The 8K TV Shanda

TV makers, attempting to cure themselves of their self-inflicted 4K narrow-margin woes, are again hawking a shiny new—and expensive—technology that offers few near-term consumer benefits. The question for TV makers and the marketplace is this: Will 8K provide more evidence for the oft-quoted definition of insanity—that is, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result—or does 8K have better long-term prospects than the two previous failed TV maker margin-increasing attempts, 3D and curved TVs?

Even if the answer is the latter, this first generation of 8K TVs won’t deliver much value because future content distribution may not be compatible with the first-generation sets. That makes selling pricey 8K TVs a “shanda” (שאנד), a Yiddish word loosely defined as an act by one or a few that brings shame on the entire group.

8K’s inherent lack of content issues have been previously explored in this space (see “Get Ready for a Long Road to 8K“). But at CES earlier this year, there were signs that the 8K TV community understands the adoption hurdles and is trying to get more organized for the long term.

For instance, several TV makers—conspicuously minus LG and Sony—have organized the 8K Association. The association’s members say they understand both 8K’s short-term problems and long-term prospects, as well as the need to communicate the value proposition to consumers. Association members see 8K as being like 4K as it will mature and the pieces for broader adoption and a wider ecosystem will come to pass over time.

Earlier this year, the four largest TV brands announced definitive 8K make/model availability and pricing: Samsung is now selling 65- , 75- , 82- and 85-inch 8K QLED models; LG announced five 8K models due later this year, an 88-inch OLED and four LCD NanoCell sets in 80- , 85- , 90- and 95-inch versions; Sony bowed 85- and 98-inch XBR 8K models; and, TCL unveiled a 75-inch Roku 8K QLED model as part of its 8-Series line for the U.S. market, and a Q10 QLED Android version, presumably for the rest of the world.

8K’s Future Prospects

The “shanda” of selling first generation 8K TVs stems from their lack of future compatibility for 8K content delivery—or anything else.

First off, it will likely be years before there can be any 8K transmissions from terrestrial broadcasters. While ATSC 3.0 can theoretically be upgraded to accommodate 8K transmissions, TV stations are only now testing ATSC 3.0 4K broadcasting. Other broadcast platforms—primarily DTH satellite and cable—could technically carry 8K broadcasts encoded in HEVC, which is how NHK is transmitting its first 8K content in Japan. But it’s unlikely that others will follow suit anytime soon as many have only recently begun 4K broadcasting.

If not 8K broadcast or physical media, then streaming is the next option for delivering 8K content. Well, forget that option in the near-term. While HDMI 2.1, included on all announced 8K sets, can handle 8K, it’s unlikely that bandwidth-squeezed streaming networks can deliver 8K content with current tools and infrastructure.

8K Content Ecosystem Developments

Several technological developments hold promise for future 8K transmissions. The first is VVC (Versatile Video Coding), a more efficient codec currently under development, aimed at achieving up to 50 percent compression efficiency compared to HEVC while maintaining video quality.

Also, several networking equipment suppliers and ISPs including Comcast, Charter/Spectrum, Arris, Asus, Netgear, TP-Link and D-Link, recently announced first-generation Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) gear. Wi-Fi 6 is geometrically more efficient than Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and capable of transferring content three times faster.

And, for mobile 8K consumption, the greatly improved transmission speeds promised by 5G proponents will provide more efficient networks within which content may travel.

But these necessary codec, broadcast, Wi-Fi and cellular advances (and subsequent mass-consumer penetrations) are a LONG way off from supporting an 8K content distribution ecosystem.

For instance, according to Fraunhofer, development on VVC is aimed at more efficient 4K encoding, not 8K, and developers have thus far reached “only” 30-35 percent efficiency over the HEVC codec. The target for finalizing VVC standards is sometime in 2020, and chipsets are unlikely to appear until 2022-23.

While the first Wi-Fi 6 routers are just now creeping into the market, actual compatible Wi-Fi 6 products—including smart TVs—won’t appear until later this year at the earliest. And while there’s been a lot of 5G hype, mass rollout of these next-gen wireless networks by carriers isn’t likely until next year and will require several years of infrastructure upgrades before being able to deliver services to the masses.

In the meantime, a lot can happen to TV technology in the next three-to-five years, such as more powerful processing, higher frame rates (HFR), better integrated smart home functions, more advanced HDR and built-in AR or VR capabilities. All these improvements will presumably enhance any 8K experience.

That means any 8K TV bought today will be well behind the times when an 8K ecosystem is established.

And that’s a shanda.