Here we are, then, past the first half of 2023 already, and almost every TV model going for the picture quality crown this year has already been released – bar the Sony A95L and the Panasonic MZ2000, both of which could end up with that crown – fans seem to have largely made up their minds about Samsung’s 2nd generation QD-OLED or LG’s MLA OLED… but, notably, there’s a type of TV that nobody seems to be talking about: the 8K type. The silence is deafening, in fact, since not even Samsung – the one manufacturer that has seemingly gone “all in” regarding this particular tech, for almost 5 years now – seems all that enthusiastic about promoting its 2023 8K TV models. So, what gives?
Most of us should have seen that coming since early January, of course. Every major TV manufacturer – excluding Sony, which did so later – announced their 2023 ranges in CES 2023 and, in terms of 8K models, only two of those confirmed their support by releasing new product lines this year: Samsung and LG. The latter actually did not renew the 8K LED/LCD models it used to offer, promoting just the 8K OLED ones (which are so expensive that do not really make a difference in the market as a whole). The former did renew its three 8K LED/LCD lines, but it did so without bringing truly noteworthy improvements to the table compared to last year’s models.
Almost all other manufacturers though – including Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Philips, Vizio, TCL and Hisense, so… pretty much everyone – are not releasing any 8K TVs this year. One can imagine the flurry of “Is 8K Dead?” stories published on the Web over the last few months and – while reports about “the death of 8K” have been greatly exaggerated – it’s fair to say that these developments have put the future of this particular TV tech into question. Does 8K still stand a chance of mainstream commercial success over the next few years? Will it ever prove to be as popular with consumers as 4K is right now? It could go either way long-term. Here’s why.
Reasons why 8K might never be wildly successful
Probably unwise to use the word “never” in the context of ever-evolving tech, yes, but if it’s true mainstream adoption and wild commercial success we’re talking about, then 8K may very well not achieve it in the same or even similar way 4K has. Not if the future state of the TV market looks anything like the current one anyway.
For 8K TVs to go mainstream, a lot of things have to happen around the same timeframe – and none of them seems to be happening anytime soon. First of all, these televisions have to become more affordable in large sizes. Ιt’s when watching content on 75-inch screens or higher that most people can discern any difference – from a normal viewing distance – in picture detail due to the increased pixel count. These are, essentially, the TV sizes meant to take advantage of 8K resolution. But every manufacturer offering 8K TVs at these diagonals is currently selling them at considerably higher prices than most premium 4K TVs command, which is not helping their case. At all.
These high prices are lower than what they used to be e.g. back in 2019 or 2020, yes. But 4K TV prices offering very good or even excellent picture quality have also come down significantly, so the price gap remains, preventing 8K TVs from being widely adopted. Since manufacturing costs of established display technologies are gradually reduced across the board – product prices more or less follow – that price gap will be there for years to come. For large 8K TVs to become affordable to all, 4K TVs will essentially have to become unprofitable to every manufacturer making them. Will that ever be the case?
Talking about picture quality, that’s another reason why 8K has – and will continue to have – a hard time convincing consumers to invest in such a set: while using four times the pixel count of 4K, these TVs do not deliver four times the picture quality. Not even close, in fact: more affordable 4K models can deliver decidedly higher image quality despite their lower resolution, because there’s much more to a beautiful TV picture than the number of pixels describing it. 8K TVs deliver a more convincing picture in 75-, 85- or larger sizes in terms of density – and true 8K content can look mightily impressive on these sets – but… that’s about it. And it’s clearly not enough.
Then there’s the small matter of true 8K content, which seems to be a deal-breaker in the minds of most consumers. Hollywood and major networks or streaming services have started experimenting with 8K but they seem reluctant to invest the admittedly huge amounts of money needed to become end-to-end 8K-capable: everything from production tools and editing tools, mastering, storing, distribution and screening would have to go through major changes for that to happen. It’s a process that could take years, during which all the true 8K material consumers will have access to is user-generated content, YouTube video demos and PC games. Most 8K TVs can do decent or even superb upscaling of current 2K/4K content, but… that’s hardly a reason for getting one of those, no?
The main reason why 8K is currently making no inroads towards mainstream adoption is, at the end of the day, an obvious one: not only does 8K not solve any actual problems in the eyes of most consumers, but it doesn’t even bring enough to the table in the eyes of people interested in adopting new technologies (and buying products for that reason alone). 8K TVs in large sizes can’t compete on price, picture quality, availability of content or even novelty anymore, so how can they find their way to mainstream success when 4K TVs are already good enough for so many people?
