What is 8K resolution?

The new TCL 6-Series 8K TV sits on a media cabinet
(Image credit: TCL)

What is 8K resolution? This advanced picture technology, offering four times as many pixels (and therefore detail) as a standard 4K screen, is increasingly in the spotlight. You'll find premium 8K TV ranges from the likes of TCL, Samsung and LG pushing the technology – but is it really worth all the hype these manufacturers are rustling up?

Throughout 2021 so far, we’ve seen more 8K resolution screens than ever. 8K models have tripled in number over the past year, and there are even 8K projectors starting to enter the fray.

You'll usually see 8K resolution paired with other premium formats and technologies, too. It's commonly found with QLED panels in new Samsung TVs, or even in a few cases with OLED panels. However, the day will soon come when 8K will be more of a mid-tier proposition than it is right now – this is clear from the fact prices are dropping all the time.

For those who are interested in the high-resolution tech of tomorrow, what does 8K really mean? And does it offer a significant upgrade over existing TV screens that we’d all notice? Read on to find out everything you need.

What is 8K resolution?

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 – though many 8K TVs are much, much larger. 85-inch TVs, anyone?

The Samsung QN700A sits on a marble counter by a sofa, with 'Experience Neo QLED 8K' written across image

(Image credit: Samsung)

Why is it called 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 – Japan's largest public broadcaster – which invented it back in the year 2000 and branded it in 2012

Are there different kinds of 8K?

LG has released a range of 8K TVs a year after they were first announced (we'll cover those later), but the interesting thing is LG claims competitors don't offer the same experience as LG's real 8K.

So what's this argument about "real 8K"? Well, LG is citing the Information Display Measurements Standard (IDMS) for pixel differentiation, arguing that 8K TVs shouldn't just be defined by the number of pixels they have (7,680 x 4,320), but also how well the TV panel can distinguish / contrast between those pixels. If those tiny self-emissive dots start to merge the brightness or colors of their output, then there's little point in having so many.

LG claims its new 8K TVs achieve this Contrast Modulation (CM) "in the 90 percent range", leading to what it calls "real 8K". (The IDMS standard only requires 25 percent for images, or 50 percent for text.)

These claims came only a day after the 8K Association, an organization for encouraging the adoption and development of 8K, with members including Samsung, Panasonic, Hisense, and TCL – though notably not LG – set out its own standard for 8K TVs. Its mainly sensible stuff, such as HDMI 2.1 ports, high enough frame rates, 8K resolution, and a minimum 600 nits peak brightness, but no mention of the Contrast Modulation measurement used by LG.

An 8K TV in a bedroom on a low table, with a red chair and bed nearby

There are some great-looking 8K TVs already on the market (Image credit: Samsung)

So what 8K TVs are on the market?

2021 really saw 8K TV makers get into gear. Alongside the usual trio of 8K resolution screens from Samsung (QN900A, QN800A, QN700A), LG has also brought out a number of 8K-capable models featuring their Mini LED tech. But other brands are in on the action too, with TCL's 6-Series 8K QLED proving the cheapest 8K TV out there in the US, and Hisense getting its own piece of the pie

8K OLED TVs are the priciest at around $29,999 / £29,999 for an 88-inch size, with a small discount for a 77-inch model – but most of the other screens listed here sit at around the $1,000 / £1,000 to $5,000 / £5,000 mark, depending on the screen size and quality of the processor.

You can check out the top tier sets in our best 8K TV guide.

Does an 8K TV need HDMI 2.1?

Yes, if you're hoping to passthrough 8K content from a Blu-ray player or games console at a max 60Hz. 

However, with no 8K games around yet, or 8K Blu-rays, the HDMI 2.1 standard is still waiting to be useful for 8K sets, beyond allowing for 4K resolution at 120Hz from source devices.

Are there 8K projectors?

Yes! 8K projection is nowhere near as common in home cinemas – though it is often used in actual cinemas – but some players are looking to release them to market.

In mid-2021, JVC teased a next-gen laser projector with 8K resolution and HDR support; while we don't have a name or release date yet, you can take a sneak peek in the teaser trailer below.

What about 8K gaming?

The arrival of the PS5 and Xbox Series X will have many asking whether 8K games are on the horizon, given the consoles' HDMI 2.1 ports technically allow for 8K/60Hz passthrough.

We're not holding our breath, given that native 4K gaming is still something of a rarity, and will likely take a few more years to become the norm for home console games. (The Xbox Series S still makes do with upscaled 4K, while the Nintendo Switch doesn't get anywhere near it.)

8K isn't necessarily the end goal for gaming either. Many would argue that a fast refresh rate (120Hz) is more important, ensuring that gameplay feels smooth and the picture isn't clipped or torn during busy visuals.

The Xbox Series S console in white, with controller

Xbox Series S console (Image credit: Future)

Will we ever get native 8K content?

One of the main criticisms levelled at 8K is that there's little-to-no 8K content, meaning 8K hardware relies on upscaling HD or 4K sources.

However, there are a few places native 8K content is starting to stem from. 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). 

And with the advent of truly commercial 8K TVs, there's sure to be a growing market of 8K content from all sorts of traditional TV production studios.

Samsung has partnered with a number of streaming services across Europe – including CHILI, MEGAGOGO, and The Explorers – to start displaying 8K HDR10+ content.

Lastly – 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.

"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. 

But, in the interim, it'll be advanced upscaling processors that will take full HD and 4K content and make them ready for the 8K big time, redefining the sharpness possible from existing sources.

8K TVs aren't likely to feel like necessary purchases for a while yet, but there's already enough content on the horizon for us to expect a bright future for the high-def technology.

  • Check out our guide to 4K Ultra HD if you want to catch up on a more current resolution
Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.