Here’s why it’s still too early to worry about 8K TVs
You don’t need 8K resolution yet, but it’s here anyway
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Don’t look now, but even though you may have just recently bought your first 4K TV, the next generation of TVs is already here. 8K TVs have arrived, and major manufacturers can’t wait to sell you on the myriad benefits of this souped-up display technology.
But before you sell your 4K OLED favor of a super-sharp 8K TV, it’s important to understand what 8K resolution means for you, your wallet, and the future of television. What benefits—if any—do 8K TVs have over their 4K counterparts, and is it time to invest in one? Short answer: No. Below we'll tell you why.
What is an 8K TV?
Like 4K and 1080p before it, 8K refers to a display’s resolution. An 8K TV is one with a resolution of 7,680 x 4,320 pixels, or roughly 33.2 million total pixels. For reference, here’s how 8K compares to other common display resolutions:
- 1080p (Full HD): 1,920 x 1,080 = 2,073,600 pixels
- 4K (Ultra HD): 3,840 x 2,160 = 8,294,400 pixels
- 8K: 7,680 x 4,320 = 33,177,600 pixels
8K TVs have sixteen times the amount of pixels (short for picture elements) found in 1080p TVs, and four times the amount of 4K TVs. Depending on whom you ask, 8K displays offer either four times the resolution of 4K TVs (16 times 1080p TVs), or twice the resolution of 4K TVs. Either way, it's a ton more pixels, which are the tiny points that, together, make up the image that's displayed on your screen.
Put more simply, 8K TVs have crazy-good resolution. But though they may have multiple times the resolution, that doesn't mean 8K TVs are multiple times better than 4K TVs. In fact, if you dig into it, the advantages of 8K over 4K aren’t nearly as clear-cut as you might think.
What are the benefits of 8K over 4K?
The increased pixel count on an 8K TV allows for a far greater amount of visual information than what you’d get on a 4K TV. Here’s where it gets complicated, though: The human eye has difficulty perceiving a difference between native 4K video (video originally recorded in 4K resolution) and native 8K content on, say, a 50-inch screen that most people watch at a distance of five to ten feet.
To this point, Sony offers recommendations for minimum viewing distance based on a TV's size and display resolution, with "minimum distance" referring to the closest a person can sit to the display without their eyes identifying individual pixels. Tellingly, 4K and 8K TVs are grouped together in this analysis—the minimum distance for a 55-inch 4K TV is the same (according to Sony) for a 55-inch 8K TV. If you want to make the most out of an 8K upgrade, it's in your best interest to buy the biggest screen you can afford.
It’s also important to note that upgrades to resolution historically happen well ahead of upgrades to arguably more important aspects of picture quality: dynamic range (contrast and brightness), color saturation, and so on. From the perspective of visual acuity, the human eye tends to notice improvements to color and contrast more than it notices an increase in display resolution, especially once you get past 1080p HD. So while 4K resolution might look massively better than the boxy TVs of yesteryear, an 8K TV that otherwise offers the same picture quality as a 4K TV is only going to look marginally improved at best.
8K TVs benefit from their higher pixel count, but they haven’t yet improved those other important aspects of picture quality. The differences are even harder to perceive when viewing native 4K content that’s been upscaled to 8K—a situation 8K TV owners are far more likely to encounter given the rarity of native 8K video.
That leads us to 8K’s biggest hurdle right now: a lack of content.
Where can I find 8K content?
There’s no way around it: it’s a desert out there for native 8K content.
Very little of the 8K video you’ll encounter in the wild is narrative-based. In fact, if you want to watch native 8K content, you’re pretty much limited to wordless, travelogue-style sizzle reels of colorful locales and slow-motion footage of animals on YouTube.
For most people, YouTube is the only avenue for showing off native 8K content on their fancy new 8K TV. In a time where 4K content is still relatively new to the airwaves, there’s simply no reason for cable companies, streaming platforms, and movie studios to package and distribute 8K content.
Sometime in the next several years we might start to see 8K video games reach the market—both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 support this resolution, after all. But at the time of writing, no native 8K games for either console have been released, and despite both consoles supporting 8K output, neither has received the necessary firmware update to unlock this functionality.
How much do 8K TVs cost?
On top of all that, bleeding-edge technology is usually priced at a premium, and the first wave of 8K TVs is no exception; you can expect to pay handsomely for the privilege of showcasing 8K in your home.
For comparison's sake, let's compare the 4K and 8K versions of the TCL 6-Series. Currently, you can land the newest iteration of the 65-inch 4K 6-Series for around $1,300. The 8K version, on the other hand, is priced around $2,200. That's a substantial price hike for technology that's difficult to recognize and hard to show off.
Another factor that makes 8K TVs an expensive proposition right now is their average size. Most consumer-facing 8K TVs are only available in models that are 65 inches and above, since most brands are operating under the assumption that pixel chasers will want to make the most out of the 8K spec. As the market progresses, some TVs will only be available in 8K, while others (like the 6-Series) will likely be made available in both 4K and 8K versions. It's also likely that small- and medium-sized 8K TVs will become commonplace.
So, do I need an 8K TV?
No, you probably don’t need a fancy new 8K TV right now, despite their increased availability.
There are currently a handful of 8K TVs for sale, and they’re all manufactured by major, well-respected TV brands like Sony, LG, TCL, and Samsung. Given the high-end nature of the 8K spec, these TVs typically arrive with a bevy of cutting-edge features and premium hardware. We’ve tested two 8K TVs in recent months: the LG QNED99 and the TCL 6-Series 8K.
But despite the impressive performance of both of these 75-inch 8K beasts, there are several 4K TVs that offer better picture quality—despite their lower resolution—and they’re cheaper than these 8K marvels.
Since the biggest draw of an 8K TV—its ability to display native 8K content—isn’t something that can be easily showcased, you’re left with an ultra-pricey TV that can’t live up to its potential on a regular basis. At that point, why not spend less on a TV that will make every type of content look better?
The best thing you can do right now is to invest in a quality 4K TV that fits your lifestyle, be it a premium flagship TV or a budget-friendly alternative. As for 8K, it's likely that future generations of the 4K TVs we love right now will simply become 8K TVs. It will be the standard resolution for most premium TVs, and at that point the lower price and other benefits likely to come along with the new resolution—like improved brightness, contrast, and color reproduction—will make it worth the full package.
For now, rest assured that simply buying the best 4K TV you can buy is enough.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.