How TV types are getting ready to sell 8K

Samsung, which sponsored the 8K Display Summit in New York, was on hand to show off its next-generation TV sets. (Samsung)

NEW YORK—Marketing for 8K television may need to add a warning: math involved.

And that arithmetic could get much more complicated than “eight is twice four.” Selling customers on $4,000-and-up 8K sets only a few years after 4K’s advent (and subsequent pricing plunge below $1,000) could require coaching them away from traditional formulas for sufficient resolution.

Presentations and talks last Tuesday at the 8K Display Summit, hosted by Insight Media and sponsored by Samsung, followed by a panel of industry executives Thursday at the CE Week conference, outlined the difficulty involved in this shift.

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How many pixels are enough?

“We know there's a lot of naysayers out there,” said Insight Media founder (and 8K Association executive director) Chris Chinnock during the summit. “They don't understand why we need more pixels.”

Since Apple introduced iPhones with “retina displays,” industry observers have relied on the same calculation to determine when a display’s constituent pixels are too small for average human eyesight to distinguish. 

By that math, the 7,680 by 4,320 pixels of a 65-inch 8K screen—what Samsung Displays marketing director Sonia Chen called the minimum viable 8K size during her summit talk—drop below that threshold from just 25 inches away. From 51 inches away, a 4K screen of the same size would appear just as sharp as the 8K display to average eyes.

Summit speaker and PHFX.com director Phil Holland, however, outlined a “Window Effect” formula that incorporates viewing distances to gauge a display’s immersiveness. That suggests a 65-inch 8K set would be “excellent” for viewing from six feet away, while a 4K screen that big would only be “very good.”

FF Pictures owner Florian Friedrich walked summit attendees through another formula (“not rocket science,” one slide said, but “simple trigonometry and quantization theory”) incorporating field of view. He, too, endorsed viewing a 65-inch 8K screen from some six feet away. 

Friedrich also staged a demo in which 8K looked obviously superior to 4K from several feet away: On the 4K screen, slowly rotating narrow lines visibly shimmered, while on the 8K display they remained smooth.

There’s always the option of sitting closer—“the ability to have a larger screen size in a smaller space,” as LG Electronics USA senior product-marketing director Tim Alessi said at CE Week.

Discontent over content

Different equations drove discussions of 8K’s Internet-streaming bandwidth—the only likely near-term distribution channel for movies or TV.

Spin Digital CEO Mauricio Alvarez-Mesa called 85 megabits per second a minimum rate with today’s H.265 HEVC codec, assuming 60 frames per second. Real-time streaming can be less efficient; he noted that live-streaming 8K demo at this spring’s NAB Show required 100 to 120 Mbps. 

But speakers at the summit and the CE Week panel recommended 120 frames per second to distinguish 8K from 4K. 

“We were watching serves without the replay, and we could tell if they were in or out,” Holland said of 120 fps tennis footage. 

Mesa suggested the VVC codec, due in 2020, could halve the bit rate… eventually. “VVC is coming, but do not expect these 50% gains to come very soon,” he said. 

Next-generation, 8K-ready video-game consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox Project Scarlett and Sony’s PlayStation 5 plugged into 8K sets, however, can dodge bandwidth issues.

At CE Week, Sharp Home Electronics Company of America president Jim Sanduski also nodded to photos and videos from 8K owners. “User-generated content, I think, will be an early lead,” he said, adding that 8K’s 33-megapixel resolution comfortably exceeds that of consumer-grade cameras. 

In the meantime, 8K manufacturers are touting how their sets will apply increasingly advanced algorithms to upconvert 4K and even HDTV content. 

Samsung TV product-marketing vice president Andrew Sivori said Thursday at CE Week: “It's taking everything you already had, the content you already had, and making everything look that much better.”

Supply-chain pressures

A summit presentation by Display Supply Chain Consultants co-founder Bob O’Brien underscored how much of this is supply-side driven—a growing crop of Gen 10.5 factories in China cranking out 65- and 75-inch panels.

“This wave of investment is being driven not necessarily by raw economics, but by China government subsidies,” he said. 

Emphasizing that earlier bouts of Chinese factory building devoured profit margins in mass-market sets, O’Brien outlined three escape routes: switching to OLED (which he warned remains “more than twice as expensive” as LCD), incorporating such advanced LCD technologies as QLED, or moving to 8K.

Analyst Avi Greengart of Techsponential made a similar observation in an interview at CE Week.

“They can make it, and they need differentiation at retail, so they are making it,” he said. “That’s not to say there’s no benefit to 8K, but the benefit tends to be that people who are making 8K TVs are also including things like extremely bright high dynamic range.”

But the HDR features deployed in mere 4K TVs are bringing the same overall advances in color and brightness range to much cheaper sets. That helps explain why the research firm IHS Markit recently downgraded its forecasts for 8K shipments.

In an email after the summit, Chinnock defended the idea of chasing a premium market with 8K but warned that Chinese firms can run the same play.

“Sony, LG and Samsung are enjoying margin today that brands have never achieved before,” he said, citing DSSC research into their premium-focused strategy. “But the quality of Chinese brands is catching up.”

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