The 8K TV floodgates have been opened, and the next generation of image quality has arrived. The best 8K TV sets come from the likes of Samsung, Sony and LG, with more on the way. CES 2020 is awash with 8K and we're bringing you the highlights of the ultra ultra-ultra HD revolution, in 8K (if you have an 8K monitor).
One thing to know is that 8K is still very much in its infancy, despite the growing number of 8K TV sets. That means there are lots of questions to be answered about it, ranging from from what 8K really means, what you can watch on an 8K TV, and which are the best 8K TVs really worth getting over their 4K equivalents.
So we'll tackle all these questions, and help you get to grips with everything you need to know about 8K TV so far…
8K TV: what resolution is it?
A normal 8K TV will have a resolution of 7680x4320. Just as 4K TVs packed in four times the amount of pixels as Full HD TVs, 8K quadruples the resolution of Ultra HD.
This is a massive 33 million pixels per panel, meaning that most people's cameras aren't even able to fill it natively with a still image – it's that big and detailed.
All 8K TVs will have advanced upscaling abilities to make sure that 4K or HD content looks good when the resolution is increased to fill the screen. Given that there's currently barely any 4K content available, upscaling HD will be what really sorts the best of the best 8K TV sets from the also-rans.
What does 8K mean in terms of visual quality? Traditional 35mm film is often said to be roughly equivalent to about 6K, so we're beyond the level of detail that even real film is capable of. IMAX 70mm film is estimated to be more like 12K, but actually the digital effects for IMAX scenes tend to be created in 8K, and if that's good enough for Christopher Nolan, it's good enough for us. If you want a headline description of 8K, it's having the IMAX experience at home.
8K TVs are compatible with the current HDR formats, including HDR10, the dynamic HDR10+ upgrade to that, the more broadcast-friendly HLG, and Dolby Vision.
In fact, a lot of 8K TVs will have top-class HDR performance, but this isn't anything to do with the resolution upgrade: it's just that the manufacturers are putting all their best tech into them, which means you get added benefits such as fantastic HDR.
8K TVs: what TVs are available?
Sony ZG9 Master Series
Master by name, master by nature
An incredible TV, making use of every inch of Sony's screen know-how… and boy does Sony have a lot of screen know-how. It comes in 85-inch or 98-inch sizes, which will really make the most of the giant resolution.
It's an LCD screen, and uses Sony's Full Array Backlight Master Drive tech, which means there's a full panel of LEDs behind the screen (rather than strips around the edge). This makes it thick for a modern TV, but has two big advantages: it means it can go very bright, but can also turn off in individual sections so that it can go very dark, too. Basically, it gives you close-to-OLED levels of depth, but with brighter highlights than OLED can manage.
And it's got Sony's most advanced upscaling and motion handling technology so that everything looks perfectly clear. It's one of the best TVs we've ever seen, in fact. But you'll pay a huge amount for the privilege: £13,999/$12,999 just for the 85-inch version.
A new version, the Sony ZH8, has been announced to replace it – probably in mid-late 2020. It adds a clever new audio system that uses the frame of the TV itself to act as a speaker, plus it automatically optimises the TV's image based on the room it's placed in, changing brightness when the room gets lighter, for example.
The first 8K OLED TV
Not to be confused with the Sony above, despite the annoying similar name, this is the world's first OLED 8K TV. At a whopping 88 inches, it's a bit of a design wonder: the screen itself is ultra thin despite being massive, which means it actually has a stand (with built-in speakers) that you can't detach it from – the structure is crucial to keeping the thing in one piece.
It's equally a wonder to watch anything on. All the advantages of OLED are here – perfect per-pixel colour accuracy and incredible contrast – but in a huge beautiful screen that washes over you.
LG's image processing for upscaling and dealing with motion blur is excellent too – this deserves to be the centrepiece of any room. And since it costs around £30k, you'd hope so, wouldn't you?
An updated version, the ZX, is due out much later in 2020, along with a 77-inch version that actually can be wall-mounted.
An excellent 8K TV you might actually buy
If you're looking for 8K TVs you can actually afford (and that might fit in a normal living room), Samsung is here to help! You can get this set in 55-inch and 65-inch versions, as well as bumper 75-inch, 82-inch and 98-inch models. And in those smaller sizes, its price is comparable to equivalently-sized 4K OLED TVs, so you wouldn't break the bank to jump into 8K at all (though it's at the bigger sizes where you really benefit from 8K).
These are QLED sets, which means they need backlights (unlike OLED) – Samsung uses a system similar to the Sony ZG9, with an array of LEDs that can be locally dimmed behind the display. The larger sets are rated for truly incredible HDR performance – way, way beyond what you get from the average 4K TV.
If you're looking for a new TV without spending silly money on something giant (though Samsung is offering that here too!), this could be exactly what you need.
