8K TV: Everything you need to know about the futuristic resolution

Like it or not, 8K is coming. Yes, we know you’re just getting used to 4K – perhaps you’re even wondering whether the new level of detail is too much – but 8K images, TVs and perhaps even VR headsets are now only a few years away. 

We know this because of the bevy of 8K TVs exhibited at CES 2017 in Las Vegas (the annual barometer of the global tech industry) and because Japanese state broadcaster NHK plans to send live 8K pictures over the airwaves during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

8K TVs will certainly be on sale in Japan by then, but expect to see them sooner. In fact, here’s a bold prediction; CES in January 2018 will see the first 8K TVs go on sale around the world. 

If we’re right, the countdown to 8K TVs for the home has already begun. We must be ready. 

China's ChangHong had many 8K TV at CES 2017

What is 8K?

8K is nothing short of the clearest picture you’re ever likely to see. It’s got four times more pixels than 4K images, measuring 7680x4320 pixels, which equates to a total of 33,177,600 pixels. In a 65-inch screen they are so small you won't even be able to make out the pixel structure. However, many 8K TVs are much larger. 

What should we call 8K?

It’s called 8K because the images are roughly 8,000 pixels wide, give or take a few hundred, but the specification also comes under the umbrella term Ultra HD, so some people use the term Ultra HD 8K. Others still call it 8K Super Hi-Vision, such as NHK, which invented it back in the year 2000 and branded it in 2012

Dell's 31.5-inch 8K PC monitor will go on sale in March 2017

What is the resolution of 8K?

8K resolution is 7680x4320 pixels, so is also called 4320p – for the same reasons Full HD was called 1080p – though it’s more commonly referred to as Ultra HD 8K or just 8K. Since 8K screens have about 33 million pixels in total, that’s a 33-megapixel image. 

Do all those extra pixels matter?

Absolutely, yes. Full HD 1080p TVs gave you a two-megapixel image, which isn’t much compared even to what your smartphone’s camera is capable of. 4K ups that to eight megapixels, which still seems underwhelming considering the capabilities of human vision and, again, what smartphone screens can now achieve. So the 33-megapixel image of 8K – the next mathematical step-up from 4K – could at last provide the kind of immersive-ness we’ve been searching for. Or, at least, that’s the theory. 

ChangHong's 65ZHQ3R 8K TV

When will 8K TVs go on sale?

Our best guess is between 2018 and 2020, though the regional availability will depend on 8K content. “I don’t believe we’ll see 8K TV until 2018 at the earliest, at least in the US market, and even then only in a small way,” said Paul Gagnon, Senior Manager of Analysis & Research, IHS Technology, talking at the CES 2017. 

Is it possible to buy an 8K TV now?

Yes – Sharp sells its 85-inch LV-85001 for US$130,000/UK £106,960/AUS$176,500, but only in Japan. Dell showed-off its UP3218K, a 31.5-inch 8K monitor, at CES 2017, and announced that it would go on sale in March 2017 for US$4,999/UK£4,100/AUS$6,800. 

Do manufacturers have 8K TVs ready?

Absolutely – and they have had for a few years. At there was a 65-incher from SkyWorth, the 65-inch Chang Hong 65ZHQ3R and 98-inch Hisense LED98NU9800V ULED TV, to name but three. Another 98-incher, the 98ZHQ2R, was showing on the Chang Hong booth, which appeared to be held in place by something akin to scaffolding, so thick were the supports. “There are no plans to release this because there’s no 8K content out there, but you could use it as a PC monitor,” said Yuxiao Zhao at Chang Hong Electric to TechRadar. 

However, don’t presume a model number means it's a real-world product; that’s not how the TV business works. “The Chinese TV manufacturers often come to the CES with a full array of products to announce at the show and what they’re really trying to do it meet with retailers and distribution,” says Gagnon. “Whether they are ready to ship yet is often a different story, but the 8K TV panels can be produced today in China, no problem.” 

Hisense showed a 98-inch 8K TV

Will the mainstream brands make 8K TVs?

Although LG showed-off a 98-inch 8K TV at CES 2016, LG is concentrating on 4K OLED this year. Ditto Panasonic and Sony, which suggests that the inability to produce 8K OLED TVs might hold-up the whole movement … if OLED catches-on. 

The exception at the CES 2017 was Samsung, which presented 65-inch and 98-inch 8K examples of its new QLED line-up of LCD TVs. “It’s a futuristic look at what Samsung is capable of, and where QLED is going,” said Jason Baruch, Samsung Electronics, to TechRadar. “We’ve done 8K before but this is the next generation of QLED technology … but packing 8K resolution into a screen that small is something quite remarkable," he said, referring to the 65-inch. 

Does an 8K TV need HDMI 2.1?

Yes –and they all will have the new specification of the HDMI cable, which for the first time allows 8K resolutions to pass through. HDMI 2.1 – announced by the HDMI Forum in January 2017 at the CES – is a major enabler of the forthcoming 8K resolution revolution, making sure TVs accept 8K resolutions at 60 frames per second. However, that's a no-brainer piece of future-proofing, and no guarantee that it means 8K TVs are imminent. 

VR capture devices like the Insta360Pro shoot in 8K already

Where will 8K content come from?

There are three places that will produce 8K content. The first is Hollywood, whose directors have begun to use the new RED Weapon 8K camera (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has already been filmed this way in 8K). 

Second is the Tokyo Olympics, which means waiting until 2020. However, 8K will only be broadcast by NHK in Japan itself. 

Thirdly – and perhaps most tellingly – 8K content will come from all of us. 8K capture from 360-degree video cameras is already offered by the GoPro Omni VR and Insta360 Pro, which was launched at CES 2017. "Talk to the VR guys and they're tell you that the higher the resolution and frames rates, the better," says Jeff Park, Director of Marketing at HDMI Licensing, whose new HDMI 2.1 permits 8K image transfer. "VR today looks good but it lacks fidelity … if it was affordable and practical, they would do 8K now," he says. 8K-per-eye VR headsets, anybody? They're surely in the pipeline alongside a wider field of view. 

It may seem like a stretch to have to buy an 8K TV when 4K TVs are only now beginning to bed-in, but 8K now seems inevitable – and it's likely that VR will be the driving force in creating '8K everywhere'. 

  • Check out our full guide to 4K if you want to catch up on a more current resolution.