Sharp's Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV stands out from the populous crowd of 4K displays on parade during the 2015 International CES for one reason: This TV can upscale 4K content to near 8K appearance.
Yes, 4K TV seems to have just arrived and already 8K is knocking on its door. Sure, content that takes advantage of the 7,680 x 4,320 resolution might be available via Japan's NHK in the next few years—and Sharp is a Japanese company—but this is still a bold choice.
Regardless of how far-fetched it seems on paper, the Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV promises a number of here-and-now picture quality improvements—HDR without encoding, for one—that are worth getting excited about.
Full-array local dimming with all-content HDR? Sharp isn't messing around.
The Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV (this is the actual model name) boasts a number of picture quality enhancements that could help the TV stand toe-to-toe with 2015's elite cadre of quantum dot and OLED TVs—assuming, of course, that those features do what they claim.
This TV purportedly delivers HDR (High Dynamic Range) treatment to all content—no encoding necessary—and its color ability may surpass 100% of the DCI color space.
To understand why this is a big deal, we have to talk a little about how HDR usually works. Usually, a TV that's capable of High Dynamic Range must be able to output at least 1000 nits of light—for reference, your smartphone is about 350 nits.
The very high brightness enables content creators to "code" luminance into the disc, the same way they master color or audio bitstreams. The TV has to be very bright to maintain a particular luminance during all scenes per the encoding process.
Basically, if the TV isn't HDR-capable, playing HDR content is like listening to mastered stereo on mono speakers—you're missing the point.
This is one of the first Sharp TVs in a few years to deliver hardware full-array local dimming, which means there are super-bright LEDs behind the entire screen, not just along the edges. This is basically a requirement for HDR functionality, but it also makes for a great picture overall.
Sharp's claim that the Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV delivers HDR treatment to any content, not just specially coded HDR content, is in amazing one... if it's true. Naturally, we can't confirm their claim without lab testing, but it's an exciting prospect nonetheless.
The other major claim for this TV is that it hits and possibly surpasses 100% of the DCI P3 color space.
The DCI color space is all the rage at CES this year: It's a wider color standard than traditional HD TVs, though not as wide as the Rec.2020 color space that 4K TVs may eventually achieve.
Companies like Samsung and Panasonic have stated that their new TVs are capable of about 90% DCI adherence, so 100% and beyond isn't unbelievable, but it's a grain-of-salt claim until we get this TV into our labs.
I will say that in person, the B4KUHD TV's color was very vivid and bright—without blowing out highlight details.
After all this, the TV is still capable of an effective 8K resolution. Sharp created a Quattron (RGB+Y sub-pixel setup) panel and split the sub-pixel clusters horizontally. This method isn't new (Sharp did the same thing last year), but this time it's a 4K panel.
Basically, it has the same amount of pixels as any other 4K TV, but many more sub-pixels. Sharp stated the TV's upscaling process has been improved, though they didn't say how. The idea, however, is that forthcoming 4K content can be upscaled to look, well, "Beyond 4K."
It might sound like Sharp's getting ahead of themselves here, but the resolution demo did show off observable improvements.
Overall, the near-8K resolution is more like a bonus than the main selling point for this TV in my opinion. Movie-lovers and videophiles can immediately take advantage of the TV's full-array local dimming, HDR capability, and Spectros rich color whether or not they're watching 8K or even 4K content.
The Looks & Experience
You might want to buy a taller couch
While the Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV on display in Sharp's booth will likely go through a few more changes before it comes to market, the reps I spoke with confirmed the design was all-but-finished. If so, it's an interesting choice.
The TV stands on very long curved metal legs that prop it about a foot off of the ground. This gives me the impression that it's meant to sit directly on the floor. On a TV stand, the top of the screen would be a good seven or eight feet in the air.
This TV is only available in an 80-inch version, so it's going to be pretty huge whether it's standing or mounted on the wall. The bezels are thin enough, but really, nothing about the design stands out as terribly new or interesting. Most of the "oomph" here is in the picture.
As for software, Sharp wasn't able to demo the TV's menu or eventual SmartCentral platform, but they did confirm that it would definitely be a smart TV upon release. As for 4K compatibility, Sharp confirmed at least four HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 compliance. The TV also has HEVC, H.265, and VP9 codecs for 4K streaming.
Sharp makes big claims—here's hoping the Beyond 4K TV lives up to them.
The 80-inch Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV might sound completely unnecessary on paper: In a world that's still awaiting widespread availability of 4K content, why would you ever need a near-8K appearance?
Whether Sharp knows it or not, however, the TV's "beyond 4K" ability is icing on a full-array local dimming, 100% DCI, HDR-ready cake. No other manufacturer has claimed that level of color capability in an LCD TV, and the ability to capture the HDR look without encoded content is a huge strength if it's true.
Pricing information is still under wraps, but it's safe to say the Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV won't be cheap. Sharp did mention it would be at least $5,000, but also claimed the price would be very competitive compared to equally specialized 4K televisions in 2015.
One thing's for sure: We can't wait to knock out a wall in the lab and put Sharp's claims—and this behemoth television—to the test.