2018 marked the arrival of 8K TVs in the U.S. -- at least one model, anyway. Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) started selling an 85-inch screen featuring the new screen tech, and expectations are that TV manufacturing rival LG Electronics (NASDAQOTH: LGEAF) will make an 8K OLED screen available for purchase in 2019.
Before you start kicking yourself for dropping good money on a new ultra-high-definition (UHD) 4K set, or looking for ways to invest in new televisions, let me explain what 8K is and why it matters less than other display tech that's already available on the market.
High definition in 1080p (the current TV standard, colloquially called HDTV), 4K UHD, and now 8K all refer to a screen's pixels -- the individual colored dots a TV displays to form moving pictures. The numbers define pixel count: HDTVs are 1,920 pixels across and 1,080 pixels high, thus the 1080p moniker.
4K UHD TVs quadruple the pixel count with 3,840 pixels across and 2,160 high, resulting in sharper contrast video and images. 8K multiplies total pixel count another four times above 4K, resulting in a 7,680 by 4,320 pixel screen. That's 16 times more pixels than what an HDTV can display, resulting in a high-contrast, life-like viewing experience. For really early adopters, Samsung's 8K model can be picked up at Best Buy for $15,000.
Expensive entertainment with limited practicality
Besides the ridiculous price tag, 8K doesn't matter for a few reasons -- at least not yet. First, there are only so many pixels the human eye can detect. For the average TV viewer, 4K is a big jump in viewing clarity over HDTV -- especially for larger format screens. The higher resolution from the increased pixel count doesn't matter much at great distances, but in a typical living room, sitting too close to the screen or having too big of a TV for the room's size can lead to a grainy looking image.
4K helps solve that problem, as the higher pixel count means viewers can sit closer, get a bigger TV, or both. 8K TVs allow for even closer viewing without the image looking grainy, as well as bigger screen sizing (thus Samsung's over-the-top 85-incher and an 88-inch TV that LG showed off earlier in the year). However, for the typical TV watcher and living room, 4K gets the job done at a far lower price point.
The second reason 8K doesn't matter: There is a lack of content in 8K format. Most movies, shows, and video games just recently made the switch to 4K, including TV streaming from services like Netflix. While filming video in 8K has great value to the movie industry (especially for editing and production purposes), it has been adopted in only a handful of cases so far, and there is very little that actually makes it to the consumer in that final format. While 8K screens can still improve upon video that isn't itself in 8K, the noticeable differences are minimal.
The final reason 8K doesn't matter is the availability of new screen types that make a discernable improvement for the average viewer at a far lower cost. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens are the prime example; they tout better contrast, smoother movement, and brighter colors than legacy LED screens -- all without the extra pixel count of 8K. LG is the leader in OLED TV production, but other manufacturers (including Samsung) are playing catch-up.
Consumers in the market for a new TV are likely to start seeing ads for 8K in 2019, but the extremely high pricing and lack of reasons to pay for the upgrades make the new technology impractical for the vast majority. The same goes for investors; there's no reason to leap onto the 8K bandwagon, especially given the fact that OLED is quickly becoming the standard in the screen industry. At this point in time, 8K looks more like a marketing scheme than anything else as TV manufacturers jostle for dominance.