8K TV Is Getting the Lion's Share of CES Buzz, but Samsung's Micro LED and LG's 'Rollable' OLED Are Worth a Look

As CES kicked off today, panel supplier AU Optronics and consumer-electronics vendors Hisense, Panasonic, Samsung Electronics and TCL Electronics announced the formation of the 8K Association, a nonprofit organization supporting the commercialization of 8K television technology.

The organization said it would help promote 8K content and hardware, educate consumers about the technology, and develop technical standards and specifications for 8K imagery and hardware.

“The 8K Association will not only provide an effective introduction to 8K technology, but will also accelerate the beginning of the 8K era,” said Samsung Electronics EVP of Visual Display Business Hyogun Lee in a prepared statement. “By leading the early stages of ecosystem development, Samsung will further solidify its global leadership in the 8K market.”

We’ve been hearing about 8K TVs at least since 2012, which is the year Sharp dragged an 85-inch prototype to CES. But they became a real option for consumers only recently. In 2017, Sharp shipped a 70-inch 8K display in Asia; that was followed by Samsung’s 8K QLED TVs hitting worldwide markets last year. This year, Sony, LG and more say they are getting into the 8K business.

Sony Z9G 8K TV

Sony Z9G 98-inch 8K TV (85-inch also available)
Sony Electronics

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say there’s nothing to watch in 8K. If you live in Japan — or would be willing to move there in search of more pixels — NHK’s BS8K channel broadcasts in 8K for 12 hours each day. But in the U.S., it’s hard enough to find available 4K programming, and this country is still a content wasteland when it comes to 8K.

That says two things about the first generation of 8K television sets. First of all, they’re going to be used mainly to watch HD and 4K UHD content, which will be upscaled to 8K using the finest technology manufacturers can pack behind their flat screens. This may or may not result in a meaningful improvement in picture quality.

Second, they’re coming to market before 8K broadcasting standards have actually been finalized, which could result in headaches or disappointment down the road. For instance, LG’s 8K sets support the newest HDMI 2.1 spec out of the box, meaning it can support 8K signals at 60p, while Samsung’s 85-inch Q900R only has HDMI 2.0. Samsung has suggested 2.1 will be supported via firmware updates, but has made no promises to date. At $15,000 that’s a big maybe. (Samsung also flatly refuses to support Dolby Vision HDR.)

OK, one more thing — 8K TVs, to make any sense at all in the living room, have to be big. You already have to be sitting reasonably close to a 4K TV to really see meaningful improvements in resolution, and 8K will have similar benefit on the biggest screens. At least for the forseeable future, 60 inches is likely to be the smallest size that really makes sense for the 8K technology, with manufacturers more likely to put the technology in TVs that are 80 or 90 inches or more.

Samsung Micro LED demo

Samsung’s Micro LED technology features modular panels.
Samsung Electronics

Along those lines, there’s been some CES buzz around LED systems with modular screens that can be built out by adding bezel-free video panels until the desired size is achieved. (These new LEDs are self-emissive, meaning each pixel emits its own light, yielding pictures with characteristics similar to OLED technology.) Sony has been showing its Crystal LED video system at industry trade shows for a couple of years, including a stunning wall-sized HDR display that it hoped could eventually replace projection screens in movie theaters. This year, Crystal LED made its CEDIA debut, testing the waters in the home theater market.

At CES, Samsung is showing its own Micro LED TV system, spotlighting a 75-inch 4K display with a modular panel design that can be expanded to as large as 219 inches, or deployed with its panels arranged in a variety of offbeat shapes and sizes. Samsung has obvious aspirations to roll out Micro LED screens for home theater use, but made no announcements about price or availability.

If you’re in the mood for something completely different, look up LG’s Signature OLED TV R, a 65-inch screen that can be rolled up and hidden from view. The base, into which the entire screen can retreat, is a pretty hefty piece of furniture, but it features what LG calls a 4.2-channel 100W front-firing Dolby Atmos speaker system. LG hasn’t announced a price. Do you live in an apartment that looks like the ones in the video above? If so, you may be able to afford it.