4K and Beyond: The Future of TV Viewing

If you’re into TV and technology, you may be one of the lucky ones who got their hands on a 4K TV and you’re now enjoying incredibly crisp, clear viewing. But you’ve also probably heard that 8K is creeping in, and that’s leaving some people a bit skeptical – 4K has just come out, why is 8K being launched so fast? Are the improvements that significant? Do we all need to run out and buy one, and will previous technologies become obsolete?

Let’s take a look at the broader image of TV viewing, how it has developed over the years, where it is now, and where it is likely to go in the next few years.

TV viewing – a technology in constant development

Ever since its invention and rapid adoption by the population at large, we’ve watched TV in a lot of different iterations and technologies – mechanical, electronic, black-and-white, color, 3D, digital, etc.

Even so, TV was lacking in major changes and breakthroughs after the 1950s, until HDTV was made available in the 90s. That marked the start of a long series of rapid upgrades over the last decades, and a constant increase in resolution. With that, came images that were crisper, more detailed, and clearer with every iteration.

And while viewers are always excited for an increase in quality, that also means that we cycle through the devices themselves pretty quickly. From 720p to 1080p, to 2K, to UHD, to 4K, to 8K, constantly switching from one technology to another can get expensive and frustrating. Where is the end of the line?

What is TV viewing technology like now?

Right now, we’re at a point where there are several types of TV technology and terms that are bandied about, including 4K, 8K, Ultra HD, Dolby Vision HDR, and HDR10+. We’re going to focus on 4K, because that’s all the rage and what a lot of streamers and TV companies seem to be focusing on right now.

Let’s talk a bit about 4K and what it is: 4K offers a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, for a total of 8.3 million pixels. That’s not bad at all, especially considering that it’s 4 times as many pixels as the previous best thing – full HD. That makes for a much crisper image.

Now, you may have heard 4K being referred to as UHD (Ultra HD), and while they’re similar enough, especially for the regular Joe, there is a difference of a few pixels: 4K is 4096 x 2160, while Ultra HD is 3840 x 2160. But perhaps that’s a bit nitpicky.

As you can imagine, that adds a lot of clarity to an image, higher definition, and a greater degree of detail. You need a larger screen to be able to enjoy the full effect (55 inches and up), but you’ll be able to notice an incredible difference even on a smaller screen, because of the denser pixels.

It was as close as you could get to a true-to-life image that allowed you to forget you were watching TV and not staring out the window. Until 8K came along, that is.

What is the difference between 4K and 8K?

The differences between 4K and 8K technology and whether they’re actually that significant depend a lot on who you ask and whether or not the find it worth it. However, the upgrade is not all vanity, and there are some differences that cannot be ignored.

If 4K has 4 times the pixels of full HD, 8K has 4 times the pixels of 4K, with a 7680 x 4320 resolution, sitting at around 33.2 million pixels. That’s a lot of pixels. And yes, there is a marked difference in quality.

All those extra pixels? Four times as many? They all contribute to making the image crisper and more detailed than you can imagine. You almost won’t be able to see the different pixels, as the image achieved is incredibly clear and homogenous, with no annoying “grid” effect. You need to go big to get the best effect, though – 65 inches.

When can we expect 8K content?

Okay, but 8K sounds magnificent and we can’t wait to start watching stuff in unbelievable quality on our huge TVs! Not so fast – if you were getting excited about viewing your favorite programs in 8K, we’re sorry to disappoint, but you’ll be waiting a while. A long while. A few years, in fact. Japan is playing around with some content in 8K, and there is some content available on YouTube right now. So, it’s not missing entirely from the market.

However, what we’re lacking is the technology to actually support this kind of quality. Despite hosting the 8K content, the YouTube TV app still has a maximum capacity of 4K, for example. The best movies in Hollywood are shot only in 2K, no matter how high-quality and how insane their visuals are. So, it’s all a bit redundant and a bit disappointing.

Do you need an 8K TV?

As excited as we all are about this development, we still have a bit of a wait ahead before we can enjoy this kind of quality on the daily. So, what do you need an 8K TV for? Why do these devices even exist, and what are the advantages of owning one?

PRO: So, maybe they can’t be used for their explicit intended purpose – watching content in 8K. However, no one is stopping you from enjoying the highest quality content you’ve got at your disposal. If you’re a technology enthusiast, and you’re willing to pay for the bump in quality, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

CON: Yes, there are some advantages in terms of quality and clarity, even in absence of dedicated, native content, but the truth is that the slight improvements don’t really make that kind of price hike worth it for a lot of people. Especially if you’ve purchased a 4K TV fairly recently, running out to buy an 8K one would just be a waste of money.

So, let’s address what it really comes down to – do you need an 8K TV right now? The short answer is no, you don’t need an 8K TV, especially not for the purpose of watching 8K content. 8K content is far from being readily available, so the device is certainly not needed right now.

In fact, looking at the timeline of the actual content made for these TVs, you could be looking at waiting several years before you need one, so you won’t fall behind. You’re safe with your 4K one, for now.

Where is TV viewing technology going?

We’ve been moving faster and faster with technology, changes, upgrades, and transformations. We’ve got driverless cars now, devices that talk to you, and 8K TVs – after all that, what’s next?

More 8K content and a more widespread use of 8K resolution TV is a definite shift we’re going to see, but it doesn’t stop there, by any means. That being said, some say that 8K is as far as we can realistically go in the near future, in terms of resolution. A 16K resolution (or 32K, why not?) is possible, but the human eye cannot perceive the difference, so that makes it a bit redundant.

But that doesn’t mean other aspects of the technology or the viewing experience won’t change. LG recently unveiled a roll-up TV screen that is going to rock our world once it makes it into the mainstream and might even change the way we watch TV, forever.

Final thoughts

TV viewing technology has really been on a fast track in recent years, with newer and newer developments popping up. Sometimes, it feels like right when you break down and finally decide to spring for the newest TV, a new breakthrough crops up, that is vastly superior in quality to the expensive one you just bought.

That’s the case with 8K TVs, which are now showing up just a few years after 4K became a thing, leaving a lot of people wondering about this new technology – what’s different about it? Is it worth it? And when can we use it to its full potential?

While 8K comes with some visible improvements in terms of image quality, the quality of the content hasn’t quite caught up yet, so there’s no rush on making the technology switch. 4K is still your best bet for now, but in the next few years, as 8K content will become more widely available, 8K TVs should become commonplace.

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