Are we really ready for 8K TVs? I mean, most of us have only just barely got a 4K telly with HDR through the door and yet Samsung seem convinced that, just because they can, they need to start bringing 8K to the masses. That said, we got to see some of their latest and greatest and they’re pretty damn incredible. Now, if only there were something to actually watch on them?
With cutting edge TVs being such a major investment – the 65″ model starts things off at a mere £4999 – a major worry for many people is whether or not they’ll stand the test of time. When HD rolled around, it was a toss up between getting a 720p or a 1080p TV, with DVB-T2 for over the air HD broadcasts coming years after the launch of Xbox 360 and PS3, both of which were effectively 720p consoles. Then again, you still had enthusiasm for the HD DVD and Blu-Ray battle to push technology forward. 4K TVs truly preceded the technology capable of making the best use of them, in terms of the consoles able to output 4K or near 4K image, the HDR technology to really push the standard beyond regular HD, and for film and TV, and the manner in which they’re distributed to catch up. 4K TVs were being sold before there were even HDMI connectors able to feed them. Thankfully, Samsung are trying to avoid the same traps that the TV industry has fallen into time and again.
A few years ago, Samsung debuted the concept of having a single, unified, easily hidden cable running to the TV. That’s led to some major advantages with their 8K range and their existing 4K TVs. For one, these TVs can more easily be mounted to walls without an unruly sprawl of HDMI, antenna and power cables because you can hide the breakout box, the consoles, and the set top boxes off to one side and just use this single cable. However, that box can also be changed as and when an inevitable update to the HDMI specification comes along to support 8K, whether it’s a case of updating the firmware on it somehow or physically swapping it to allow for a new box that features new ports.
Speaking of wall mounting, that’s what these TV have really been designed for. There are feet that you can use and these can be mounted towards the sides or more centrally, but they’re more functional than desirable. No, the real intention is to get this secured high up on the wall, that single cable running for 5 meters to a cabinet or shelving unit with all of your technological gubbins hidden out of the way. It’s in this scenario that the unified cable and breakout box really starts to make sense to me.
But again, the simple fact of the matter is that there isn’t 8K media out there yet. Heck, an awful lot of the films you can watch through streaming services and on pricey UHD Blu-ray discs are faking all or part of the image with regular HD mastering that is then upscaled. Samsung had to create a showreel specially for their TVs to show off what they can do because of this – there’s fun to be had in spotting the hairs on an ant’s legs, the eerily realistic way they look when crawling on the something on screen, and just soaking in the full array backlighting and HDR up to 3000nits – but they’ve also leant on an old trick of digitally enhancing lower resolution inputs up to 8K.
It’s all about handwaving and magical algorithms concocted through machine learning at Samsung’s server farms and then applied in real time. It works through a mixture of noise reduction, detail creation to add extra pixels in and edge restoration. Honestly, I’m still not a huge fan of the concept and when viewing Full HD source material it’s only a minor improvement in my opinion, but it does help to add a touch more detail with an Ultra HD source when you view it up close. The problem with this technology is that it has previously led to the image looking fake and overly processed, going from something cinematic like The Avengers to Hollyoaks or Neighbours. The tech has advanced an awful lot over the last decade, to the point that Sony felt that detail creation through the checkerboarding process was good enough for the PS4 Pro to do. With machine learning involved, it should help cut down on the downsides, but it’s still something I’m wary of and would like to test further.
For gamers, though, you’ll want to avoid all of that processing anyway. In fact, modern Samsung TVs will automatically detect games consoles and switch to Game Mode, stripping out the image processing and reducing the amount of added latency. For regular Game Mode, that should drop the latency to 16ms, equating to a single frame in a game running at 60fps. However, as with Samsung’s 2018 TVs, if you use an Xbox One X you can trigger Advanced Game Mode and Variable Refresh Rate that can bring it down further still to 6.8ms.
But then we come back to the simple fact that we’re gaming in 2018 and not 2028. The Xbox One X manages to push 4K, but games often sacrifices frame rate in order to get there or resolution, while the PlayStation 4 Pro leans heavily on admittedly impressive checkerboarding to sneak its way up to something approaching a native 4K output. That’s all typically at 30fps, and it’s only with NVidia’s top tier GPUs that we’re seeing a fairly reliable native 4K at 60fps in modern games. 8K is four times the resolution of something that we’re barely able to reach right now, and you’ve got another thing coming if you think the next generation of games console can shoot for this particular moon.
That’s why future proofing this TV via its replaceable breakout box is such an important part of the equation. This isn’t a TV for the here and now, it’s a TV for five, ten years from now. To be fair, it’s got the price tag to match.