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Buying an 8K TV: The most important things to consider

By Ng Chong Seng - 20 Jul 2019

8K TV buying guide - Pg 2

What about 8K content?

It’s true that native 8K content is hard to come by today, so if you’ve an 8K TV, it’s going to deal with mostly 4K and below content.

For 4K UHD content, your best bet is still streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Video, and YouTube. 4K Blu-ray Discs are another avenue, but that also means you need a 4K Blu-ray player. Sadly, live TV in 4K resolution isn’t a thing in Singapore, much less 8K.

Because of all this, the current reality is that you’ve to rely on the 8K TV to upscale your content to fit its 7,680 × 4,320-pixel screen. Even if you were to feed it with a true 4K source, that’s still nearly 25 million extra pixels that the TV has to fill in. As such, it’s important to get an 8K TV with enough horsepower to do such processing and from a brand with a proven track record.

I’ll be progressively reviewing the 8K TVs that are coming to Singapore, but in a nutshell, TV brands that have gone through the Full HD to 4K transition and which are going to launch 8K TVs (or are already selling) in Singapore include Samsung, LG, and Sony.

At this early stage, the best 8K TV will be the one that better processes <8K content.

In Samsung’s case, its 8K QLED TVs come with something called the 8K Quantum Processor. This is the chip responsible for processing the picture, including upscaling non-8K content (even standard-def!) to near-8K quality. According to Samsung, its 8K Quantum Processor uses machine learning to analyze the incoming signals and convert them to the optimal resolution in real time. And it doesn’t just stretch the picture to fit the 8K resolution — instead, the processor draws from a large onboard database derived from millions of content to classify aspects of a scene (e.g., textures, edges) so that it can upscale different parts of the image in the best possible way.

According to a Samsung engineer I spoke to, as true 8K content becomes more readily available, this database will grow and the company will be looking to improve its processing algorithms and push any improvements to its 8K TVs via firmware updates.

Now, this is just an example of how Samsung approaches 8K upscaling. Long story short, each TV maker has its own proprietary way (usually involving some form of A.I.) of upscaling lower-res material to 8K — but whether the end result looks good can be entirely subjective.

 

What other specs should I look out for?

I’ve previously written a 4K TV guide, and most of its points are still applicable. Here, I’m going to list down here a few more items that I consider to be particularly relevant for 8K TVs:

 

1.) Brightness and HDR

HDR is here to stay, so whether you’re buying an 8K TV or a 4K TV, it’s wise to ensure that the TV can take advantage of the wider dynamic range and colors. Because of the extremely high resolution, HDR done well on an 8K TV is really a sight to behold.

HDR performance is closely related to brightness, so generally speaking, a brighter TV will be able to show off HDR content better than a dimmer TV: specular highlights will shine brighter and thus lend more “depth” to the image, colors will look richer and more realistic, and the high contrast ratio will make everything “pop” that bit more.

At the moment, LCD still trumps OLED in the brightness department. For example, the 98-, 82-, and 75-inch Samsung Q900R 8K QLED TVs can hit a peak brightness of 4,000 nits, while the 65-inch model goes up to 3,000 nits. In terms of contrast ratio though, OLED still has an edge due to its ability to turn on and off individual pixels.

Still, you'd be hard-pressed to nit-pick when LCDs can produce such vivid images:

This is a photo of Samsung's Q9F QLED TV in action.

Yet another photo of the TV's screen as we played through various test clips.

Finally, it’s easy to forget that a bright TV will also help when watching SDR (standard dynamic range) content, like your over-the-air broadcasts. And it goes without saying that a brighter TV is able to fight bright room glare better than a dimmer TV.

 

2.) HDR format support

It’s a given that all 8K TVs will support HDR and wide color gamut. In terms of HDR formats, all will minimally support HDR10, which is a standard HDR format and is mandated for UHD Blu-ray Discs. All the 8K TVs announced so far also support HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), which is a broadcast HDR format. However, until we can get HLG sources, such as OTA HLG broadcasts, this spec is only important on paper.

The more important thing to note about HDR formats is that there are two competing dynamic formats out there — Dolby Vision and HDR10+ — but very few TVs support both. For the most part, you’ll find Dolby Vision support on LG’s and Sony’s premium TVs, and HDR10+ support on Samsung’s TVs.

I’ve written about HDR10+ before, but as a quick summary, HDR10+, like Dolby Vision, uses dynamic tone-mapping (i.e., adjust colors and contrast scene by scene) to get a better HDR picture. You can get Dolby Vision HDR content from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Video, and media players that support it include the Apple TV 4K and Chromecast Ultra.

On the other hand, the best source of HDR10+ content is Amazon Video. Samsung did say at the end of last year that the HDR10+ ecosystem is growing, and that Warner Bros. has already created over 70 HDR10+ compatible titles and is planning to make over 100 titles available for digital distribution in 2019.

