8K TVs at the CES show in Las Vegas: a new year’s resolution

Chinese companies showcase their 65-inch and 98-inch ultra-high definition TVs at the trade show, while 4K televisions are noticeable by their absence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 7:02am

Standing in front of six new LG 3mm-thin OLED TVs on a revolving platform at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, it’s hard not to think that we’ve reached the peak of what television designers can achieve. But perhaps even more eye-catching at the trade event in Las Vegas was the showcase of 8K TVs at the Samsung booth.

Although Samsung’s 65-inch and 98-inch 8K TVs were only concepts and not for sale, there were plenty of other brands prepared to demonstrate that 8K TVs are ready to go.

With four times more resolution than the 4K TVs now in stores, and a whopping 16 times more detailed than the Full HD TVs most of us have in our living rooms, there are already signs that the 8K TV will take off first in China and Japan.

Given that Chinese companies are now top tier manufacturers in the TV market, Hisense, Skyworth and Changhong showed off 65-inch and even 98-inch 8K TVs at the CES.

Many think that 8K is just over the top, that the 33 megapixel images they show are above and beyond what anyone wants or needs, but TV manufacturers beg to differ.

At the CES, 4K TVs – which are quickly becoming standard in stores – were conspicuous by their absence. They’re yesterday’s news.

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According to analysis from IHS Market, sales of 4K TVs have been doing well in the past year, and they’re forecast to sell 78 million in 2017, up from 56 million in 2016. But more than that, the push for higher resolution TVs is making us buy larger television sets.

“We’ve almost competed the switchover to 4K in large screen sizes,” says Paul Gagnon,a research director at IHS Market, adding that the 50-inch+ TV market will be 100 per cent 4K in a few years.

So why not go even bigger? That’s exactly what Chinese TV makers are thinking. “4K has already become a fact of life in larger TVs, so everyone’s looking at the next thing,” says Gagnon, who thinks that we’ll see the first 8K TVs go on sale in 2018.

“China can make them now, no problem,” he says. The CES also saw Dell launch the first 8K resolution PC monitor, with its 32-inch UP3218K set to sell for US$4,999 (HK$38,780) when it launches in March.

If you think it’s too soon for the 8K era, it’s largely down to the business reality of surviving in the TV market.

“8K is happening relatively shortly after the introduction of 4K, so it might put people off upgrading to 4K,” says Gagnon, but the profit margin compresses so fast that hardware manufacturers need to look beyond 4K as soon as possible.

However, a lack of 8K content means this resolution revolution won’t be quick. Film directors are beginning to use a new 8K camera called the Red Weapon, but the main source of 8K content won’t come along until the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, which Japanese state broadcaster NHK plans to film and transmit domestically in 8K resolution.

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It may seem like a big step too soon for many, but the jump from 4K to 8K is only about giving TVs the same pixel density as the phone you stare at every day.

However, for those after perfection there is one catch; OLED TVs don’t come with 8K resolution just yet, so if you want both ultra-slim and ultra-detailed, you’re going to have to take a long-term view.

But for most of us, ultra-slim TV screen is already a giant leap forward in home entertainment. For years we’ve all wanted flatter, better, higher resolution TVs, but by the time 2017 is over, there probably won’t be much tech left for TV designers to explore.

Near to LG’s so-called “wallpaper” TV exhibit at CES was a 10 metre-wide tunnel completely plastered in OLED TVs that together showed entrancing images of the universe in motion. Can LG make OLED tech go mainstream?

Short for organic light-emitting diode, OLED is essentially a new – and more expensive – way of creating light for a TV. The depth ofLG’s Signature W OLED TV (the “W” stands for wallpaper) is just 2.57mm thin.

It’s hard to tell in an exhibition centre, but the Signature W OLED TV seemed to have at least as impressive colours and deep blacks as LG’s other OLED TVs.

With that in mind LG also announced its far more affordable (and not quite as slim) OLED E7 and LG Signature OLED G7 TVs in January, but the future of OLED technology really depends not on what LG does, but on what other TV brands do.

OLED panels are manufactured only by LG, which desperately needs more customers if it’s to expand production in South Korea.

Sony has announced that it will also sell OLED TVs in 2017, with the panels sourced from LG. The Sony Bravia A1 Series OLED TVs will go on sale in spring in 55-inch, 65-inch and 77-inch screen sizes.

“Sony has a historic brand in television and does a lot of advertising, so there will be heightened interest in OLED,” says Jack Wetherill, senior market analyst at Futuresource Consulting, which says that one million OLED TVs were sold last year.

“Having an extra brand pushing it will be good, but Sony only has about five per cent of the global TV market, so in terms of global share it’s quite small.”