LAS VEGAS — The unveiling of bigger and better televisions here at the CES show is a given, but this is getting ridiculous.
Several major TV makers showed off huge 80-plus inch TVs, many of them capable of displaying 8K resolution, which promises even more pristine, vivid video quality — four times the resolution of today’s spiffy 4K TVs, themselves already a four-fold improvement over traditional HDTVs.
So just as many of us have become convinced that we might want to invest in a new 4K TV, it may not be welcome to hear about a new looming visual upgrade that could give us buyer’s remorse.
Don’t look at it that way, says Tom Campbell, chief technologist for L.A.-area retailer Video & Audio Center, which sold the first 4K TV in the U.S. in 2012. “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a TV now,” he said. “But three to four years from now you are going to put that TV in another room and put that new 8K set in your living room.”
At CES four years ago, I remember 8K displays were shown off by some manufacturers as a proof of concept. Now there are multiple market forces at work driving the imminent arrival of 8K.
For starters, 4K TVs have pretty much taken over the retail chain. 4K TV shipments are expected to top 22 million this year, making up half of the total TV displays shipped this year, the Consumer Technology Association estimates. That should generate the lion’s share ($15.9 billion) of the $22.1 billion in TV revenues, CTA estimates.
But sellers and makers of 4K displays are already seeing diminishing profits with competition driving down sales prices on the lower-end models.
For now, many are adding technological upgrades to make their 4K TVs stand out and command a bigger sticker price. But at some point, they’ll have to offer something completely new — 8K.
LG Electronics has energized its new 2018 4K OLED and Super UHD TVs, coming out later this year, with a new a9 processor. That means colors and contrast are more authentic. “If you see a sky that has shades of blue, it’s not always one perfect shade of blue,” said Tim Alessi, senior director of new product development for home entertainment products at LG Electronics USA. “But as you transition from one to the other you will sometimes see banding and it will help smooth that out.”
Another highlight: LG’s super-thin 65-inch OLED 4K TV that rolls up, so you can hide it away when it’s not in use. LG Display, the Seoul, South Korea-based LG’s sister company, impressed with an 88-inch 8K OLED TV. Neither displays have a production date, but the tech is being used in commercial displays.
Sony has new 4K Bravia OLED TVs with their own new X1 Extreme processor that automatically adjusts the picture for sports, movies or games. Also on display: an 85-inch 8K-capable OLED TV with an artificial intelligence chip able to convert current 4K and HD content into 8K (expected to be released later this year, no price).
Samsung took large TVs to the extreme with a 146-inch TV called The Wall, made with a developing technology called MicroLED, which is already used for movie screens. Touted for its high contrast potential, the modular technology lets you build bigger or smaller displays. “A consumer can scale it to whatever is most comfortable for their home,” said Dave Das, senior vice president of consumer electronics at Samsung Electronics America.
And The Wall, which is due out later this year, can handle 8K resolution, too. That’s key to Samsung’s future TV strategy, Das says, as consumers have become accustomed to bigger screens as the image quality has improved.
So, 8K TVs make sense as the next step in home entertainment, because they have four times the resolution, so the images can be bigger without a loss of quality. “What used to be the sweet spot of 55-inch to 65-inch (TVs), now is becoming 75-inches and 82-inches and even larger,” Das said. “As TVs scale up, resolution is that much more important.”
In addition to 8K already being used in massive corporate displays and at sports events, Japanese TV company NHK is testing 8K broadcasting. And the U.S. TV standards makers are already at work on incorporating 8K over-the-air broadcasting into the next wave of TV standards.
8K displays are coming, says Michael Greeson, president and co-founder of The Diffusion Group, a research firm in Plano, Tex. “The question is when they will be introduced in mass at mainstream price points,” he said.
“That will be awhile,” he says, because TV makers need to sell as many 4K TVs as they can. “They want to avoid premature obsolescence at all costs.”
There’s no guarantee that broadcasters will adopt 8K. But the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which NHK plans to broadcast there, could spark interest here, says Myra Moore, president of Digital Tech Consulting, a market research firm near Dallas.
8K TVs for consumers, “will likely lag a couple years behind that,” she said. “An early market could be powered by physical media,” such as Hollywood’s successor to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, Moore said.
So 4K owners, kick up your feet: Your new display has years to it yet.