If you’ve been reading reports from this year’s CES show, you may be thinking about buying an 8K TV. It is possible you even have one1
If you haven’t bought an 8K TV yet, here’s some advice: Save your money. This is a purchase you can safely put off for now.
Unless you have a very specific application, it’s not worth buying an 8K TV. It may be different in a year or two.
8K TV hype
Last week Samsung launched a new range of 8K QLED televisions at CES in Las Vegas. There are eight models to choose from. The new TVs are an update of earlier 8K models.
An 8K TV has 7680 × 4320 pixel resolution. That’s the same as four 4K screens. Samsung says the Q950-series also has “quantum dot enhancements”. This should trigger your marketing hype alarm system.
Some of the other specs are impressive on paper. The ‘Infinity Screen’2 sounds neat.
The bevels, that’s jargon for the plastic bit at the edge of the screen, are so small that the front of the TV is 99 per cent display. The TV is only 15mm deep. You can read more about the specifications in the link above.
Where is the content?
At the time of writing there is next to zero 8K content. That should be reason enough to hold off on a purchase.
Couple the lack of content with the knowledge that previous generations of TV technology tend to fall in price over time. It means when there is enough worthwhile 8K material, that fancy new set you have your eye on may cost a few thousand dollars less.
At the time of writing local prices for 8K TVs start at around NZ$10,000 and go up to $80,000. You might find a cheaper option, but there’s a problem with that… read on.
Games could be one of the first sources of 8K content. Microsoft and Sony promise the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation will support 8K.
It sounds promising, but in truth today’s consoles struggle to deliver a great 4K gaming experience, so take any 8K games talk with a pinch of salt.
There’s another reason to hold back on upgrading to 8K. The move from 4K to 8K is not as dramatic in picture quality as the move from older TV technologies to 4K.
In fact, it’s hard to see any picture improvement on smaller screens. Many of the 8K models on sale at moment, in particular the cheaper ones, fall into this category.
The screen size where swapping up makes sense differs depending on who you talk to so it would pay to try before you buy. Some say 60 inches is the cut off, others put it at 80 inches. Your house may not have room to accomodate a TV that big.
There’s another issue to consider. Old fashioned television broadcasting over the airwaves doesn’t have the bandwidth to support 8K TV. Streaming TV companies like Netflix and Prime are yet to show their hands on 8K.
Most observers think they will announced 8K content soon. If you make major home hardware decisions based on what some observers think, you are buying into a world of pain.
In other words, there’s not much content and nothing official about when we can expect to see an abundance of 8K material.
Fibre is a must
Streaming 8K TV needs a lot of bandwidth. Fibre is essential. A 4K TV stream needs in the region of 25mbps, 8K TV needs roughly four times as much. Let’s say 100mbps.
It’s wise to have some headroom, especially if you have family members who do their own digital thing. In other words, 8K TV is what gigabit fibre was made for. Don’t even consider anything other than an unlimited data plan, avid 8K watchers can expect to get close to a terabyte of data in a month.
New Zealand is lucky in this department. About three quarters of the population can get fibre, a little over half of those people have taken it up.
These bandwidth numbers have implications for people who don’t have fibre. You can probably get away with VDSL or a good fixed wireless broadband connection for 4K TV. Both technologies will be disappointing for 8K. And that’s before you look at data caps.
Wireless is not going to cut it
If you believe all the hype about 5G fixed wireless broadband, it may, on paper, be possible to run an 8K TV using the technology.
Don’t hold your breath. For now New Zealand 5G network coverage is, at best, patchy. Vodafone’s network reaches maybe 10 percent of the country. Spark’s 5G doesn’t even reach one percent.
Even if you are in the zone, it may take a few years for there to be enough 5G bandwidth to make 8K work for you.
One potential barrier is that 5G traffic is only fast enough over short distances. Which means you might not be watching 8K until there’s a 5G site on every lamppost down your street.
Tests show people can get speeds of greater than 100mbps on existing 5G networks. But keep in mind the tests are using uncontested bandwidth. And there’s no evidence these speeds can be maintained over the hour or two it takes to watch a movie.
8K TV with built-in 5G wireless?
You’d be taking a big risk spending tens of thousands on a TV which works fine at 10am, but sees wireless connection speed drop at 8pm when everyone else is online.
There is talk of 8K TV devices with built-in 5G. Nothing has been seen yet. Huawei has a track record making announcements that never come to anything tangible, so again, take the claims with a pinch of salt.
For 8K TV to be a practical proposition, it needs to be big and that means expensive. There needs to be more than demonstration content and you need to have a net connection fast enough to handle the data along with an unlimited data plan.
It’s going to be a while before most of us can get all those ducks in a row. The good news, is that when we can, the hardware will probably cost less than today.