8K televisions are already available, but how necessary are they, asks Hadyn Green? What benefits do such super-high resolution televisions bring?

The latest buzzword in televisions is 8K. As with most tech, the bigger number always sounds the more enticing. But what is 8K? And, coming so soon after 4K, do we really need to upgrade to it?

Basically, 8K refers to screen resolution. Resolution is the number of pixels on your screen, and 8K is an abbreviation used to keep things simple.

It describes a minimum resolution of 7680 pixels horizontally by 4320 vertically. This means 8K has twice the number of pixels on each axis compared with 4K. Note that 4K was dubbed Ultra-High Definition (UHD) so, because of this, 8K is sometimes called UHD-2.

What’s so good about 8K? Well, it will look better.

Because an 8K television has a higher pixel density, it can produce a much more detailed image than 4K. This also means individual pixels become almost impossible to see with the naked eye.

Having more pixels means you can spread them over a larger surface without losing picture quality too. So, 8K televisions can be much larger than 4K and still look amazing without losing fidelity.

What this means in practice is that where you may now have had a 42-inch 4K television in your home, you could comfortably view a 65-inch 8K television (assuming you have the space).

Much like 4K, 8K televisions will upscale most of their content. This will be good for 4K and full HD content on Blu-ray or delivered via streaming sites over fibre, but it won’t work so well with lower resolution media, especially broadcast television. While the television will do its best to increase the detail in an image, this process may also exacerbate mistakes, leading to blotchy, granular pictures. This is a trait 4K televisions suffer from as well and more so on streaming media, where the signal is heavily compressed.

DO YOU NEED 8K?

The short answer is: no. The longer answer is: not right now.

While there is an element of future-proofing in getting an 8K television, there simply isn’t any content to watch in 8K right now. In fact, little content is available in 4K yet.

Then you have the issue of what you would use to watch the content. Game consoles like the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro still only have a maximum output of 4K (3840 pixels – the horizontal measure, which is how 4K is measured). Dedicated UHD Blu-ray players are the same, as is the latest Apple TV.

This leaves smart television apps as the only avenue for getting 8K content, and even then you are out of luck.

Streaming and pay-per-view video services still have the majority of their content in HD. They only began adding 4K content in the last few years. Nothing is available in 8K so far.

And, if they did have 8K content, you would chew through your data watching it.

For example, Netflix recommends a steady internet connection speed of 25Mbps to watch content in 4K. This is roughly 11.5GB per hour or 24GB for a normal-length movie. 8K is a minimum of four times the size of 4K, so you would be looking at a 96GB movie and a steady connection speed of approximately 215Mbps. This means you need a fast fibre connection with a high data cap and a very good router.

So, what you will be watching mostly on your 8K television is upscaled UHD content. Which will look amazing, but would also look amazing on a 4K television.

Fancy cables now worth buying

HDMI 2.1

For years we have been advised not to shell out for “fancy” HDMI (High-definition Multi-media Interface) cables, but now with high-dynamic range (HDR) and 8K televisions entering the market, it may be time to finally upgrade. HDMI cables are the standard for connecting any device to your television and most of them are 2.0 versions.

The new HDMI 2.1 cables have a maximum transfer speed of 48Gbps, which is high enough to show 10K images at frame rates as high as 120Hz. They can also allow dynamic HDR (which can change from frame to frame). You still shouldn’t sign your life away to buy them though, as they can be picked up for roughly the same price as the old 2.0 cables.

NATIVE RESOLUTION

Every screen, from televisions to phones, has a “native” resolution. This is the resolution where no changes are required by the technology behind the screen to change the picture. But because content is shot in a variety of formats, what you are watching may be subtly tweaked to fit your screen.

MASTERING ORIGINALS

Not all content is created equal. How good your content looks can often come down to how it was mastered. Mastering is the process of recording from the original source. When it comes to a movie, this can be from the original film stock or, in recent years, digital capture. Basically, the higher the master resolution, the better the content will look on bigger screens.

For various reasons, content is not always mastered at the highest possible resolution. Often movies shot using digital cameras, rather than celluloid film, are mastered at 2K (full HD) rather than 4K. This results in the strange situation where older films can look better at higher resolutions than newer films. For example, the action movie Deadpool is mastered in 4K, but the sequel, Deadpool 2, is mastered in 2K. A few movies could be remastered in 8K, but, in general, these are older films without digital special effects.