Technology, in some ways, besides making our lives more convenient, is about stimulating and simulating our five senses: Sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. The goal is to emulate "the real".
Sensors backed by artificial intelligence (AI) that can actually smell, taste, and process that information like humans may be far off -- in fact many believe it may never be realised. But when it comes to sight, thanks to the incredible improvement in display technology of the past decade, visual realness seems close at hand. And the introduction of 8K resolution will be an important milestone in that direction, says one expert.
"Our desire for higher resolution is endless," said Professor Yungkyung Park of Ewha Woman's University and the director of the college's Ewha Color Design Research Institute, in an interview with ZDNet during the 8K Display Summit in New York City.
"8K resolution won't stimulate all our five senses. But when it comes to the one sense, sight, it may very well evoke a visual experience that is beyond real."
The race to control the 8K market among TV makers is heating up. Samsung Electronics, the world's largest TV vendor, was the first to commercialise 8K resolution TVs last year in November. LG Electronics, the runner-up, is planning to launch its own TVs in the top-notch resolution sometime in the second half of this year.
Upstart brands, especially those in China, will use 8K in an effort to reach the premium tier, said Bob O'Brien, co-founder and president of market research firm Display Supply Chain Consultants at the summit.
Chinese subsidies and the resultant oversupply are driving Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) prices down but this supply push will give 8K tailwinds, O'Brien said, adding, "8K and displays over 60-inches in size, especially in 75-inches, complement each other".
More than reproduction, or hyper-realness
8K resolution will have 33 million pixels, four times that of 4K's 8 million. Park explained that "2K was about reproduction. 4K added detail and sharpness to the reproduction."
"At first we assumed that the move to 4K from 8K would be similarly linear; more detail and sharpness. But what happened was the massive colour volume that 8K offered triggered many cognitive effects that was quite unexpected," Park said.
The professor and her team conducted an interesting visual experiment to learn of the differences between 4K and 8K resolutions. 120 participants were shown a 4K display and an 8K display side by side, without revealing the specs of either display. 16 images and three videos were shown. The team then conducted perception and cognitive evaluations on the participants.
In the perception evaluation, the participants were asked about the brightness, contrast, vividness, and high resolution of the displays. On the cognitive evaluation, they were asked about 3D-ness, heaviness, temperature, spaciousness, beautifulness, fatigue, and image quality of the displays.
"[The] perceptual effect of 8K scored higher than in 4K, especially in contrast, vividness, and high resolution, which may seem obvious. But on the cognitive effect, what was interesting is that participants perceived, or felt, besides an increase in realness, more heaviness and temperature in 8K. Especially for images that had a specific object at the centre of a background. This can be interpreted as synesthesia, where one sensory information is triggered by another," the professor said.
"We see more from an object if we have prior information on the object. So for example, when we see an elephant, we feel heaviness. If it's a fruit we feel its sweetness. And for glass we think of hardiness."
See also: 8K TV - What you need to know (CNET)
Park likened the effect of 8K to what people feel when they view paintings in the hyperrealism style.
Hyperrealism art uses enormous canvasses to draw definitive and detailed renderings of a photo, which creates an illusion of reality which either doesn't exist or can't be seen by the human eye.
"All visual experiences are subjective. And the evolution of TV has shown that consumers want more than just reproduction. Simple reproduction is no fun. People have a desire to see what they couldn't see before. And when it comes to 8K, I think it triggers more than just memory colour but evokes other sensory feelings to a degree that evokes what I call 'hyper-realness'", she said.
"My analogy is that it grows your brain cells," said Nagamitsu Endo, a producer at NHK CosmoMedia America, which produces HD, 4K, and 8K content for Japan's national broadcaster NHK.
"If you see the 8K image you can almost feel your brain cells tingle. If your body is learning a new sport and your body is trying to adapt to that new movement, it needs to work hard. By looking at these high resolution images and new experiences in 'watching', it's really going to have an effect on your brain."
QLED or OLED for 8K?
Arch rivals Samsung and LG have used different technologies for their respective flagships, with the former pushing QLED and the latter OLED displays. So which technology is arguably superior to fully experience 8K and High Dynamic Range (HDR)?
"It's not really about QLED or OLED because that depends on how the manufacturer produces their TV-sets. And there are plenty of metrics that show white levels or black levels in numbers, but most consumers really don't quantify their visual experiences with numbers," said Park.
"So the question becomes what colour do we really see the most? Is it white or black? It's neither of them and is actually every colour in between.
"And to really bring out the feel of the colours it will be the white that is important, which means brightness. Black doesn't really help to bring out the contrast with other colours. But white does. This will become more and more important as TV sizes grow larger than 60-inches.
According to Park, the difference consumers may feel will be minimal -- perhaps up to 75-inches -- but she said as TVs in the coming years will become as large as 88-inches and 98-inches, and in a not so distant future, over 100-inch size TVs could be the norm, that at that size, white levels will be key.
"One thing we need to understand is what human vision is. We have eyes that adopt to contrast levels. We most often view content in an ambient setting," said Phil Holland, director and cinematographer of PHFX.COM. "Do you need 'space black' or 'black as black as space? Do you need to go that far? Maybe. I think what we are seeing right now is adaptable brightness levels to ambient lighting conditions. There is a lot of power that comes with that. But display quality from a variety of makers is extremely high quality right now, more so than ever. That is good news.
"The hard truth of this is whatever we see as the best of today, five to seven years from now it's it probably going to have evolved to a better form of itself or we are going to be on some newer technology that is really amazing."
Tokyo Olympics will be a turning point
The 8K ecosystem has just started to blossom, and there are still some hurdles to overcome before it becomes mainstream. 4K was commercialised back in 2012. In 2000, it was HD and in 2006, it was Full HD.
If history is any guide, there has been a generational shift every six years since digital TVs were introduced in the 90s. But experts at the summit were cautiously more optimistic that 8K adoption would be faster than previous generations.
"Unlike some concerns over a lack of 8K content, the development of all technologies in cooperation in the industry are proceeding rapidly," said Chris Chinnock, executive director of the 8K Association and president of Insight Media, a display technology consultancy.
Endo of NHK CosmoMedia America said that the company was producing every type of content except hard-news for NHK's dedicated 4K and 8K channel in Japan.
"The 2012 London Olympics was the first time NHK tried 8K live broadcasting. Tokyo Olympics is coming next year and that will be the biggest live 8K coverage of a sports event. We [will] set up a lot of public viewing stations around the city [Tokyo] to view 8K in either projections or monitors. We are increasing awareness of what is coming by making them see the real thing," Endo said.
"I think the transition from 4K to 8K will be accelerated with the Tokyo Olympics," said Park of Ewha Woman's University. "For now, I think the industry players are assessing how best to approach 8K in terms of business model and consumer demand."
"Technology is a path. The move from CRT to LCD technology was an overwhelming revolution in TVs. Is the move from 4K to 8K equivalent to that? No. But it is part of that trajectory to a revolution. Resolution will continue to be upgraded from 8K to 16K to 32K and so on. Resolution will reach such a level that TVs will become part of the space. People don't want to think about the television when they watch their content. They want to be immersed. That is why manufacturers got rid of the bezels and made it flat. And 8K will be an important milestone in that direction," she added.