8K TVs are Coming: Processors Will Make all the Difference
Oct 18, 2018
The biggest trend at this month's IFA consumer technology show was arguably the presence and push for 8K TVs, whether we are ready or not.
By: Michael J. Miller
September 18, 2018 9:31AM EST
The biggest trend at this month's IFA consumer technology show—both literally and figuratively—was arguably the presence and push for 8K TVs. All of the major manufacturers of televisions and displays are looking to 8K as the new high-ends of their lines, in part because 4K TV prices have fallen dramatically over the past few years. This push was obvious at CES earlier this year, but at IFA the sets moved from show demonstrations to actual models that consumers will be able to buy, albeit at fairly high price points.
8K sets have four times the number of pixels as today's 4K sets, with a resolution of 7680 by 4320 and a total of 33 million pixels. Still, looking at the sets at the show, it's obvious that resolution alone won't be enough to differentiate the new TVs; other factors, such as color range and fidelity, contrast ratios, and the quality of upscaling may be even more important. Indeed, most vendors wanted to talk about their proprietary processors for enhancing the quality of the image. But that certainly didn't stop the vendors from pushing 8K, and there were big 8K signs in front of sets at just about every TV maker's booth at IFA.
Perhaps most importantly, Samsung announced and had on display its Q900R QLED 8K lineup; the company said that 65-inch, 75-inch, 82-inch, and 85-inch (above) sets will actually be available for consumer purchase at the end of the month. I'm sure they will not be inexpensive, but they are real—as opposed to just demos on the show floor.
Samsung emphasized that its 8K sets have a "realness and presence" and "extraordinary depth," with features such as 4,000 nit peak brightness, full array backlighting to allow for more regions of black and thus better contrast, and improved color volume with support for standards such as HDR10+. Samsung calls its technology QLED, which refers to an LCD display with LED-backlighting and color enhanced through the use of quantum dots. Of course, all of the new high-end sets are smart TVs. Samsung highlighted its "universal guide" and S-Voice, which is designed to help you find content, as well as an "ambient mode" that can display a picture even when the set is off, rather than a black screen.
Samsung's big push was for "AI" to make upscaling better. The company calls its offering Machine Learning Super Resolution (MLSR), and said it is enabled through its own 8K Quantum Processor, which Samsung said uses machine learning to create formulas for upscaling, as well as optimizing audio.
Of course, a real goal for all the vendors is to sell larger sets. Samsung had a big display that read "75 is not too big", and pointed out that because of smaller bezels, a 75-inch set today takes up the same amount of wall space as a 60-inch set did in 2008. Similarly, the company talked about how you need an 82-inch 8K set to get the same resolution per area as today's 43-inch sets. That's true, but it only really matters if you can see the difference.
Most of the other vendors showing 8K sets lacked firm on-sale dates. One of the most impressive was LG's 88-inch 8K OLED TV. This set uses OLED technology, as opposed to the LCD technology most of the other vendors offer. LG had a similar model at CES. Most observers believe it is harder to get to 8K with OLED than with LCD, so it was impressive to see a good-looking model at the show.
At IFA, LG pushed its alpha9 intelligent processor, which it said offers quad-step noise reduction, sharpness and depth enhancement, true color accuracy, and high frame rate capabilities. This applies to both its current 4K TVs and future 8K sets.
Sharp is currently selling a limited number of 8K TVs or monitors, and had at its booth what it called its "second-generation 8K HDR," with 70-inch and 80-inch units on display. While these are TVs, Sharp in particular pushed them for vertical markets, such as medical imaging, security, and infrastructure and manufacturing inspection.
TCL showed off a 75-inch 8K model aimed at the Chinese market, and said 55-inch and 65-inch versions were coming, and additionally that it would be expanding to other markets in the future.
A number of other vendors also had 8K sets at IFA, but many appeared to be in the concept stage or on display for technology demonstrations, as opposed to actual products. Still, it was impressive to see.
Toshiba presented a concept of a 65-inch 8K model, again using an LCD with quantum dot technology. The company said it offered a palette of more than 1 billion colors with wide viewing angle, high brightness, and high color gamut.
European maker Vestel, which also makes the Toshiba sets, showed off an even larger line of 8K TVs on display, ranging from 65-inches to 98-inches.
Chinese vendor Changhong, which also sells in Europe, had a 75-inch 8K model with local dimming on display.
While 8K was prominent at IFA, a number of large TV makers avoided it, instead focusing on enhancements to 4K TVs, many driven by improved processors, which they say are required to do better upscaling.
One of these was Sony, which continued to push its X1 Ultimate signal processor, with what it calls a Pixel Contrast Booster, designed to get better colors and purer blacks.
Phillips showed its P5 "Perfect Picture Engine with Perfect Natural Reality" on its new line of OLED TVs, and said this can produce better details and sharper pictures, whatever the source.
Similarly, Panasonic demoed its Hollywood Cinema Experience (HCX) processor, with a "3D lookup table" it said can produce colors more accurate than those the filmmakers intended.
Hisense, on the other hand, pushed its 5000+ Zones on its ULED TV, and talked about how its advanced "Prime Array Backlight" system enables better contrast. It also had a 100-inch model, something that Skyworth also showed.
UHD is More Than Resolution
I spent some time with Michael Fidler, president of the UHD Alliance—a group that includes most of the leading TV makers—who stressed that UHD, or ultra-high-definition, is about more than a TV with 4K or even 8K resolution.
The UHD Alliance has been focused on a standard called Ultra HD Premium, which sets certain minimums for high dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamut support, and greater color bit depth, as well as recommendations for immersive audio. There are now 63 products (46 new this year) from 10 companies that support the specification, including TVs, monitors, and Blu-Ray players. Fidler explained that though the group's focus is 4K, 8K developments and 8K sets can qualify as well.
We discussed the relative paucity of 4K native content. A number of streaming services have a fair amount of 4K content today, but Fidler pointed out that although some of the U.S. cable companies and DirectTV have tested such content as well, it remains a question of how they can monetize 4K content when there is so much demand for HD content. The group is working with others on broadcast standards, such as ATSC 3.0, but 8K content is really much further out, even though there is some Japanese broadcast content being produced. I for one am waiting for more live sports in 4K, and there have already been some tests of soccer.
One issue that some consumers have had is that UHD content doesn't always look as good as it should, often because of differences in HDR settings between different pieces of equipment. To that end, the group has set up a website, which is designed to help walk consumers through setup to make sure they are getting the best possible picture from their sets or devices.