Ultra HD – Is 8K going to kill your HDTV off?

It is no secret that TV manufacturers are constantly striving to bring us the next big thing. In a relatively short space of time, we’ve gone from 24-26” CRT with a 4:3 aspect ratio being the norm, to 40” LCD screens with 16:9 aspect ratios being the norm. Of course, this shift has also seen the resolution of our TV pictures increase from 480p to 1080p. Anything less than Full HD these days is seen as outdated tech!
But in the same manner that HD drove the sales of flat screen televisions, those same 1080p flatscreens are now on the way out themselves. The introduction of 8K screens is upon us. We haven’t really had time to get used to the fact that you can buy a 4K display (which has extremely limited content, although Amazon have just announced a new set top box which has 4K capabilities), and this new addition to the family might well kill off that technology before it gets a chance to shine.
Of course, these 8K displays are not available in the consumer market just yet. Although this October (2015), Sharp have introduced the first retail model. It’s a whopping 85” beast, and the price tag is a similarly hefty £86,000. It is expected that this will appeal initially only to commercial markets or the super rich who like to count themselves as early adopters.
So is it time to throw out my 1080p dinosaur then?

Well no. The problem with new tech is that it just isn’t sustainable for providers to create content for it until there is a critical mass of users with the tech to make it cost effective to do so. Advertisers won’t pay extra for a service that only a handful of users can access, and nor will the TV channels. Although the picture quality is allegedly so good that if you are at the screen you still can’t see individual pixels, and has been described as providing a ‘near 3D’ effect (remember when we all rushed out to buy 3D televisions? That went well.) the fact is that most people will see no discernable difference on picture quality over what they currently have in their front room.
The reason the explosion in ownership of 1080p flatscreens took place was a cumulative effect. Blu-Ray was all the rage several years ago, heralded as the only format we would ever need in the future. As it was a relatively inexpensive piece of tech, a significant proportion of people could afford access to it. A fast rising world economy (it WAS a bubble though!) meant there was more disposable income, so the new HD tech sold itself. This in turn meant that content providers like Sky and the BBC had a sound platform to create content and could charge advertisers (and of course the consumers) more for the privilege.
The fact that the UK is now only coming out of a prolonged recession, and the fact that most people will look at how little the added value 8K would bring to their home might, I suspect, mean that the Ultra HD bandwagon will be rolling along for quite a while before it gains any real market traction. The first ‘proper’ consumer units are due to hit the shops next year. Expect prices to be around the £1500-£2000 mark for the first to hit the shelves, with significant reductions over the course of the following two years. By 2018 I’d expect to be paying around £600 for a reasonably sized model with a decent spec. Better start saving now!