Ready or Not, Here Comes 8K TV

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Ready or Not, Here Comes 8K TV

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So, you bought a UHD TV a while ago and are enjoying the increased resolution, as well as the high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut (WCG) offered on many of the more recent models. Maybe you even bought two or three UHD TVs, along with possibly an Ultra High-Definition Blu-ray player or two. But now you're increasingly starting to hear about 8K and wondering if you've been bitten by Early Adopter Syndrome.

The good news is that most of you can pretty much stop wondering about 8K TVs because, quite simply, the vast majority of U.S. consumers simply don't need one... yet. And probably won't need one in the near future either. After all, prices will initially be too high, while content will initially be too low.

However, there is one growing technology that stands to be significantly helped by the arrival of 8K: Virtual reality (VR). That's still a relatively niche market, but if VR manages to significantly take off over the next year or two, the need for 8K could become much more significant.

The 4K to 8K Transition
Anybody who regularly attends CES in Las Vegas has already seen several TV makers show off 8K displays (without providing any specific plans for when they will actually be shipping them). Why? Because the video industry always needs its next "this one goes to 11" technology to: (a) show off what they're capable of creating, (b) better compete against their rivals, and (c) give consumers a good reason to replace a TV they currently own faster than they might have planned otherwise (in other words, before their set dies and the cost of fixing it is too high).

As expected, early adopters embraced UHD TVs quickly. The average U.S. consumer, on the other hand, hasn't exactly been rushing to buy a UHD TV for resolution's sake so much as buying UHD TVs to replace their old sets in steadily growing numbers. One simple explanation why many consumers were more impressed with HD than Ultra HD: The difference between 480i standard-definition and the initial 1080i and 720p HD resolutions was clearly noticeable, so people wanted it badly. The difference between 1080p to 2,160p, on the other hand, is pretty cool, but just not as dramatic.

Regardless, UHD TV shipments and sales to consumers have continued to grow globally. ABI Research projected in early July that "4K" flat panel TV shipments will surpass 102 million in 2018 and account for 44 percent of total global flat panel TV shipments. Meanwhile, it's "going to be hard as we move into this year for panel suppliers to have anything but 4K, and so most of the product that you'll see ultimately at retail will be 4K," Michael Fidler, president of the UHD Alliance, told me at CES in January. That is expected to be the case in all but the smallest of TV sizes.

Prices have come down significantly and fairly quickly on UHD TVs, and there's now a decent assortment of content available via streaming and UHD Blu-ray, even though broadcast 4K--especially live broadcast 4K--is pretty rare in the U.S.

Now, just as UHD TV sales have really started to hit their stride and even before broadcast 4K has become widespread, a growing number of TV and panel makers have started to lay out their 8K product plans.

Sharp has been especially aggressive in recent months, telling reporters at an NAB Show news briefing in April in Las Vegas that it and parent company Foxconn are aggressively investing in the full 8K ecosystem and planned to ship 8K cameras, monitors, and TVs--products that Sharp said will become "the core of our mid-term growth." Some of those products were shown at its NAB booth, and the company has already been selling an 8K TV--the Sharp Aquos LC-70X500--in Japan since late 2017, with availability expected to widen to additional markets in the months to come.

Samsung Display laid out its fairly aggressive 8K plans in June at the Samsung-sponsored QLED & Advanced Display Summit in West Hollywood. Like Sharp, it sees 2020 as a key year for 8K TV, at least in part because that's when the Tokyo Olympics will be held and 8K broadcasting of that marquee event is planned for Japan.  Samsung Electronics introduced an 85-inch UHD TV at CES that it said can upscale any content to 8K using artificial intelligence. In early October, the company said that 85-inch Q900 8K QLED TV is now available for pre-order and shipping to select retailers in the U.S. for $14,999.99.

A Samsung Electronics spokesman explained why the company sees 8K as an important next step for TVs, telling me via email: "For many years, consumers consistently point to picture quality as the number one factor when making their decision when it comes to purchasing a new television. A more recent consumer trend is moving towards larger screens. The move toward larger screen sizes coincides with the rapid growth of 4K televisions--which now commands over 50 percent market share.  Just a few years ago, a 55-inch screen was considered large. Now as the industry and consumer demand progresses into screen sizes that go beyond 75 inches, or even 82 inches, resolution and the delivery of a pristine image is more critical than ever before. Even as the content industries develop native 4K and eventually 8K content, by introducing an 8K model in 85 inches that features the ability to dynamically upscale SD, HD, and UHD content up to 8K, Samsung is delivering the best possible performance today no matter the size of the screen."

Some Consumers Are Ready for 8K
At least some consumers are ready and eager to get their hands on an 8K TV, according to Mark Sasicki, TV buyer and sales manager at Abt Electronics in Glenview, Illinois. "There are always those customers that are early adopters or have passion for the latest and greatest technologies--it's a tech hobby for so many," he said. But he added, "The obvious objections by the larger mass of consumers are that they're not sure what 8K means, or if they'll ever see it, since 4K content still isn't overly available as of today."  

The 8K sets will also be part of "every manufacturer's flagship series," he noted, adding: "They will have the best picture available even when using today's available content; they will offer the most stunning cosmetic designs; they'll feature the most connectability with the easiest installation and integration into your smart home's entertainment ecosystem. This will be where manufacturers get to pull out all of the stops and really show off how great of a TV they can make."

For Sasicki, "the bottom line is that there are always customers who want the best product available and to future-proof their entertainment systems, while getting the benefits of ease-of-use and the best picture quality available."

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