During IFA 2018, Europe's premier electronics show, Samsung unveiled the world's first commercially-available 8K TV. While TBG wasn't in attendance, we were invited to participate in an exclusive conference call with Samsung reps and a handful of other members of the U.S. media. So let's get into what we learned about Samsung's first 8K TV, the Q900FN QLED.
Coming to the U.S. market in October 2018 exclusively in an 85" size, the Q900FN will bring with it all of the goodness baked into the 2018 QLED line, along with some specific enhancements to make the most of its tremendous 8K (7680×4320) resolution in the absence of native 8K content. You're probably asking what the cost will be, and Samsung was mum on that point, but our educated guess is that this will be a halo demonstration product, and will probably retail for... wait for it... $20,000.
Cost aside, exactly how significant is it that an 8K TV is coming to market just five years after 4K TVs went mainstream in 2013? Well, consider that the leap from 1080p to 4K took about three times longer, but the jump is similarly momentous. 4K is exactly four times the resolution of 1920 x 1080, while 8K is likewise four times the resolution of 4K (or 16 times 1080p). So we're talking about a lot of pixels (it works out to roughly 33 million, as a matter of fact!). From a technical perspective, then, it's pretty amazing. With that said, the market is still trying to come to grips with 4K, with native content still hard to come by, and our guess is that it will take another 3-4 years before most streaming and disc content is of the 4K variety, and it will likely be another five years after that (in 2027!) before 8K content could become fully mainstream, if it ever is.
Samsung's Q900FN, by the numbers
All of this doesn't take away from Samsung's accomplishment here, but it does beg the question of whether this is where the market (and therefore consumers) should devote their attention. As we've discussed in multiple TV reviews, what really makes a difference in terms of picture quality isn't so much resolution as color and light, in the form of HDR. Of course, the Q900FN is HDR-capable, and then some. It incorporates the HDR10+ standard, backed by Samsung as an alternative to Dolby Vision. Perhaps more importantly, however, is its peak brightness level: a mind-blowing 4,000 nits. The brightest TVs on the market today hit around 2,000 nits, so this is probably just as significant as the resolution jump. That kind of brightness would drive HDR10+ to its maximum brightness level, but would still leave room to grow under the Dolby Vision standard (which goes to 10,000 nits). Alas, Samsung will never adopt Dolby Vision, so there's a bit of a mis-match here in terms of technical capability and standards adoption.
Another piece of the puzzle is how consumers will take advantage of 8K resolution when precisely zero content will be available at launch (save for some one-off YouTube videos, which don't count in our book due to how bandwidth bottlenecks lead to degraded image quality). Well, Samsung's Q900FN has some nifty tricks up its sleeve, namely the 8K Quantum processor backed by Samsung's machine learning infrastructure. In short, Samsung's servers will constantly be analyzing various sources of lower-resolution content in order to optimize the upscaling algorithms, which will then be distributed via firmware updates to users. That means there won't be any cloud processing going on (thank goodness), but it also means that Q900FN owners will probably be caught in a cycle of constantly checking for firmware updates to see if they can get better picture quality.
Now, there are several things that Samsung is keeping quiet about regarding the Q900FN besides price. It hasn't yet announced whether HDMI 2.1 will be incorporated into this set, as the spec is not yet finalized. On a related note, 120Hz refresh rates, which HDMI 2.1 could support, are not yet confirmed. These will no doubt be of interest to early-adopters, at least in theory (in practice, we think the price is going to keep this TV out of most living rooms). While we assume that the Q900FN will have FreeSync 2 capabilities like other 2018 Samsung QLED TVs, that's mainly of interest to console gamers, and our bet is that none of them will be buying this TV exclusively for gaming.
Overall, this is mostly a marketing move by Samsung, but to its credit, consumers have most definitely been embracing big-screen TVs with gusto. As Samsung noted, 40% of all its TV sales in 2018 have been 65” and larger, and yet people’s living rooms aren’t getting bigger. When you go with a bigger screen in the same size room, the potential for seeing pixelation increases, and that's why 8K might eventually make sense. There was a time when pundits said sub-50" 1080p TVs didn't make sense in small rooms, but we bet no one's saying that today. As consumers get accustomed to higher and higher resolutions on all their devices, and thereby become more acquainted with what a truly sharp image looks like, they will likely come to embrace 8K, just as they did 1080p and 4K before it. After all, nothing catches the eye like a big TV!