Well, that’s the problem with new tech, isn’t it? Manufacturers are obliged to develop it at a steady pace, invest in it and market it as effectively as possible… while there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will actually succeed if it does not meet substantive, specific consumer needs. That is precisely the problem 8K TVs seem to be facing according to market research firm Omdia, which is closely following this product category for some time and published a report on it a few days ago: these television sets were developed as a natural next step to the current market standard, the 4K TVs employing different display technologies, but they have so far convinced precious few people that they are needed at all.
Maria Rua Aguete — the firm’s senior research director who gave a keynote on this subject in November at the 4K HDR summit, with similar findings — is even more pessimistic this time around: she expects just 2.7 million households globally to have an 8K TV by the end of 2026, a seriously lowered estimate compared to the previous one of 9 million 8K TVs by the end of 2025.
It’s no wonder she feels that way: 8K TVs only accounted for 0.15% of all TV shipments in 2021 (about 350.000 worldwide). No less than 65% of those were Samsung sets (but the company shipped 18% fewer units than during 2020) while, of all the 8K TVs sold in 2021, almost a third were purchased in Q4 due to seasonality. During the other three quarters, 8K TV sales were down year-over-year.
8K content availability still a problem, not an easily solvable one
Omdia’s senior research director highlights several of the reasons why consumers do not seem at all impressed by 8K TVs (despite the fact that their prices have been significantly reduced during the last two years). The issue of content availability is obvious: apart from some demo material on YouTube and a handful of other sources — such as the NHK 8K channel in Japan or the 8K/30FPS video some smartphones can capture — there’s still no true 8K content to speak of.
Manufacturers have also strived to convince consumers that the upscaling of current 2K/4K material to 8K is beneficial, with little to no success. There’s even the matter of size: there’s no point getting an 8K TV in less than 75 inches and many consumers just don’t have the space or the desire to buy TV sets of that size.
The issue of content availability seems to be the most important one, though, and it’s not one that will be easily resolved. Hollywood is not even discussing a timeframe within which it might start delivering movies at 8K (the majority of new films are not even mastered at 4K yet). Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and other streaming services may start offering some content in 8K at some point, but they all have bigger fish to fry in the next 2–3 years (and bandwidth requirements would easily exceed 100–120 Mbps in any case).
Even the most optimistic videophile, meanwhile, does not believe there will ever be an 8K video disc format like UHD Blu-ray. So where will the 8K content necessary to justify the purchase of an 8K TV come from?
TV manufacturers may be in trouble in the future, unless…
People following consumer electronics for a while will surely point out that this is not the first time a new display tech faces the “chicken and egg” problem: if there’s no content for that tech there’s no reason for people to buy products based around it and if these products are not bought by consumers then content providers don’t want to invest in producing content for those.
This issue had been resolved in the past by both sides making concessions slowly, year over year. This is how we got, for instance, to the quality and quantity and choice of 4K content consumers now have at their disposal. But the jump from 2K to 4K was a substantial one, HDR added a great deal to the visual impact of 4K, while 4K is a resolution that most popular TV sizes can make use of. None of these applies to 8K TVs in the eyes of consumers, so their indifference is justified.
It seems, then, that TV manufacturers have their work cut out for them. Since the content availability issue will not be resolved on its own anytime soon, they will have to do a better job convincing consumers that there’s actually a point in getting an 8K TV. They will also have to lower the prices of their quality 8K TV models, most probably to such an extent that it would make no sense to get a big TV in 4K anymore.
Manufacturers will still have a hard time selling 8K TVs in big numbers obviously — we can all forget those televisions actually going mainstream at any point before, say, 2030 — but they will at least be able to promote them as the natural successor of 4K TVs over time. It’s either that or they will have to rely on different display technologies (such as QD-OLED which is making waves at the moment) in order to keep selling televisions at a steady pace, all the while reducing the prices of 4K TVs of every other display tech. Difficult times ahead? For TV makers, it sure seems like it right now.