Flying drones and skating robots were some of the tech innovations that grabbed headlines at last month's PyeongChang Winter Games in South Korea. But offstage, there was Japanese broadcaster NHK and Korean counterpart KBS' trial of 8K UHD (Ultra High Definition) broadcast.
More subtle perhaps, but the race to commercialize 8K UHD from broadcasters, content providers, and TV manufacturers is real, and will be in full swing this year. NHK will start broadcasting an 8K channel in December.
The year marks the sixth year since 4K UHD (8 million pixels) was commercialized back in 2012. In 2000 it was HD (High Definition, or a million pixels) and in 2006 it was Full HD (2 million pixels). Every six years there has been a generation shift.
According to IHS Markit, as of the third quarter last year, more UHD TVs were sold than Full HD TVs. The spread of UHD has been admittedly slower than predecessors, largely due to a lack of content, but TV manufacturers have aggressively pushed to rectify this; moves such as the alliance of Fox, Panasonic and Samsung over HDR10+ and the South Korean tech giant's partnership with Amazon have firmly put 4K UHD back on course.
For over 60-inch TVs, UHD accounted for 96 percent of the shipments. This year it will be 99 percent. The message is clear: After a 10 year run, Full HD will soon be obsolete at the high end, just as HD went extinct in 2009.
8K UHD, which boasts 33 million pixels (7680x4320), four times that of 4 UHD and 16 times that of Full HD, will be full throttle this year, led by manufacturers. Since HD, slowly but steadily the first movers have changed from broadcasters to TV makers.
Premium TVs are also getting larger; after all, why have all the pixels to fit in a small screen? This year 1.69 million TVs sold will be over 75 inches. In 2020 it will be 3.38 million, according to IHS Market. Estimates are for 8K coincide with this; this year, when 8K will first roll out commercially, 100,000 units will be shipped. This will quickly rise to 2.1 million by 2020 and 3.3 million by 2022.
On the device end, Samsung Electronics is firing off the first salvo this year with its 8K AI QLED TV, shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show and set to be unveiled in full on Wednesday in the US. Sales of the new flagship will begin in South Korea and the US in the second half of the year. Sharp showed off its own 8K TV last year in September, meanwhile, and Sony is rolling out one this year.
The new model of Samsung's flagship TV line will automatically correct the brightness, contrast, and blurring of low resolution videos using the optimal filter to convert it to high resolution. It's a lesson learned from 4K UHD: If there isn't enough content it will just change them into 8K for you.
Last month Samsung tested 8K UHD broadcasting with local satellite broadcaster KT Skylife. The trial broadcasted a famous island of South Korea via satellite, operated by government-run electronics and telecommunication research institute ETRI on an 85-inch QLED TV on the mainland. These moves are much like Sharp's 8K ecosystem plan to incorporate broadcasting and content.
8K's ecosystem, however, is more likely to extend outside of TV viewing. The power of more pixels will change the smartphone experience as well as virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), though not immediately. Chinese firm Pimax showed off an "8K" VR headset in January (having two 4K, 3840x2160 displays) at CES. Hardware is an important aspect in realizing effective VR; one way to overcome the dizziness complaint is to add more pixels for more accurate pictures.
Integrating these displays smaller is a challenge, but this is fast changing. Samsung is preparing to roll out a Micro LED TV this year as well. Dubbed "The Wall", the focus is on making it big, but it is modular and can be customized to be smaller; the display is literally micrometer sized LEDs packed together. The lack of back-light and its inorganic durability, unlike OLED if customized to a smaller module, can be deployed outside of TVs.
And outside of Asia, Apple is rumoured to be preparing its own Micro LED displays. Expect new hardware innovation that will likely converge with 8K to go beyond TVs.
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