We’re still on the slow crawl toward 4K, yet companies like Samsung and LG are already pushing 8K TVs. These TVs cost three times as much as their 4K cousins, but they honestly look fantastic. Still, if you’re looking to buy a high-end TV, a good 4K HDR TV is still your best option.
Wait, What’s the Difference?
TV resolution is a complicated subject. But at a basic level, resolution is just the number of pixels in a display. A high-resolution TV is capable of showing more detail than a low-resolution TV, as it has more pixels to work with.
So, you might assume that an 8K TV has twice the resolution of a 4K TV. But that’s not the case. An 8K TV actually has four times the resolution of a 4K TV. In total, an 8K display contains 33,177,600 pixels. That’s a massive leap in quality, but it still may not be easy to spot the difference if certain criteria aren’t met.
Can You See the Difference Between 4K and 8K?
The difference between a good HD TV and a good 4K TV isn’t always immediately apparent. To really see the difference, the TVs need to be relatively large (at least 50 inches), and you need to be reasonably close to them. Plus, the 4K TV needs to be playing actual 4K video—any HD video will just look like HD.
When all of these conditions are met, the difference between 4K and HD is as clear as night and day. And the same goes for 8K. There’s a very clear difference between 8K and 4K TVs, but only if you’ve met the specific conditions.
This means that, in some situations, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a 4K and 8K TV. A small 8K TV might look identical to a small 4K TV, as the pixels are so densely packed together that you’d need a magnifying glass to see any differences in detail. (You should also take this into account when buying a TV that’ll be on the other side of the room from where you’ll be sitting. The detail of 8K is harder to see from far away.)
Of course, modern TVs can make lower-resolution content look better through a process called upscaling. A 4K TV can make HD content look higher quality, and an 8K TV can do the same for 4K content. Upscaling allows TVs to “fill in the blanks” of lower resolution video so that no pixels are wasted. But the difference of upscaling is only really noticeable on large high-end TVs, which are built with the best upscaling tech and benefit from the extra pixels of 8K (more pixels creates a higher pixel density—the distance between each pixel).
It’s crazy that we’re stuck talking about upscaling and display size, right? After all, an 8K TV looks fantastic when it plays an 8K video. There’s just one problem: there really isn’t any 8K video for you to watch yet. As I said earlier, we still have a ways to go before 4K becomes the standard resolution for video.
The Industry Still Hasn’t Caught Up With 4K
The entertainment industry dropped the ball with 4K. The technology has been around for nearly a decade, but it’s only become commonplace in the last few years. And if anything, that’s the big problem for 8K. It’s coming around a little too early.
Let’s say that you buy an 8K TV right now. What will you watch on it? Cable TV is still stuck at 1080i, and many streaming services still operate in the 720p to 1080p range (in fact, Amazon still charges extra for 1080p digital video purchases). When a streaming service actually offers 4K video, it’s wrung through so much compression that it hardly looks any better than 1080p.
As of right now (and for the next few years), Blu-Ray discs are the highest quality video solution on the market. They exceed streaming quality by a mile, and they aren’t too expensive, but they aren’t in 8K. The best video format available is limited to 4K video, so it’s hard to justify buying an 8K TV. (8K physical media is possible, but it’s hard to imagine a media company taking the risk on a dying format.)
Things are changing—the next Xbox and PlayStation will put 4K front and center, and streaming services like Disney+, Google Play, and even Google Stadia are pushing for high-quality 4K streaming to become the norm. But if the industry’s still catching up with 4K, then how long will we wait for proper 8K streaming and gaming? And by the time 8K becomes popular, won’t today’s 8K TVs be a little outdated?
A High-End 4K HDR TV Is a Better Investment
It’s easy to get into the mindset of “well, if I buy an 8K TV today, then I won’t have to buy one in six or seven years!” On paper, that’s a great idea. But a TV’s quality depends on more factors than just resolution. By the time 8K becomes a standard video format, today’s 8K TVs will look a little outdated, and that $4,000 you spent on a TV will feel more like a wasted luxury than an investment.
Just think of HD TVs from the early 2000s. They cost thousands of dollars, weighed a ton, were incredibly thick, and looked kind of dull. In 2010, an HD TV may have only cost a few hundred dollars, but it could put $1,000 TVs from five or six years earlier to shame.
This same process happened to 4K TVs, with things like QLED technology becoming common in only the last few years. Over time, it’ll happen to 8K TVs too. The 8K TVs of 2027 will be thin, lightweight, and inundated with display technology that makes today’s TVs look dull by comparison. And they’ll cost less than the 8K TVs that are on shelves right now.
If you’re in the market for a killer TV that’ll look good for a long time, then a high-end 4K HDR TV is your absolute best bet. Even the fanciest 4K TVs cost about a third the price of their 8K alternatives, so you don’t have to worry about your investment souring over the next few years. And when 8K TVs reach maturity, you’ll have enough money set aside to buy one that’ll last you another decade.