The 8K TV revolution is already under way, with models deployed at retail – but when can the industry expect consumers beyond the early-adopter fringe to become aware – and when will content producers and broadcasters begin to catch up with hardware availability?
Those were some issues addressed at the NYC-held CE Week show by a panel of TV vendors and one retailer who has been carrying the sets from the get-go and is in a position to speak to the challenges and opportunities of selling 8K.
Jeremy Kaplan, editor in chief of Digital Trends, emceed the discussion, whose members included: Jim Sanduski, president of Sharp Home Electronics Company of America; Tim Alessi, senior director, product marketing, home entertainment, LG Electronics USA; Toshi Ogura, chief distinguished engineer, Sony Visual Products, Inc.; Andrew Sivori, vice president, TV product marketing, Samsung Electronics America; and Robert Zohn, president and founder of Value Electronics, Scarsdale, N.Y.
With more than half of U.S. households expected to own a 4K TV by the holidays, according to stats quoted by Kaplan, it’s clear that buyers already appreciate better resolution, and are already predisposed to wanting larger screens.
So what – besides content and price-drops – will be the value-adds for them to take notice of 8K en masse?
“It’s four times the resolution of 4K, has better video color gamut, higher frame rates of 120Hz, many more dimming zones, a suite of HDR technologies - and audio… 22.2-channel audio is part of the spec,” noted Sharp’s Sanduski.
“It plays into the trend of larger and larger screen sizes,” LG’s Alessi said. “Depending on where you sit, you will be able to put a larger screen into a smaller space because there won’t be that ‘screen door’ pixel effect when you’re sitting closer.”
Sony’s Ogura spoke of the balance of resolution, bit depth, and other elements that will combine overall to make a “great performance by the display.”
“They’ve all stepped up their panel technology,” noted Zohn about hardware suppliers, and as to the hardware-content gap, he said he is “looking to the availability of 8K camcorders” along the lines of the one displayed in prototype by Sharp at the 2019 CES, “so I can create my own native 8K content. It’s a great thing for enthusiasts.”
The consensus across the stage was that technologies like Artificial Intelligence and deep learning, which will enable an 8K set to automatically optimize its video and audio performance based on the ambient conditions where it is placed, will help to bridge whatever quality gap there is between 4K content and the 8K display. “We have rudimentary AI machine learning already built in,” noted Samsung’s Sivori.
Making the sales pitch for 8K to the pedestrian TV buyer who is unaware of terms like machine learning, and who may only dimly connect ‘AI’ with something having to do with robots, was also discussed.
“Resolution is the easy sales pitch,” Alessi said “Bit depth is a little harder for the sales floor person to talk about.” His sentiments were echoed by Sony’s Ogura. “Everyone can understand 8 is bigger than 4,” he said. “In the past, numerically was the way to compare TVs. Now we can believe our eyes.”
Zohn, who has a background as a broadcast systems engineer, said that the broadcast industry’s hesitancy to embrace 8K is founded in a wait-and-see attitude. “They say, when the manufacturers are ready, we will be. They’re waiting for more products. So, when third-quarter, fourth-quarter and first-quarter 2020 introductions roll out, I’ll go back to my buddies and tell them, ‘We’re ready.’”
There is also hesitancy on the content creation side, noted Alessi, who drew a comparison between present day and 4K’s introduction stretch. “Initially with 4K, there was not a lot of content, and there was skepticism from the content community, [to the effect that they were asking] if better resolution could make people buy a fifth copy of The Godfather. I think the groundwork has been laid for 8K, so migration should be smoother than it was from HD to 4K.”
Kaplan noted the danger that “8K” could become another confusing buzzword if impactful consumer education is not undertaken. “It needs to be less about speeds and feeds,” Samsung’s Sivori said. “We have 2,500 retail displays out there” to help bring consumers along in the knowledge curve.
Sony’s Ogura said that getting content creators on board and ready to evolve, as it was when 4K was introduced, is a matter of helping them recognize that they can leverage 8K’s higher performance aspects. “If we give them a better performance environment, it prepares the environment for the creative side. When they see it, they will recognize it, and utilize this environment to express their creative intent.”
Samsung’s Sivori noted the importance of attracting game creators onto the 8K bandwagon, as well. “They are talking openly about it,” he said. Sanduski added that next-gen consoles will support 8K, so “the content will come.” And he, like Zohn, spoke of the potential of user-generated 8K camcorder content as an early lead-in to 8K adoption.
Sanduski also mentioned the re-scanning of legacy 65mm films as another way that the content narrative is beginning to be woven. “Films including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia and My Fair Lady have already been rescanned,” he noted. In fact, the My Fair Lady re-scanned version has already been broadcast in Japan on NHK’s 8K channel.
Kaplan raised a red-flag question to the panel about how ordinary broadcast content will fare on 8K displays. “These TV processors have been ‘sent to school’ for deep learning,” Zohn remarked, “and they can handle all types of content and apply processing on the fly to broadcast content.”
Broadcasters “are going to get there,” said Zohn. “They don’t have a choice.”