8K TVs: What Can You Actually Watch On Them?
If you look at any 8K TV review, there’s one question you will see over and over: Where is the 8K content? In 2018, the first 8K TVs were launched. Three years later, 8K media remains virtually non-existent.
The 8K Association is the industry body responsible for 8K certification. They admit to the current situation by saying this: “We admit it’s not as easy as flipping to any TV station to find beautiful 8K content.
Wow, that’s a huge understatement. Here are the facts and where you can find 8K content.
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8K content: The Chicken, The Egg, and The Pandemic Special
The new formats face a chicken-and-egg problem. New hardware is required to support the latest formats. Media in the new format must be supported to make it worth the expense of buying hardware that supports them. Movie and TV production often evolves slowly as new standards must filter through to editing software and camera equipment.
Recent events have exacerbated all of these issues. It was predicted that 2020 would be the year of 8K content. For the holidays, the Tokyo Summer Olympics were to be broadcast at full 8K resolution.
The year of 8K didn’t go according to plan, just like most 2020 things. The PS5 and Xbox Series X have arrived, but 8K gaming has not been enabled. Therefore, the Tokyo Olympics were rescheduled for July with NHK’s 8K broadcast. We are now in the middle 2021. 8K TVs can be purchased, some at a reasonable price, but 8K content remains unavailable.
It’s possible that 8K media will not be available for years. In 2031, we could still be writing articles about whether or not it is worth investing in an 8K TV and how to locate and watch 8K content.
8K content: What can you watch
You might be interested in an 8K TV, or have spent a few thousand dollars on one already. Here’s where to find 8K media right now.
We’ll go over each option in more detail. The short answer is that 8K video is still very rare, and 8K movies and shows made professionally are still scarce.
The 8K TV owner will have the largest selection of media. This means that you can still access upscaled media. You can burn 4K and 1080p media to your 8K TV. You can still find 8K video on select streaming sites, and enjoy 8K gaming (as long as you have the right hardware).
There are several other options available in the near future. Broadcast technology may soon be able to support 8k content. 8K sports could become a reality in the next year.
Let’s take a closer look at each option.
8K content: Upscaling
Talk to any TV manufacturer and you’ll hear a lot about upscaling.
The good news? 4K content can be upscaled to 8K resolution and looks great.
Upscaling allows lower resolution content to display correctly (and hopefully look better) when displayed on a larger resolution screen. It simply adds more pixels to the image, which allows lower resolution images to be displayed on a larger screen. Pixel doubling is the most common form of scaling. It transforms a single pixel into an expanded 2×2 cluster. This will transform a 1920×1080 image into a 3840×2160 pixel image. Repeating the process over and over again will fill the 8K display’s 7680×4320 pixels.(Image credit to: Judith S.)
Pixel doubling is an inefficient method that results in poor-looking images on high resolution displays. Television manufacturers used a variety of technical tricks in the past to upscaling. These included anti-aliasing and smoothing, which removes jagged edges created by simple pixel doubling, and color distribution to create natural looking objects.
The upscaling must be much better on 8K TVs which will upscale 720p imagery from broadcast TV as well as 4K Blu-ray movies. Manufacturers are now using machine learning to drive upscaling. This allows them to identify objects and pick out different kinds of scenery. It can even predict textures and patterns that might not have been in the original content.
Because there isn’t much available yet, 4K and lower resolution content are far and away the best content for an 8K TV. The latest upscaling technology is far superior to anything we have seen in the past.
The good news? 4K content looks great when scaled up to 8K resolution. It’s more difficult to achieve lower resolution content. This applies whether you are streaming 1080p shows from Netflix or watching 720p programs on major networks. It doesn’t matter how clever the upscaling, it will still be obvious that something is being enlarged several times the original content’s size and resolution.
8K content: Streaming
It’s impossible to talk about modern TVs without mentioning streaming. But if you want 8K movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime, you won’t have much luck. Some streaming giants have not announced plans to add 8K content in the near future. Others, such as HBO Max, launched without any 4K content. They have since added some 4K titles to their site, but not all TVs or devices support it.
The bandwidth issue is also a concern. Netflix recommends that you have at least 25Mbps download speed to stream Ultra HD 4K content. Sony’s Bravia Core streaming service, which promises true lossless streaming in 4K Ultra HD, can be used up to 80Mbps to stream ultra HD. To learn more, please visit our guide What internet speed am I looking for?
Streaming 8K content will require more. It has four times as much resolution as 4K and up to 120 frames per second (double the 60 frames per minute that 4K usually uses).
HDMI 2.1 is the first HDMI standard to handle 8K. It has 48 Gbps bandwidth. The minimum bitrate for streaming 8K video in HD will be 100 Mbps, even with the use of undeveloped compression technologies. Given that median download speeds were roughly 86 Mbps for homes in the U.S. last year (according to Speedtest.net), it’s unlikely that we’ll have widely available broadband to support 8K streaming anytime soon.