It’s worth noting that we’re only talking about 8K TVs here, not about 8K projectors, for a reason: there are no true 8K projectors for the consumer market as of yet. There are a handful of projectors that can accept 8K signals and map 8K content onto a screen, but they actually “simulate” 8K projection through techniques such as pixel-shifting: they essentially “upscale” their native resolution from 4K to 8K. The results can still be very, very nice, but these are not true 8K projectors and should not be treated as such. The irony, of course, is that projectors are precisely the type of device that would benefit from those 33 million pixels when asked to display a picture of e.g. 120 inches or more in size. But true 8K projectors are a long way off and not part of this conversation… yet.
Reasons why 8K could eventually find moderate success
Despite the unlikelihood of it happening, there’s still a number of reasons why 8K could end up succeeding as a niche category within the broader TV set category in a few years’ time. It will not be completely abandoned by television manufacturers, for one: they will most probably keep pushing for 8K adoption, long-term, simply because expensive TVs are almost always offering the highest profit margins. Despite the steady progress other display technologies have been making in terms of image quality, screen resolution – “more pixels!” – will still be an easy-to-understand point to illustrate in any company’s marketing efforts. 8K is still perceived, for better or worse, as “the next step” after 4K, which is now practically the industry standard when it comes to panel resolution.
Then there’s the distinct possibility of TV sets in large sizes becoming increasingly more popular (and less costly) during the next few years. Both 55-inch and 65-inch TV sizes – depending on the market – have attracted the interest of most consumers in 2020 and 2021, but all manufacturers have been speaking of a clear trend towards much larger models since last year and that’s unlikely to change in 2023 or 2024. 8K does not make sense in 55/65 inches, as viewers would have to sit ridiculously close to a TV screen in order to discern any difference in picture detail. But if more people start investing in e.g. 75-inch or even larger sets – where 4K resolution starts to “break” and the picture does not look as solid anymore – then 8K may become a desirable feature for many of them. That’s how 4K caught its big break, after all.
Last but not least, 8K content will inevitably start catching up at some point. Consumer-generated 8K material can already be produced by a number of different devices – from smartphones to DSLR or mirrorless or even action cameras – and these will only get better and cheaper in time. PCs are getting more capable at handling games in 8K every year. Hollywood has already started experimenting with 8K production while competing streaming services may try to differentiate themselves by offering select, premium content in 8K. It will be a long while before consumers actually have enough quality 8K content at their disposal to warrant the purchase of an 8K TV, but the Internet can help things along – just as it did in the case of 4K, remember?
8K: where things stand in 2023, where they’re headed in 2024
So things are definitely not great for 8K right now and the whole situation does not look good going forward either. Samsung does not publish detailed sales numbers, but it’s safe to assume that since its latest line of 8K TVs – the QN900C, QN800C and QN700C – do not offer meaningful improvements in picture quality compared to their 2022 predecessors (those were already great), they can’t have been selling in high numbers. LG’s 8K TVs are either unremarkable and not competitive enough (in the case of the last available LED/LCD-based models) or exorbitantly expensive (in the case of 2023 OLED-based models), so they probably aren’t setting any sales records either.
With practically all other manufacturers having chosen to sit this one out in 2023, this year is already looking bleak. Realistically, unless Samsung offers some absolutely mind-blowing discounts on its 8K TVs come Black Friday/Cyber Monday, by the end of 2023 there will be even less 8K sets sold than they were during 2022 or 2021. Not only is this not what anyone would call progress, it’s a disappointing step back for a technology once talked up by most of the industry.
It turns out that – just like how things played out with curved TVs and 3D TVs – consumers are not impressed by vague promises or future potential that’s not defined in a clear, obvious way. For the longest of time 8K TV manufacturers insisted on these sets’ ability to offer a jump in picture quality but, frankly, that never happened. What happened during the last three years instead was this: 4K OLED TVs or 4K QD-OLED TVs did make meaningful progress in picture quality, so consumers willing to part with serious cash chose to invest in those models instead of purchasing comparably priced or even more expensive 8K TVs. It is that simple and, frankly, perfectly understandable.
With 8K OLED TVs still out of most people’s reach, it’s not clear how 8K could get back on track and slowly start making inroads into the mainstream market come 2024. Samsung will most probably be offering new 8K TV sets next year or the year after that, but other manufacturers may be further discouraged by consumer indifference and stick to 4K models for the foreseeable future. It will also take more than a year or two for 8K content to catch up. This is definitely not helping, even if 8K TV models did come down in price at some point and consumers did understand more about the difference 33 million pixels can make in large-size screens. Both are big “ifs”.
Whatever the case may be, it looks like we’re heading for a long winter when it comes to 8K TVs. How long that is going to last, and what the TV market will look like when consumers start showing active interest in 8K again, is rather unclear and hard to predict at this point. Bets, anyone?