Letter from America: 8K update

As regular readers will recall, back in May I wrote about a major shift in my opinion to the future direction of video formats and technologies. Previously, I’d been in the “8K? Why bother, no one will sit close enough to the screen to tell the difference and make the increased cost worthwhile” camp. Suffice to say, I’ve changed my mind.

At the end of the day, 8K is coming whether anyone one of us thinks it makes sense, and it is coming sooner than I would have thought even three months ago. I closed that “Letter” with this: “Yes, 8K is coming whether we like it or not; the only question is when, with which go-to-market products, content, connectivity and delivery systems. It will be fun to watch.” Fun, it will be. More importantly, some of the questions posed in May already have answers!

Notes from the 2018 Advanced Display Summit

I recently attended a two-day set of seminars in Hollywood presented by the highly respected consulting and publishing firm Insight Media in the form of its 2018 'QLED & Advanced Display Summit,' sponsored by Samsung. With little going on, at least in public view, until IFA, this seemed to be a good time to provide and update on all things 8K so that you have something to ponder over those summer weeks.

It’s already been widely reported that a preliminary announcement as to initial Samsung’s plans for 8K displays. Keep in mind, that given my initial question, we have only some ideas as to “who,” “when,” “which product” and “what content” and “what connectivity.” Unless you live in Japan, the question of content and delivery systems is still held somewhat closely.

As to “who”, keep in mind that Sharp has been selling 8K displays in Asia and showed them for broadcast and professional markets at ISE and NAB, among other trade shows. To date, however, these are not truly residential-centric, as they currently lack the HDMI 2.1 connectivity that will be needed for practical home application. However, the more recent “who” is Samsung. Again, with pricing still to be announced, the “when” is an unveiling at IFA, but precise consumer availability regarding timing and markets will have to wait.

For the question of “what product”, Samsung did enlighten us a bit. Their 2018 offerings will be 65-, 75- and 82-in models. Significantly, these will all have 120Hz refresh, rather than the 60Hz that is virtually universal of consumer displays. Moving into 2019, the Samsung line will be expanded to include a 98-in set with 120Hz refresh and 65- and 75-in models with 60Hz. The latter will presumably be less expensive; the former likely to be considerably more expensive.

“Moving into 2019, the Samsung line will be expanded to include a 98-in set with 120Hz refresh and 65- and 75-in models with 60Hz.”

It’s worth noting that if a major player such as Samsung has said that they will have 8K sets in the market before the end of the year, one may expect that other major players such as LG and Sony will not let their arch rivals have the 8K market all to themselves. Check back for more news on that following the 2018 editions of IFA and CEDIA.

With respect to “what content”, given that the Conference was mostly aimed at studio and distribution executives, and, as we call them out here in LA, “creatives”, there was much attention paid to the benefits of, and methods needed to, create content in 8K. However, there were no revelations about content other than that NHK’s commitment to broadcast the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is Japan, confirmation of availability of a satellite-delivered 8K channel before the end of this year. The “what content” is still, for the most part, an open question for the rest of the world.

The question of “which connectivity” has already been pointing towards HDMI 2.1, but there was a great deal of discussion around the place that 5G will play for consumer delivery of 8K content. For those involved in “pro” video applications, particularly the boost that 8K is forecasted to bring to medical and other scientific and industrial applications, don’t ignore DisplayPort 1.3/1.4. Those will be a popular lingua franca for 8K, along with IP and U-SDI for broadcast.

Will we have to wait for 8K OLED?

To complete our “8K Update,” there are a few other things of note from the event. First, more than a few of the presenters pointed to delays in the completion of a “Gen. 10.5” fab for OLED. The “Gen” number determines the maximum full sheet of glass that can be produced for LCD or OLED applications. That led some to speculate that 8K OLED may not appear in quantity until late 2019 or perhaps even into 2020.

“Fab Generation,” along with the immergence of China-based fabs was also mentioned as a reason that, for production and economic efficiency, the “sweet spot” for 8K displays will be between 55- and 75-in. Yes, as mentioned already, there will be some that will be larger, and others will be smaller, but the push from China will have considerable market weight.

Also speaking of China’s position in the world, it was mentioned for the first time that China will make a big push for 8K coverage of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, similar to Japan’s efforts for 2020 in Tokyo.

As to the display technology, high importance was given to the use of quantum dot, or “QD” technology for 8K displays both for LCD and OLED panels. Finally, while most of the discussion around microLED displays was focused around large area products such as Samsung’s “The Wall” and their “Onyx” cinema screen, “white” microLEDs were mentioned as a possible source for full-array, local dimming, (FALD) backlighting for 8K sets. Their small size and potentially high light output make them the perfect match for FALD for 8K, given a pixel count over 33 million, four times that of 8K, and the desire for a significant increase in backlight zones.

All in all, it was a very instructive two days, and I trust that this will give you an update on where 8K stands going into autumn. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant about changing my mind about the technical and market prospects for 8K. This cemented the idea that I made the right decision.

In closing, I’ll re-quote a relevant comment from Pope John Paul II that one of the speakers also used to close his presentation: “The future starts today, not tomorrow.” I concur, and urge you to keep aware of the present as is leads you to where the future will take us.

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group or follow him on Twitter @captnvid.