Where can you stream 8K video online? There are very few options. YouTube and Vimeo allow you to stream 8K video. There will be a limited selection of landscapes to choose from and similar stock footage options.
NASA also offers 8K footage for download. This includes the 2018 8K video of Earth, as well as other 8K videos. It’s also available online at YouTube.
8K Gaming Content
Although the latest consoles promise 8K gaming, neither one delivers. The custom AMD hardware used by the Xbox Series X and the PS5 can produce up to 8K resolution with frame rates of up to 60Hz. Sadly, neither console has fulfilled that promise as there aren’t any games that take advantage this resolution.
You will need a gaming computer with either an AMD Radeon RX6800 or Nvidia RTX 3090 to play 8K games. You’ll only be able to play a few games at 8K resolution, as almost everything is designed to be. You’ll probably get the best 4K content, just like movies and TV shows.
8K content: Make your own videos
A camera phone is the best way to get 8K video on your television.
You might be able to make 8K content from your own camera. You don’t have to spend tens of thousands on a Red Helium 8K cam – that’s what Hollywood uses – but you can make use of the 8K video capabilities of your Samsung Galaxy S21 to get 8K video on your TV.
A smartphone is probably your best option. A few smartphones we reviewed offer 8K video. These include the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Asus ROG Phone 5. If landscape timelapses appeal to you, any 35 megapixel camera with 35 megapixels can capture images at 8K resolution.
Even if you are content to gather video in short snippets of 3-5 minutes and skip editing, you will still face the same production problems that Hollywood faces – it’s still a lot of work to get the most out of your 8K TV.
Videophiles still prefer physical media even in an age of streaming. It makes sense therefore to envision 8K Blu-ray discs in the future.
Ultra HD Blu-ray offers 4K movies on 4K TVs. However, 4K enthusiasts will know that there are very few options. Even 4K movies like Avengers Infinity War, aren’t actually 4K. They’re just 2K source material, scaled up to 4K and not that different from what your TV does with full HD video.
A Blu-ray 3.0 triple-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 100GB. This might be sufficient for an 8K movie. However, it will need some serious compression. Raw 8K footage weighs 121.5 GB per hour, and a full-hour of footage results in a massive 7.29 TB file. Digital files will get even bigger if metadata is added, such as high-dynamic range or deeper color depth.
There should be plenty of 8K movies available once streaming and media formats are established. Many recent movies have been shot in 8K. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is the first major Hollywood movie to be shot at this higher resolution.
Most productions using 8K cameras don’t plan to release an 8K version. They shoot in 8K to allow them to reframe shots, tighten in on actors’ faces in the editing room and preserve the resolution of the 4K movie.
8K Sports content
Super Bowl channel
The Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed, will feature 8K. Audiences can stream or download the content online.
Sports will be the most likely place where 8K content is actually made. 8K content will still be featured at the Tokyo Olympics, with 8K live footage being shared in Japan by NHK and 8K streaming online for international audiences.
Samsung and BT Sport have teamed together in Europe to offer Premier League, Champions League matches in 8K. LG shot a single Premier League match at 8K in late 2019, but that was mainly a move to gather demo material for LG 8K sets.
Equipment for live events can be more expensive than equipment for movies. The Sony UHC-8300 camera costs about half a million dollars. On-site production equipment can also be expensive and must be upgraded to meet the increasing demands for data storage and data.
8K Content Broadcast
ClearStream 2Max HDTV Antenna
All this 8K content will be delivered most efficiently to antenna users. NextGen TV, or ATSC 3.0 in broadcast TV, offers better signal bandwidth than the current transmission standards and can deliver 4K content over the air.
Recent tests with multiple antennas showed that 8K signal can work over-the air using MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology, similar to modern Wi-Fi gear.
ATSC 3.0 broadcasts have been introduced in many cities across the country. The first TVs equipped with ATSC 3.0 tuners were launched in 2020. It’s still early days for NextGen TV. The rollout is slow, just like 8K TVs.
8K content: Long-term outlook
8K TVs are a significant upgrade to 4K. I have seen enough of them to know that it is worth the investment. It’s a stunning improvement in picture quality, and it will change the way you view entertainment.
However, every time I am asked if an 8K TV is worth purchasing now, my answer is not just “no”, but “not for long”. The biggest reason is the lack of 8K content. Television shoppers may overlook many things – size, complexity, and unfinished standards – but they only care if they get something in return. There is no 8K content anywhere. That steeplechase has no prize. 8K TVs are a complicated, expensive and costly way to view 4K movies right now.
This could all change in the next year. The Olympics could be a turning point. 8K adoption might be enough to drive development in streaming and home media. Gaming could suddenly boom, provided that GPUs and current gaming consoles are widely available. It might happen sooner than we all expect. However, I am not betting on it.