Get Ready: 8K TV is Next Up

At the recent CES 2018 in Las Vegas, the managers of the new Sharp Corp. rolled out their vision for an 8K consumer video future featuring 8K Super Hi-Vision (SHV) TV.

Sharp, now under the direction of giant Taiwan electronics manufacturer Hon Hai Precision/Foxconn Electronics, has set its sights on leading the development of this next-generation ecosystem. Sharp executives see 8K as an opportunity to build the brand anew at the top of the premium market, instead of the middle of the mainstream one, where it left off. Even more, it views it as being closer than many people think.

Ironically, Hisense, which is the current licensee of the Sharp brand for televisions in the United States, is using the logo to build distribution partners and market share among price-aggressive mass merchants and big box retailers, as well as AV specialists.

As reported here, Sharp, under the control of Foxconn’s chairman Terry Gou, waged a fierce legal battle in an attempt to reclaim the Sharp brand name for television marketing in North America from China-based Hisense. But that battle has subsided as Foxconn has dropped legal challenges against Hisense.

At the same time, Sharp says the new giant 10.5 Gen LCD panel fab it will build in Wisconsin will eventually produce 8K displays as well as other large-format panels. In what company executives told us was an admittedly “ambitious” schedule, Sharp expects to break ground this spring with the start of production slated for late 2020.

A Sharp-branded 70-inch 8K SHV television was demonstrated in its showroom during CES 2018. The set is now selling in the Japanese market and was described as “a true shipping unit,” unlike the 8K prototypes featured on the show floor by major brands like Samsung. According to marketing executives, Sharp has already released a version in China, and has plans to release another in Europe in March. No North American plans were disclosed.

Sharp is manufacturing the set at its factory in Japan using an RGB-based LED-LCD panel. This is a departure from the premium RGBY panels that were marketed by the Japanese manufacturer around the world several years ago, before Foxconn’s involvement.

Japan is the epicenter of the emerging 8K ecosystem. And it is where the new set can leverage the availability of “true 8K broadcasting,” which is underway by pioneering Japanese television broadcasting concern NHK. Compressing the video is key to broadcasting the bandwidth-hungry programming, and the 8K SHVTV platform makes use of the popular HEVC/H.265 digital compression standard. HEVC is the same compression scheme that is widely used for 4K Ultra HD streaming services, Ultra HD Blu-ray players, UHD satellite TV services, and in the ATSC 3.0 digital terrestrial standard (now being transmitted in South Korea).

But even with the heavy lifting of the HEVC compression, 8K signals—which are so massive that an uncompressed 8K SHV signal would require a data volume of 144 Gbps—are currently distributed in Japan via satellite that can provide the required bandwidth.

A “true UHD” experience encompasses more than the lines of resolution and will include multiple types of high dynamic range (HDR) schemes, wide color gamut and higher frame rates. These, too, contribute to the massive size of the programs and perpetuate the ever-increasing desire for more bandwidth. Sharp envisions future distribution of 8K signals will also be over next-generation 5G standard networks that promise much greater network capacity.

Delivering sophisticated 8K services won’t be easy, but Sharp and other industry stakeholders are moving at a pace that suggests that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics—which will prominently feature 8K broadcasts in Japan—will be the springboard to a consumer 8K TV market. Initially, the sets won’t be cheap. The average tag for a Sharp 70-inch 8K TV, as determined across regional markets, runs “in the low five figures,” according to Sharp executives. Once other manufacturers join the party, set prices will drop as with every other new resolution format before it.

Get ready, kids, 8K is coming.