CES: What to Know About Those 8K TVs

TVs with stunning 8K resolution — a whopping 16 times more picture information than HD — have had a limited presence at CES in recent years, primarily as technology demonstrations, but this week they could be a lot more prominent. In advance of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, LG has already revealed an 88-inch 8K OLED display, and manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and Panasonic also can be expected to show 8K at their exhibits.

Anything will look amazing on these ultra high-quality displays, but if you want to watch true 8K pictures on an 8K TV, don’t hold your breath. It’s not happening anytime soon — at least not in the U.S. and most of the world.

Up to this point, the main driver for 8K has been Japan public broadcaster NHK, which targeted the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to begin broadcasting 8K, or what NHK calls Super Hi-Vision, which also includes 22.2 channel surround sound. NHK now thinks this will begin even sooner than 2020, and its testing will include next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is in the process of launching a “next gen” broadcast system, known as ATSC 3.0, which is designed to bring together Internet and live over-the-air signals with options including mobility for delivering video-on-demand content, 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range TV. But the new U.S. broadcasting system wasn’t designed to (and can’t) send a native 8K signal to your TV.

More than resolution, broadcasters are investing in new services, such as mobility. Additionally, many entertainment technology professionals agree that from a picture standpoint, HDR gives viewers more bang for their buck, compared with higher resolution. That’s why from CES you’ll be hearing a lot about HDR, including formats such as Dolby Vision and the new HDR10+.

Currently, streaming services such as Netflix are focused on moving to 4K, not 8K, and the new Ultra HD Blu Ray format is also aimed at 4K.

Even if the infrastructure did support 8K, the other issue is the content. There are very few cameras in the world designed to shoot 8K images (for instance, the Red Weapon with its 8K sensor option is available; and Canon is working on a full 8K camera system and has already been shipping 8K lenses to NHK.)

And 8K postproduction — moving 16 times more data than HD — is going to be slower and more expensive. Without an 8K home entertainment business model and infrastructure, 8K just isn’t a priority for content creators.

At least not this year.