Will 8K Strangle 4K in the Crib?

Another Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has come and gone and, as expected, this year’s show was awash in 4K. There were 4K TVs, of course, but also 4K recording DSLRs, 4K recording drones, 4K recording smartphones and 4K monitors. Not surprisingly, we see a rosy future for 4K TV, forecasting unit shipments of more than 50 million worldwide (growth of 147% from 2015).

Yet, CES played host to more than a parade of 4K technology—8K video made an appearance as well. Both Samsung and LG, for instance, showed off massive (and massively expensive) 8K displays. Other 8K news at CES was confined to chip suppliers. SiTune, for instance, launched a satellite tuner to support 8K broadcasts, while the MHL Consortium touted a next-gen, 32-pin connector capable of supporting 8K video and Dolby Digital Plus audio. Panasonic also showed off a cable and connector that could transmit an uncompressed 8K video signal.

Modest announcements, yes, but 8K product news has been steadily trickling into the public’s eye ever since Japan pledged to broadcast the 2020 Olympics in 8K. At the Canon Expo in New York in the fall of 2015, the company showed both an 8K video camera and an 8K monitor. Sharp is already marketing a 4K TV—the Aquos 4K Next LC-80XU30—that can upscale a 4K signal to 8K. As we edge closer to 2020 Olympics, it’s a given that we’ll see even more 8K hardware.

That raises the inevitable question: Is 8K coming too fast on the heels of 4K?

While it will be years for 8K to reach maturity, there is a risk, however modest, that a growing awareness of 8K could dampen consumer enthusiasm for 4K. Despite strong growth, 4K TV shipments represent a relatively small percentage of overall TV demand. The more the word “8K” trickles into the public lexicon, the more consumers may wonder why they need a 4K TV when the next big thing is already looming on the horizon. No surprise, then, that those with a huge stake in 4K are quickly swatting down the near-term prospects for 8K. Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt told Digital Spy that 8K “is only interesting if you’re going to sit too close to the TV.” The same, of course, has been said about 4K.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is taking its first steps into the 8K world. Guardians of the Galaxy II will be shot in 8K using a new cinema camera from RED, and other films are almost certain to follow.

High definition video enjoyed a more than a decade’s worth of sales before it faced a serious challenger. It’s an open question whether 4K video will enjoy a similar run.