Every new tech needs time to mature, to iron out all the kinks and become available at commercially affordable prices before it’s widely accepted by the mainstream, yes. But there’s also the issue of diminishing returns in the world of display tech and, by the look of things right now, it’s the very issue 8K TVs are currently facing (and will be facing for quite some time) while trying to gain market acceptance. That is the gist of a presentation given by senior Research Director for Media and Entertainment at Omdia, Maria Rua Aguete, during her keynote in Malaga’s 4KHDR Summit a few days ago.
Omdia’s report on the state of 8K TVs is disheartening, to say the least. “8K will grow very slowly, even slower than we thought last year. Even in Japan, the only country that has launched an 8K channel, there is no clear commercial lineup”, Rua Aguete pointed out. “Mid-term the situation is unlikely to change: by the end of 2025, only 9 million households worldwide will have an 8K TV”. Numbers seem to verify that: sales of 8K TVs fell to 90.600 units in the second quarter of 2021, compared to 96.000 units in the first quarter. It’s interesting to note that the manufacturer who entered this category first and pushes for the adoption of 8K TVs harder, Samsung, commands a 70% market share in 8K TVs worldwide.
Rua Aguerte does not seem to think that the adoption issue 8K will be facing only relates to the TVs themselves. It also relates to content availability. “We do not believe that 8K will be a home format — it will be a performance format not enjoyed by many viewers at home, at least for the next five years”, Omdia’s Research Director for Media and Entertainment claimed. It is the next sentence though, a reminder of the current state of affairs regarding 8K, that puts everything into perspective: “8K TV shipments accounted for just 0.2 percent of all TV shipments worldwide last year”, Rua Aguerte noted.
So it all goes back to the classic “chicken and egg” problem. True 8K content — outside of a few demos or YouTube videos — is not likely to arrive any time soon because not many people own 8K TVs, but not many people will be buying 8K TVs unless there’s enough true 8K content out there they can enjoy. TrueHD and 4K faced the same problem and proved that it cannot be solved by either side (manufacturers or content producers) over-investing in the hopes of reaping rewards further down the line. It just takes time: some content gets created and showed off while TV sets are getting better and more affordable and, at some point, it makes sense to get a new, better-tech TV because it does not carry an astronomical price tag and there’s just enough compelling content to enjoy on it.
And that is exactly where the 8K diminishing returns problem comes in. People can be persuaded to buy a new, better TV, yes, but they have to be able to discern enough of a difference between that and their current set. With 8K TVs that proves to be much, much harder in practice than it theoretically should. It does not make sense to get a model less than 75 inches in diagonal if the TV is to be watched at a “normal” viewing distance, as most consumers won’t be able to see the difference in detail compared to a 4K TV of the same diagonal. Even at 85 inches the viewing distance at which the extra detail is appreciated may be uncomfortably close for some — and getting an even larger size than that (let alone having the space for it in the first place) is prohibitively expensive.
No wonder, then, that it’s currently difficult for 8K TVs to make their case by just upscaling current 2K/4K content to 8K in an effective way or displaying a better picture at large sizes. While there’s no true 8K content to speak of and while they cost as much as they do — much more than a quality 4K set with all the bells and whistles — 8K TVs just aren’t there yet.
How could this issue be handled by the TV industry so that the market starts adopting 8K, then? The same way it has been handled in the past: gradually. The cost of quality 8K TVs needs to come down at some point so that people actually consider buying them in large sizes. If that happens, content creators can slowly start producing content that takes advantage of those quality TV sets. This will give more consumers reason to start thinking about 8K… and that’s how the “chicken and egg” problem is eventually solved.
Is it doable? It happened with 4K — over 55% of all TVs sold in the last four quarters were 4K sets — and, despite the issue of diminishing returns, it can happen with 8K too. Will it really take four years, as Omdia’s analysts predict? Will it take less time, will it take more? That’s anyone’s guess, but — given that many important improvements in picture quality have nothing to do with resolution, so in the case of 8K TVs they have to happen while the sets themselves are getting cheaper — it will be a fascinating ride anyway.