It goes without saying that it’s best for consumers to know the basics of the three different display technologies available in the market today in order to pick the right TV for their needs, as well as understand how their viewing habits and the lighting conditions of the room that TV is placed in will affect image quality. In order to get as close to that desirable “cinematic experience” at home, consumers should also settle on how big a TV they actually need and how close to it they’ll be sitting before making a purchase.
Progress in display technology has made things a bit more complicated during the last few years, bringing an additional factor into the decision mix: screen resolution. That’s the number of pixels describing the displayed image, so – in theory, at least – the more the better. There are currently three different screen resolutions available in the market: the now established 4K, the still relatively new 8K and the aging-but-not-yet-extinct FullHD (even if one would have to go all the way down to a 43-inch diagonal in order to find a TV with a FullHD/1080p screen nowadays).
FullHD televisions may still be OK in 2022 for highly specific use cases: in situations where the available space for a TV is so small that only 32- to 43-inch models would fit, for instance, or in others where picture quality is of no real interest to a viewer no matter what the content. But, for the most part, people just aren’t buying TVs with screens smaller than 48 inches in diagonal anymore: 55-, 65- and 75-inch TVs consistently prove to be the most popular models. Consumers are interested in increasingly larger TVs every year, even having affordable 85-inch models at their disposal in 2022 (97- and 100-inch ones still command a premium for obvious reasons).
All four popular diagonals (55-/65-/75-/85-inch) are offered in 4K as well as 8K. So is there a point in going for the latter? Let’s break it all down.
Is 33 better than 8 if you can’t tell the difference?
Televisions sporting an 8K screen offer a canvas of no less than 33 million pixels to express the picture they’re displaying, a spectacular number compared to the decidedly less impressive 8 million pixels 4K TV screens are using. The thinking behind the creation of 8K TVs – apart from every major manufacturer’s desire to push for a new television upgrade cycle, obviously – was twofold: TVs are getting bigger, so they need more pixels for their picture to remain solid and convincing while, conversely, said TVs could use the extra pixels in order to offer a much higher level of detail. At least that was the theory (and the marketing argument).
The problem is that 33 million are a lot of pixels to cram into TV screens smaller than 75 inches, so they need to be amazingly small. So small, in fact, that humans can only discern them if they walk up to an 8K screen and look for them at arm’s length or closer. What this means in practice is that from a “normal” or the “ideal” viewing distance (as measured by both SMPTE and THX standards) most people will not be able to make out the extra detail these pixels add to an image when displayed on an 8K TV. They could sit much closer to the TV, yes, but that is not necessarily something many viewers want to do if they mean to comfortably take in the whole picture.
This does not mean that 8K resolution is pointless on televisions. TV manufacturers are actually right about one thing: even from a normal viewing distance, 8K screens can offer – depending on the content – a more dense, more solid and convincing picture with more easily perceivable “depth” compared to 4K screens on the same diagonal. 8K resolution is preferable for TV screens of 85 inches or more because 4K struggles to maintain image coherence and clarity with “just” 8 million pixels stretched thin onto such a large surface (home cinema enthusiasts call this “the screen door effect”).
Then there’s the important matter of content availability. Commercially there’s still no 8K material – such as movies or TV shows – to speak of. That will not change for years, as Hollywood and the entertainment business in general will have to invest billions in production infrastructure in order to provide their usual content in 8K. Even non-commercial true 8K content sources are few and far between (just ultra hi-end PCs for games and smartphones with 8K video recording capabilities). Many 8K TVs do not even offer Internet streaming or local playback for the small amount of 8K content that can be found, while the necessary software (such as e.g. codecs) is also not properly standardized or widely adopted yet.
So one of the few actual reasons why anyone would be interested in getting an 8K TV – the detailed picture of true 8K content in all of its 33-Megapixel glory – is not yet on offer and will not be for some time. It’s as simple as that.
In the 4K vs 8K debate, it’s quality over quantity… for now
So where do all of these facts leave consumers regarding the whole “4K vs 8K” debate? In a place where they can make an easy enough decision, actually! For people thinking of buying a new 55- or 65-inch TV, 4K is the only way to go as they’d have to sit unrealistically close to an equivalent 8K TV in order to discern any difference in the displayed image. For people thinking of buying a 75- or 85-inch TV an 8K model might make more sense, but only if they plan to offer this television high-quality material to upscale and display (such as UltraHD Blu-ray discs or high-bitrate streaming video). With low-resolution content, such as over-the-air programming or DVDs, even top-end 8K TVs can only do so much.
Approaching this from a different angle makes things even clearer: 8K TV models command a price premium over their 4K TV counterparts, often a pretty hefty one. For consumers planning to get a new television for several thousand dollars, it makes more sense to choose the highest quality 4K TV that amount of money can buy over an 8K TV as there is still practically no 8K content to enjoy. High-quality material looks amazing in 8K… but then again so it does in 4K. To the “money-is-no-object” people that could always have the latest and greatest anyway, the most expensive 8K TVs will grant some bragging rights for a while… but that’s just about it.
At the end of the day – in the context of modern display technologies, in 2022 terms – 8K is still young, with a number of issues still unresolved. As time goes by and giant TVs become more affordable, 8K resolution (having itself matured by that point) might make more sense. But we’re not quite there yet. For most consumers who prefer to keep their TV sets for more than, say, three or four years, now is not the time to buy into 8K. Getting the most out of 4K is.
This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line