Samsung is pushing the television envelope, taking a “go big, or go home” approach to bringing a better picture to your living room with 8K TV sets.
At the 2018 IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, the South Korean electronics giant announced it will be introducing a new line of televisions, the Q900R, that roughly double the number of pixels on the screen. Initially available only in the 85-inch screen size in the U.S., the new Q900R isn’t waiting for 8K programs to appear and instead will use its own extensive video processing to convert or “upscale” current programs and video to the higher resolution format.
Current 4K or Ultra HD sets have 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, the high water mark for home TVs. Over the last several years, however, TV makers have demonstrated to the press next-generation 8K TV sets with 7,680 by 4,320 pixels. Some of the screens have been impressive indeed, but with broadcasters unable to offer much 4K let alone 8K material, the assumption was that 8K TV sets were years away. In fact, some manufacturers have struggled to produce 8K screens. (LG’s own 8K OLED set that was to be privately shown to selected members of the press at IFA crashed, and LG had to substitute a 4K set in the back room.)
But Samsung just can’t wait. The company thinks it has a solution to the absence of 8K content, so why hold back?
Samsung’s top-of-the-line LCD TVs already add a layer of quantum dots behind the glass to produce a wider spectrum of colors (hence the QLED nomenclature for quantum dot screens that use an LED backlight). To this, the company is going to apply even more video processing, which it calls artificial intelligence, to fill in the gaps in lower resolution video and bring it up to 8K levels. It’s both a bold move and an acknowledgment that for the foreseeable future, most of what we’ll be able to watch on cable, on disc or online will be 4K or lower resolution.
Is the Picture Really Better?
On the IFA show floor in Berlin, Samsung set up a side-by-side comparison with its own 4K and 8K TV sets upscaling various programs. In upscaling Brady Bunch era content, the 4K TV blurred faces and had trouble putting together a coherent picture. The new 8K set did a much better job, sharpening up chins and eyebrows, although still revealing some pixelation and giving some faces a fake animated or CGI appearance. The differences between the two sets were less obvious when upscaling HD content. Both the 4K and 8K TV sets did a reasonable job, although Samsung didn’t pick any material with rapid motion, which would have better shown off any differences.
At the top end – comparing 4K to upscaled 8K content – the differences were more subtle. But there were differences. The 8K Q900R was able to produce deeper greens, richer golds, and more intense highlights, such as the sparkle in diamond jewelry. Whether these differences will translate across all kinds of programming, such as sports and movies, remains to be seen- at least until October. That’s when Samsung expects the 85-inch 8K TV sets to be available in the U.S.
Prices? Well, no one is talking about that yet on the record, but expect screens this size and at this resolution to be in the $10,000 when they debut.