The key members in the HDR10+ Alliance. (Image source: Samsung.)

 

3.) Viewing angle

No one should buy a 75-inch 8K TV and use it as a personal monitor or bedroom TV. In my opinion, 8K TVs make the most sense as a living room TV, a big screen that’s to be enjoyed by the whole family.

In this regard, OLED has traditionally offered excellent viewing angles, and I expect this characteristic to continue on 8K OLED TVs.

But LCD TV makers has also made great strides in this area, thanks to the use of IPS screens, improved panel treatments, and new materials like quantum dots — just to name a few. I’m in the process of testing Samsung’s Q900R 8K QLED TV, and one of the first things I noticed is its wide viewing angles. For the uninitiated, one of my gripes with previous VA-type LCD TVs from Samsung is their limited viewing angles — this seems to have been solved by the new “Ultra Viewing Angle” tech that’s found on some of the company’s 2019 QLED TVs.

 

4.) HDMI 2.1 and eARC

It’s also a given that all 8K TVs will support full bandwidth (18 Gbps) HDMI 2.0 for 4K/60Hz playback. However, it’s not so clear cut for HDMI 2.1, which with the increased bandwidth (48 Gbps) enables nifty features such as high frame rate (HFR) for 8K and 4K videos, Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), and enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC).

For a start, Samsung’s 2019 Q900R 8K QLED TVs do have one HDMI port (port #4) that supports HDMI 2.1. Through HDMI 2.1, the TVs support 8K at 60 fps and 4K at 120 fps.

Samsung's 2019 Q900R 8K QLED TVs support HDMI 2.1 through HDMI port #4 on the One Connect box. (Image source: Samsung Care.)

Samsung’s 2019 Q900R 8K QLED TVs will also support variable refresh rate (VRR) and FreeSync. In theory, this real-time syncing of frame rates between source device and display should result in less tearing during gaming, so if you’re a heavy console or PC gamer on the big screen, these are good features to have. The QLED TVs also support ALLM, which means game consoles such as the Xbox One X and Xbox One S can automatically put the TV into Game mode to get lower latency.

As far as I know, Samsung’s 2019 TVs don’t feature eARC. So while lossy Dolby Atmos over the Dolby Digital Plus format is possible, they can’t do Atmos passthrough via Dolby TrueHD or DTS:X via DTS-HD Master Audio. If you must have lossless Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, one option is to get an Atmos/DTS:X-capable soundbar, like the Samsung HW-Q90R.

Finally, it’s not entirely clear what HDMI 2.1 features will be on LG’s and Sony’s 8K TVs. I’ll update this section when I learn more.

 

5.) Other niceties: Apple TV app and smart home support

Okay, this has nothing to do with picture performance, but it’s worth pointing out if you’re shopping for a new TV: starting in May, all 2019 Samsung smart TVs sold here have the new Apple TV app and support AirPlay 2. 2018 Samsung 4K TVs will get them too after a firmware update.

In a nutshell, this Apple TV app enables you to access your existing iTunes library as well as buy or rent new movies and TV shows. The app will also integrate with Samsung’s smart TV services, such as the new Bixby on TV, and search.

Also, come this fall when Apple launches its Apple TV+ original video subscription service, Samsung smart TV users will be able to enjoy the service through the app. At the moment, Samsung TVs are the only TVs to have this new Apple TV app; the newest TVs from the other brands are expected to get this app sometime in the future, but no firm dates are announced yet.

Samsung smart TVs are the first to get the new Apple TV app.

Smart home support is another thing you might want to consider. As mentioned above, Samsung’s smart TVs this year will support AirPlay 2, which allows you to easily and quickly share videos, photos, and music from your Apple devices to the TV. This AirPlay 2 support is also coming to LG’s and Sony’s latest TVs.

If you’re into Apple’s HomeKit and want to use Siri to control your HomeKit-enabled smart home devices, LG’s and Sony’s 2019 TVs are the ones to look at. Both brands’ TVs also work with Google Assistant.

For Samsung smart TVs, the company's own SmartThings app enables smart home control on the big screen. Through the app (which is also available for iOS and Android), you can turn on lights, check what’s in the Family Hub fridge, see who’s at the door (via pop-up notifications on the TV), and even control the robot vacuum cleaner.

While SmartThings works best with SmartThings-branded gear, it can also work with third-party IoT devices and sensors, security cameras, door locks, speakers, and more. And yes, if you’ve a Google Home speaker, Samsung's QLED TVs will also work with Google Assistant.

In addition to a mobile version that's available on both iOS and Android, there's also a SmartThings app for Samsung smart TVs. The latter brings home control features to the big screen.

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