Okay, it’s the first day of CES, which means the TV makers have all announced their TVs, and yes they’re all neat looking, especially the 8K TVs top manufacturers are promising to ship this year. They are legit beautiful—so why am I so underwhelmed?
In part, I know enough about the technical obstacles to an 8K world that’s worth it. For one thing, there’s no content available for 8K televisions. Three years ago, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer told Digital Spy the company had little interest in 8K saying “8K is only interesting if you’re going to sit too close to the TV.” Sony Pictures will probably embrace 8K because its parent company also makes TVs and could have its movie makers produce content to help sell TVs. And YouTube’s been streaming nature videos in 8K since 2015. But Disney? Hulu? Amazon Prime? These companies are only now really churning out 4K. Even if the whole content producing industry suddenly embraced 8K tomorrow, it would be years before it movies and TV started showing up at that resolution.
And our internet connections would choke on that data. You tend to need 25Mbps download speeds for 4K streaming, and more than 20-percent of Americans do not have that kind of speed—with rural users particularly affected. YouTube currently asks for a minimum of 50Mbps for 8K.
So there’s no content, and when content comes many users will lack the internet speeds to enjoy it. But beyond the technical impediments to a consumable 8K reality, it’s becoming clear that it’s pretty damn hard to enjoy 8K. I stood with my nose to an 8K OLED display from LG this week and marveled at the detail it showed me in a neighborhood shot from the sky. “It’s too much” the man beside me whispered, in awe of the detail.
I took a few steps back and the details blended together. A few more, about the distance I’d sit on a couch at home, and I was less impressed. The same thing happened last night when Sony showed an 8K TV. Yes, it looked beautiful, but only when I was very close and hunting for the detail. That’s because, as our friend at Netflix above noted, you can’t appreciate an 8K television unless you’re sitting really close. The optimal distance to sit from a 4K television to truly appreciate its splendor is four feet. For an 8K display, it is only two feet.
To make matters worse, 8K televisions are all gigantic! The average size of the 8K televisions announced this week is somewhere north of 80 inches. Why on earth would I ever want to sit two feet from an 80-inch display? Or Sony’s 95-inch behemoth? Sure it’s cool, but sitting that close is sort of like sitting in the second row of the movie theater. Do I really want to feel like I’m sitting in the pores of the actors? I do not, friend.
8K is being bandied around right now because current TV technology is beginning to mature. Prices are dropping. You can get a solid 4K TV (with HDR!) for under $500. So TV makers are hunting for a new and flashy thing to tell consumers they MUST own.
Ideally, that flashy thing should be HDR and wider color gamuts. We’ve only really begun to scratch the surface of the picture benefits of a television that has a higher dynamic range, showing more details in areas with lots of light or very little, and a wider color gamut, reproducing more of the colors of the real world.
But it’s hard to tell people how great HDR and wide color gamut are without sitting them in front of a spectacular display. Have you ever tried to explain HDR to a loved one? I have, and it ended in my mother walking out of the room in boredom.
“8K” is an easy concept to understand. More detail in bigger TVs. My mom can understand that easily. “It’s twice as much as 4K.”
It’s also twice as much bunk.
The race to higher resolutions is a pissing match that drowns consumers in useless and overpriced TVs. The real innovations are in more complex features like HDR and wide color gamut. So TV makers should stop pissing pixels and start figuring out how to better explain the good shit to consumers.