Are 8K TVs dead in the water? Why consumers are unconvinced

Would you pay thousands for a Samsung QLED 8K Smart TV Q950TS?  (Samsung)
Would you pay thousands for a Samsung QLED 8K Smart TV Q950TS? (Samsung)

At CES 2023 in Las Vegas, there was plenty of weird and wonderful technology on display. As per usual, the floor was lit up with television sets, with companies trying to persuade consumers that their panels offer the best possible home cinema experience.

When it comes to 8K — televisions with four times the pixels of 4K for an impossibly sharp image — they’re not letting up, despite a real sense of apathy from the public.

According to IDC Europe’s vice president of data & analytics, Francisco Jeronimo, sales of 8K sets hit 620,000 units globally in the first three-quarters of 2022. That sounds like a lot, until you realise it represents just 0.4 per cent of all televisions sold worldwide.

In the UK, it’s slightly more positive, with 100,000 units in the same period, representing around 2.3 per cent. But it’s still not an especially inspiring number.

So what’s holding 8K back, and can it be turned around? And should you just opt for a quality 4K TV instead?

The trouble with 8K

8K’s problems essentially fall into three baskets: price, screen size, and content.

While prices will doubtless come down over time, it’s not a problem that can be magicked away. Higher-resolution screens require more pixels, and it’s worth reflecting on just how many pixels are in an 8K television. With a resolution of 7,680 x 4,320 — twice that of 4K — an 8K screen comprises more than 33 million pixels. For comparison, 4K screens need close to 8.3 million, while HD panels have around two million.

That’s reflected in how much you’ll pay. The cheapest 8K TV on the Currys website costs £1,999 — and that includes a £500 discount on its pre-Christmas price. By comparison, the cheapest 4K set we found is £229 — not an entirely fair comparison for various reasons, but it’s pretty clear that consumers need a compelling reason to pay the extra, other than vague promises that this may be the future.

The price problem is compounded by the fact that you need a big screen to actually spot a difference — assuming you even can (a Warner Bros study suggests most consumers can’t). Unless you’re sat impractically close, you’re unlikely to be able to spot the difference between 8K content and 4K content on a smaller panel: the human eye just isn’t good enough.

How big a screen are we talking? Probably 75 inches or more, and that’s just not a popular size in the UK or anywhere.

The most popular size worldwide remains 55 inches, Jeronimo told the Standard and, between them, televisions sized 43, 50, 55, and 65 inches make up 72.7 per cent of the market in the UK.

Price and screen size aren’t a problem for super-wealthy cinephiles with plenty of space for a home cinema, of course, but the final problem is a deal breaker for many. By far the biggest issue that 8K TVs are facing is content — or, rather, the lack of it.

While you can find video shot in 8K on YouTube and Vimeo, you won’t find any commercial 8K content on cable, satellite, or terrestrial TV — hardly surprising in the case of the latter, given most channels on Freeview are yet to even hit HD.

Even streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus max out at 4K. And, while movies are increasingly shot in 8K, there’s little appetite to make them available to home viewers in that format.

It’s ultimately a chicken-and-egg problem where content makers won’t broadcast 8K due to a lack of 8K TVs and consumers won’t buy 8K TVs due to a lack of content.

Reasons for optimism

The good news is that, for now, manufacturers don’t show any signs of recusing themselves from their role in the chicken-and-egg equation.

While the proportion of 8K sales remains a tiny fraction of the overall marketplace, it is still growing at a decent pace: up 48 per cent year-on-year on 2021’s figures, Jeronimo points out.

Even if growth were more anaemic, there are other reasons why the likes of Samsung and Sony might want to keep pushing 8K. The former’s Galaxy S phones are some of only a handful of handsets to shoot in 8K, while some of Sony’s professional video cameras can also capture 8K.

If you can’t watch the recordings anywhere, then buyers will rightly decide it’s a feature they don’t need, and that’s not good for business.

The verdict?

It’s still very possible that 8K will end up as something discussed in the same breath as 3D or curved TVs — technology pushed hard by manufacturers but, ultimately, ignored by consumers.

At the time of writing, there’s still a chance it could be the default in years to come but, for now, you’re better off prioritising picture quality in 4K over the theoretical advantages of 8K.