch is $4,999 in the US or £5,999 in the UK. As both the LG and Samsung come in 75-inches, they are easy to compare.
Sony's 85-inch ZG9 is $12,999 or £13,999; LG's 8K OLED Z9 is $29,999 or £29,999. Obviously, there's a premium for this huge OLED TV - but these big screen 8K TVs are also hugely expensive.