Why We Need 8K Resolution - and Fast

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Virtual reality needs more pixels if it’s to get anywhere near the mainstream.

The 4K era is here. Sales of 4K TVs, sometimes called Ultra HD, have been rocketing in the last year or so, and soon it will be difficult to buy a TV that doesn’t have a 4K resolution. So how does the TV industry respond? It jumps to 8K.

Does anyone need a TV containing 33 million pixels? Probably not, but they’re coming anyway. The reason is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; Japanese state broadcaster NHK plans to broadcast live 8K images, which ought to persuade at least some Japanese homes to upgrade. Test broadcasts begin at this year’s 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea so it’s on its way.

When it comes to TVs, what happens in Japan tends to happen everywhere else shortly after. Japan’s Sharp already sells an 85-inch 8K TV, the LV-85001, but it’s China that will likely dominate the 8K TV market. For example, Konka has been showing-off its T98 LED TV at trade shows, an enormous 98-inch 8K LED TV based on an Android operating system. Meanwhile, Changhong’s Q3R 8K TV comes in at both 98-inch and 65-inch, and Hisense’s LED98NU9800V ULED TV is another 98-incher.

Samsung, LG and Panasonic have also shown-off gigantic prototypes, and at CES in January 2018 many big brands showed their wares, with predictions that China will become the first 8K TV market.

For anyone wondering why 8K is even necessary, it helps to think about cameras. A Full HD TV offers a mere two-megapixel image, something that’s laughably low resolution compared to even smartphone screens and cameras. Ditto the paltry eight-megapixel images created by 4K TVs. Cue 8K, whose 32-megapixel pictures suddenly seen like a giant leap in immersive TV – and far closer to the capabilities of human vision.

 
 
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Who can house a 98-inch TV, however, is anyone’s guess – and it’s a clue to the real use for 8K. Your first experience of 8K may be in an electronics store on a giant TV, but it’s likely to enter your home first inside a virtual reality (VR) headset. VR requires video to look lifelike to be truly immersive and convincing; it’s no good wandering around a make-believe world if it looks fake and pixellated.

”The higher the resolution, the better for VR,” says Jeff Park, director of marketing at HDMI Licensing, whose new HDMI 2.1 cables for TVs allow them to display 8K images. “An increase in the fidelity is needed to make VR truly immersive,” he says, adding that HDMI 2.1 also includes new tech called variable refresh rate (VRR) that reduces image lag and stutter for much more fluid gaming. “VRR means no lag and a more immersive experience that you need for gaming, whether it’s traditional gaming or a cinematic ‘on the rails’ VR experience,” says Park. “You’ll get that immediate feedback and interaction.”

Most VR headsets currently manage a basic HD image per eye, and handheld controls are noticeably slow to respond to actions. It will be a while before VR headsets embrace 8K, but it will happen. 8K capture is now happening in Hollywood, with movie directors already using the latest RED Weapon 8K camera. Meanwhile 360-degree cameras such as the Nokia OZO, GoPro Omni VR and Insta360 Pro all capture in 8K.

Do you need an 8K TV? Not yet, since there won’t be much to watch in 8K for years to come, but the spread of VR means 8K resolution is set for a big future.

 
 

TechnologyFred Kirby