8K TV is Around the Corner—No Kidding

Edward VIII was 39 years old when he was coronated King of Britain in early 1936. The eldest son of the late monarch, George V, the relatively young Edward was expected to serve a long tenure as monarch. But shockingly, less than a year after his crowning, Edward abdicated to marry an American divorcé, Mrs. Wallace Simpson. As a result, his younger brother, George VI, served a 15-plus-year term as king, and was followed in 1952 by his daughter, the amazingly still-serving Elizabeth II.

Believe it or not, this meander into British royal history is analogous to what is happening in the higher-resolution TV business.

DTC projects 43.6 million UHD sets will be sold this year worldwide, up from 25.5 million last year and up from just 12.8 million in 2014.

Obviously, the sales growth of UHD sales ain’t news. What is news may be the Edward VIII-like short reign of UHD altogether.

At the IFA Global Press Conference (GPC) last week in Hong Kong, held in conjunction with the inaugural IFA-organized CE China confab, we were told that 1.4m 8K Super Hi-Vision (SHV) TVs would ship in 2019, with another 2.1m in 2020.

Wait. 8K? Didn’t 4K TVs just go on sale less than four years ago?

Admittedly, these 8K sales projections aren’t enormous numbers. What’s surprising is that we’re even talking about sales of 8K sets at all. After all, 4K TVs haven’t even reached 20 percent penetration rate yet.

So why the hell are we even talking about 8K?

TV makers logically aren’t talking about 8K—why confuse the consumers to whom they’re trying to sell 4K? But content makers have been preparing for an 8K SHV future.

For instance, several recent sporting events, including the 50th Super Bowl, have been shot in 8K by NHK, which is also planning live 8K broadcasts of the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Rio. YouTube has already started stocking up on 8K videos (here and here, not that anyone can watch either in 8K—yet), and most Hollywood films shot on film can now be transferred into 8K. Plus, there were demonstrations of 8K at this year’s NAB, and the coming ATSC 3.0 standard will be expandable to 8K. To be fair, there have been 8K demonstrations at NAB and IBC for several years.

The China-8K Connection

Boding well for the too-soon-to-arrive future prospects of 8K is China.

At the GPC presentations in Hong Kong, we were told that 28 percent of the world’s middle class currently resides in APAC. By 2030, this percentage is projected to zoom to 66 percent. Considering developed Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Singapore, have likely reached their middle class max, and considering the growing economies in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and other developing APAC countries are tiny by comparison, this leaves India and (duh) China as the major APAC middle class growth economies.

This growing Chinese middle class has been a robust early adopter of 4K, accounting for nearly a third of all global UHD set sales, despite the fact that “4” is the “13” of China. The Chinese word for “4” is nearly phonetically identical to the word for “death,” and most buildings in the country lack a fourth floor, skipping from 3F to 5F. Knowing this, it’s sort of surprising 4K TV has been so popular in China.

But the number 8 in China is akin to lucky number 7 in the west. The Chinese word for “8” sounds like the Chinese word for getting rich, with sub-meanings of prosperity, success and status. What nouveau middle class Chinese citizen, already inclined toward omens and talismans, wouldn’t want to buy something that even hints at an even more improved economic condition?

The confluence timing of the Chinese middle class growth spurt, combined with the projected appearance of 8K, could hasten the rise of Chinese TV vendors and 8K overall. For one thing, Sharp, one of the few companies to consistently exhibit 8K sets at the last few CESs and IFAs, was bought last year by China’s top TV vendor Hisense, giving the latter a leg-up on 8K. Where Hisense goes, other Chinese TV vendors are sure to follow.

So is UHD the TV version of Edward VIII to 8K’s George VI/Elizabeth II? We’ll likely have a better idea by the time Charles III/George VII or William V takes the British throne.