A new model, called the Q950TS, has just been announced, with a new design that effectively removes all bezels (a 99% screen-to-body ratio), which looks beautiful. It also has speakers in all sides to create a 5.1 surround-style effect for anything you watch, and has a next-generation upscaling processor to make everything look better on that 8K screen. It's due later in 2020, and we've noticed that 2019's Q950R models are already getting price cuts in anticipation, making them even more tempting!
LG 9 Series NanoCell 8K
Affordable 8K from a great brand
LG's equivalent to the Samsung screens above, this is also very keenly priced way to get into 8K. It's available in a 75-inch version now, but the new versions that have been announced will have 65- and 75-inch models.
Like both the Sony and Samsung, you get a full array backlight with local dimming, though this screen hasn't garnered quite the plaudits those have. You'll also have LG's latest-gen image processing – the same as you'll find in the OLED flagship sets.
Other 8K TVs that are coming
Aside from the sets mentioned above, Philips has an 88-inch 8K OLED TV that's effectively ready to go, when the company feels the market is ready. It's a bit more practical than LG's: it has a regular stand design (a foot at each end) rather than the built-in furniture of the LG. And Philips is also working on a 77-inch model.
Toshiba has revealed a 65-inch 8K concept TV, which it says it plans to launch quickly… once content starts to become available. Which might be a slightly backhanded way of saying, "Not in the foreseeable future."
Sharp has also shown off a set (no surprise, since the two companies are owned by the same parent business).
Philips has revealed that it's working on an 8K OLED TV, and has even shown an easily version off, but we've no idea when to expect a shipping product.
HiSense already has an 8K model out, but only in certain territories – we don't know whether it will hit UK shores yet.
8K TV: what can I watch?
In native, pure, 8K? Effectively nothing. Hollywood tends to use 6K cameras even when working digitally (and, as we suggested earlier, old films can only really be re-scanned to 6K), so content isn't exactly about to explode, either.
If you're in Japan, you could watch the first 8K television channel this year, due to launch in December. The idea is to make sure the tech is ready for a glorious 8K broadcast of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Various companies in countries all over the world have tested 8K transmissions, but mass rollouts aren't expected soon.
That said, Vimeo now has 8K support for videos, and YouTube likes to be at the forefront of these things, so 8K streaming looks to be the future, assuming your internet can handle it.
8K gaming: PS5, Xbox, PC
Gaming in 8K is sort of possible, if you have a ridiculously powerful PC – you'll need two of the highest-end graphics cards running in tandem, and the games you play will have to have solid support for it.
Both of the next-gen consoles – Sony's PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – have promised to support 8K, but don't expect that to mean that every game will have a true 8K output. That level of power just isn't possible in small boxes right now.
But they will definitely have 8K HDMI support, and may use smart upscaling techniques (similar to what's used now by the PS4 Pro for some demanding 4K games) to create something that looks impressively close to 8K. Time will tell.
So, really, you'll mostly be upscaling existing content. But with a really good upscaler from a 4K video, you actually can still make the most of those extra pixels, especially on a really big screen. It won't look as good as native 8K, but it will look better than 4K, and on a big screen size, that's great.
From HD, upscaling to 8K won't look great – look at how SD looks even on the very best 4K TVs. SD upscaled to 8K will look like a Jackson Pollock.
8K TV: what HDMI cable do I need?
Now this is an important – and sexy – question. You can't use the one that came free with your DVD player in 2011, but there is a new HDMI standard that's capable of pushing the number of pixels required for 8K over a single cable. It's called HDMI 2.1, and it has three times the bandwidth of previous HDMI connections.
HDMI 2.1 is backwards compatible with previous HDMI connections, so it's all good for 4K or Full HD using your existing cables, but if you want to connect an 8K source to it, you may need a new higher-speed cable. Cables that are certified to use the full bandwidth of the new connection type are labelled Ultra High Speed HDMI. Whoah.
8K TV: is it worth upgrading?
It really could be, but not for the reason you'd assume. Normally, a big resolution jump comes, and we recommend upgrading so you can see beautiful videos in the new resolution… but we've already said that's not the case here.
No, the reason you should buy the one of the best 8K TVs (ie the ones listed above) is because they represent the pinnacle of TV tech – buy them because you want the finest motion processing, HDR performance and colour reproduction known to man. Buy them if you want the best TV available, regardless of resolution.
That's not to totally discount that the higher resolution could be a benefit for you, though. There's a good reason 8K TVs often come in bigger-than-65-inch sizes – that's where you can actually see an improvement over buying a 4K TV.
If you live in an average-sized home, with a 50- to 65-inch TV maximum, it's not going to be worth it, unless you want to sit really close to the screen and pick on every drop of detail.
But if you've got a bigger space, and are looking at 70-inch+ TVs (or even projectors, since there are 98-inch 8K TVs available), then an 8K TV is seriously worth considering.