You don’t need an 8K TV — ask me again in a decade

Do you need an 8K TV?
(Image credit: Future)

I've been looking at 8K TVs since they were first announced by Samsung in 2018. I've seen demos of 8K sets from Samsung, LG and Sony. I've tested and reviewed one 8K TV and have had hands-on time with several others.

And let me tell you, 8K is amazing. Combine that incredible resolution with some of the largest TV sizes ever sold, and you get a genuinely life-like experience: it's like looking through a window. Actors walking through a scene on screen are human sized and objects are at normal scale. It looks so incredibly real that it's not just an incremental upgrade over 4K, it's an evolutionary step forward in display technology.

It's also not worth buying. Not now, and maybe not for several years.

The biggest hurdle facing 8K TV adoption is price. With even the most affordable 8K sets costing more than $3,000, the majority of TV shoppers just aren't interested, and who can blame them? Some of the models on our list of the best 8K TVs cost twenty or thirty thousand dollars.

At smaller screen sizes — the sort that are actually affordable — 8K resolution is much less impressive. An 8K picture is best enjoyed on screens that measure between 75 and 100+ inches, much larger than most 4K TVs in the home, since an 8K display is essentially four 4K displays stitched together into one seamless picture. Larger screen sizes may be getting more popular, but 85-inch TVs are simply too large for most homes, and that's the range where 8K really looks its best.

Throw in the need for a new HDMI standard (HDMI 2.1 is the first to support 8K resolution over a single cable), and the huge bandwidth requirements for streaming 8K video (YouTube is still your only real option), and there are simply a lot of hoops to jump through for an already expensive TV.

But all of this is a waste of time without any 8K stuff to watch on that giant 33-million-pixel TV screen. And that's a problem that won't be solved anytime soon.

Adopting new formats takes time. The first HD TVs started selling in 1998, but it wasn't until 2008 that Blu-ray was adopted as the new standard for HD movies releases by all of the major Hollywood studios — a full decade later.

The switch to 4K was a little different. The hardware of 4K TVs became widely available and affordable faster than almost any consumer tech I can think of – dropping from the $24,999 price of the Sony XBR-84X900 in 2012 to where we are today, when any set from our best TVs under $500 offers 4K resolution, not to mention smart capabilities.

But even there, with millions of 4K TVs in homes, the availability of 4K media is still less abundant than you'd expect. Streaming in 4K is a premium add-on, as the majority of streaming is done in 1080p. Ultra HD Blu-ray discs are still selling alongside standard Blu-ray and DVD, and gaming has only really caught up with the 4K trend with the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. None of our picks for the best gaming TVs for PS5 and Xbox Series X have a higher resolution than 4K.

For those who follow the TV industry, none of this should be a surprise. It's definitely not a shock to TV manufacturers. 

The first time I got to test an 8K TV, there was a team of engineers on hand, all apologetic that there were no test standards or equipment that was made for 8K.

Samsung's first 8K TVs were so far ahead of the curve that they required running multiple HDMI cables to piece together a mosaic of 4K feeds, since the HDMI 2.1 spec hadn't even been finalized yet.

That's all to say that it is extremely early days in 8K-land. There are still major questions that don't have answers yet, like how will we make 8K media when the file sizes severely outstrip the highest capacity Blu-ray formats? Raw 8K footage clocks in at 121.5 GB per minute, and the best triple-layer Blu-ray 3.0 tops out at 100GB. Even switching to some other storage medium would require some impressive leaps in storage capacity, at a price and scale we've never seen before.

And with the dwindling number of manufacturers making Blu-ray players – even bigger names like Oppo and Samsung have stopped making players – who's going to develop the next gen players needed for 8K?

How can anyone expect 8K streaming to take off when bandwidth in the US averages is low enough to make 4K streaming difficult? Will it be a major leap in household bandwidth, advancements in compression and media codecs, or both?

There's a very real chance that 8K has pushed video too far for current storage and data transmission technology to catch up to anytime soon. Or, maybe we'll see some really impressive changes in the tech landscape as TV makers and Hollywood studios throw their weight into R&D to make 8K work.

Either way, there's a lot that still needs to be figured out before anyone should buy an 8K TV. As I said, 8K is an evolutionary step forward, but we've still got a lot of evolving to do. There will (probably) be a point where we start recommending people buy 8K TVs, but that's not happening anytime soon.

Brian Westover

Brian Westover is currently Lead Analyst, PCs and Hardware at PCMag. Until recently, however, he was Senior Editor at Tom's Guide, where he led the site's TV coverage for several years, reviewing scores of sets and writing about everything from 8K to HDR to HDMI 2.1. He also put his computing knowledge to good use by reviewing many PCs and Mac devices, and also led our router and home networking coverage. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he wrote for TopTenReviews and PCMag.

  • Usking
    After wondering for ages why 5K monitors weren't a thing (so you can do 1440hdpi properly), I finally realised 8K TVs would provide great 1440hdpi because it's 3 times more pixel dense. Unlike Monitors, TVs also put the scaling workload on the tv instead of the PC/console.

    Considering many 4k TVs struggle with scaling 1440p natively still, do you still not think 8K TVs are the best way to enjoy crisp 4k/1440p native content and hfr 1440p gaming on a large screen? Without the pixel workload choking the input device/pc/console?
  • A.Linoge
    The Ps5 and Xbox series x have not caught up to 4K. The Xbox one X has had the ability to play 4K games natively for some years now. Technically the Xbox series X is capable of 8K gaming at 60fps. Which doesn’t even exist right now for console games.