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Should you buy an 8K TV? How to decide, according to an expert

They call it the next generation of display technology, but several factors make 8K TVs right for some and wrong for others.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Samsung 65-inch QLED TV
June Wan/ZDNET

If you pay attention to electronics trade shows or you just happen to wander by the television displays every time you're in your local big box store, you've probably seen splashy posters advertising the newest tech in town... 8K televisions.  

Also: Best TV wall mounts (and how to install them safely)

But what exactly does 8K even mean? Is 8K content available? Can people see 8K? Do you need to rush out and spring for a shiny new television? Let's dig in. 

What is 8K?

First off, what is 8K? That refers to the television's resolution. An 8K TV is 7,680 lines wide (that's the 8K part) by 4,320 high for a total of 33 million pixels. A 4K television displays 3,840 lines wide by 2,160 lines high for about 8 million total pixels, meaning that 8K isn't just twice as good as 4K, it's four times as good

In short, the more pixels in a display, the more fine detail that can be shown. Resolution isn't the only part of image quality, but it's probably the single most important factor. So an 8K TV has the ability to show a level of detail significantly more than before. 

What can I watch in 8K?

Well, for now, not much. There's no broadcast and cable content at all. 4K is still a relatively rare territory in those areas, so don't expect 8K from them anytime soon. And while most streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime and Hulu do have 4K content, none have announced plans for 8K, much less implemented those plans.

YouTube and Vimeo do have videos in 8K available (they actually had content with a resolution that high well before displays that could fully show it even existed), and some titles on the latest generation of video game consoles take advantage of 8K, but that's about all you're going to find. 

Also: Best 85-inch TVs for creating the ultimate home theater

It's worth noting though, that the newest television will have technology that takes content that's not 8K and upscales it so there is a level of improved image quality. Popular options from Samsung and LG, for example, have built-in processors that can upscale 4K content up to 8K. But a true 8K experience remains tough to find. 

Samsung QN900C 8K QLED smart TV

Samsung's QN900C 8K QLED is one of the few 8K TVs on the market.

Rebecca Isaacs/ZDNET

Is there a big difference between 4K and 8K?

We've established that widespread 8K content simply isn't available, but once it is over the next few years, it's time to make the jump, right? Let's ask another question. How much of a difference is there between 4K and 8K? 

Technically, 8K is significantly better than 4K -- four times as I mentioned. But, to truly see 4K, a viewer would need to be sitting 10 feet in front of a 120-inch screen. To see 8K improve from 4K, the viewer would need to be 10 feet from a 280-inch screen! Outside of very large displays, most people just aren't going to be able to tell the difference. 

Also: You can get a 4K TV for free, with a very creative new catch

Now, companies are still going to sell 8K TVs in normal sizes, and they're going to add features that make those TVs look better than their predecessors. So the shiny store display you see might indeed look better than what you have at home.  

How much do 8K TVs cost?

But how much does that additional "pop" cost? As is the case with all new tech, it doesn't come cheap. A quick glance at a major electronics retailer showed the cheapest 8K television coming in at "="">. A 65" 4K television in the same class by the same manufacturer sits at $499, or half the price. 

Making the jump to a larger display like a 65" or 75" showed a handful in the $1,500 to $2,000 range and exactly two in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. But the vast majority of common household-sized 8K televisions are more than $3,000. 

Also: Best 8K TVs (and why you should ignore OLED options) 

While 8K technology may have some benefit in a large theater or sports venue setting, there's no practical benefit for your living room. The first 4K television hit the market about a decade ago, and content providers are just now catching up. And with a price tag of two to three times their 4K counterparts for a quality that you may not even be able to see, it's hard to justify the leap.

I'm a sucker for cool tech, and I'll drool over the newest and biggest television alongside anyone, but there's no need to consider an 8K television for several years probably. If you're looking to upgrade your television watching, pick up a nice 4K display, add an upgraded sound bar and some cool accent lighting -- and you'll still probably have a little cash left over.  

8K may be the future of television, but that future is a little too far away right now for most consumers.

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