Value Electronics King of TV Test Looks at 8K
Value Electronics annually runs an event to try to identify the best TV in the US market. The event has a lot of credibility as there are a lot of specialist judges, and care is taken to ensure that each TV has the same signal. We’re planning a deeper dive into the technology used on the day but in this article we are looking at what the judges thought of 8K at the event. The event was split into two days, with UltraHD/4K on the first day and 8K tests on the second day. At the end of the 8K day, a panel session summarized what some of the judges had thought.
The panel was:
- David Mackenzie – Fidelity in Motion and a past display reviewer as well as one of the judges
- Sam Ahn – LG Electronics
- Jason Dustal of Murideo and ISF instructor
- Caleb Denison – an Editor from Digital Trends
- Rob Brennan of Sony
- Robert Zohn of Value Electronics
The result of the 8K shoot-out was as shown in the table below.
This year, LG won the 8K King of TV title.
The panel agreed that in 8K, the display panels are getting larger and brighter, although the amount of native 8K content is small. Brennan said that he believes that 8K makes a lot of sense for larger sets, even for well shot and produced UltraHD content. Zohn emphasized that the upscaling in the 8K sets has improved so much that you can get ‘stunning’ image quality even with upscaled 4K content. He explained that the higher number of pixels makes a difference to the image’s smoothness when viewed on 8K displays, reducing banding and other artifacts.
Gaming natively rendered in 8K will be a big deal because scaling will not be needed for the content. The panel agreed that “nobody thinks they need better resolution on their display until they see it”. The panel sees the development and growth of 8K as inevitable. The transitions from SD to HD to UltraHD were all difficult, with challenges in getting enough native content early on. But now, they are all well established.
Technologies like the compression used in the latest versions of HDMI will also enable up to 10K resolution, so there is still headroom for improvement.
8K Sets Have the Best of Everything
The panel made a point that was also recently made to us by the Consumer Technology Association in the US. 8K TVs are in the premium segment, and very often, the 8K TVs are not just the best for resolution, but they also have the latest supporting technology, such as the best backlights and processors. 8K is only one of the factors in making 8K TV sets great. That tends to make 8K sets more expensive, but over time the best technologies tend to get cheaper and move to the mainstream.
As ISPs develop their distribution and take away the caps on data downloads, the delivery of 8K will get more common using streaming technology.
There was a brief discussion of even bigger sets than those available today – and the question of “will we move to 16K?” from the audience. The panel seemed to think that the TV size was the critical limit because of the logistics of delivery and installation. However, it was pointed out that with the development of microLED, modular sets become possible and even the potential of upgradable TVs – for example, bought and installed at 100″ today, but migrating to 200″ with more modules in a few years. Movies are designed to be seen on huge screens – large TVs make a big difference to the feeling of immersion in the content and make for a much more ‘movie-like’ experience.
Amazon Has Joined the 8KA, and Content Creators are Preparing for 8K
Zohn pointed out that Amazon had joined the 8K Association, which suggests that the firm is looking to the future with 8K. Zohn believes that a futureproof set has to be 8K. More detail and better contrast give the image a greater perception of depth. He also pointed out that ATSC 3.0 s looking at ways to deliver 8K and said broadcasters and content creators are getting ready for this next resolution.
“You’re going to see a big advancement in the amount of content you can view in native 8K, quicker than you think”, Zohn said.
In response to a question about the big changes over the last five years in consumer TV, the importance of processing was highlighted by Brennan of Sony. The sets in the test situation did not have to work so hard – they were provided with very high-quality content from very good quality sources. On the other hand, consumers can have a wide range of different sources and quality levels, so the TV has to do a lot of work to optimize the image quality, he said. The improvements in HDMI are also making a big difference to systems (think source-based tone mapping, VRR, etc.).
Gaming is Important
Gaming is important because the latest games and technology render ultrarealistic images that are helped by 8K, but the increased resolution is not enough on its own. Fast rendering and other factors are important to the overall gaming experience.
Gamers sit closer to the screen to get a more immersive experience, and that’s where the extra pixels of 8K make a difference, Zohn said. There is a real potential issue if you trade resolution for frame rate – gamers want to get a ‘silky’ experience at high frame rates – not just at 60Hz but even at higher frame rates. 4K is just getting to the point where frame rates are high enough for immersive gaming, but systems need to get faster to support higher refresh than 60Hz in 8K.
An earlier comment from the panel was that high frame rates would be needed for some cinematic content in the future and not just for gaming, although there is a range of different views on using different frame rates.
8K will also be needed for VR – seeing pixels can break the feeling of immersion and the suspension of disbelief. 8K also helps as content moves to HDR formats – the more significant number of pixels means a smoother gradation of different luminance levels.
Content tools such as Unreal Engine are democratized and not limited to a particular resolution. Enthusiasts are already making content such as 8K game trailers using the platform, and ‘they look stunning’.
Contrast, Colour, and Clarity
The panel’s view was that the ‘three Cs’ – of Contrast, Color and Clarity should be in that order of importance. That is the order of importance that is recognized by the ISF training courses which highlight those three factors. However, Brennon says not everybody has that order of importance for the three qualities. In the end, the customer is always right.
Looking to the future, the panel expects better user interfaces and interaction closer to the level set by mobile devices. Greater color will come from content captured and delivered in the Rec 2020 gamut rather than Rec.709 or DCI-P3 today. There will be better control of peak luminance that will give improved gradation and control of highlight and shadow detail. That improvement will make the images look sharper even if there are no more pixels.
There will be more innovation in display technologies to boost many areas of performance – it would be great to get the brightness of an LCD with the black level of an OLED, for example. There is still room for more and better pixels. HDMI 2.1 is designed to last a lot of years, and it’s the copper that currently really limits the performance. On the other hand, HDMI with integrated fiber optics is pushing to 150Gbps, so there is still room for a lot of progress in the future.
MicroLED is an exciting technology, but at the moment, the pixel pitch is a bit big, so to get even just FullHD that can mean a display greater than 100″, said Zohn.
Content Creators Need to Learn How to Work in 8K
A question was asked about the limitation in resolution for moving images and content caused by the fundamental architecture of the current generation of displays that have ‘sample and hold’ addressing. Cinematographers and camera operators need to learn a new grammar of how to shoot motion to look natural in 8K. Still, set makers also have to be cleverer in manipulating the images (e.g., by zonal control of backlights) to optimize areas of the display where there is motion rather than imposing a luminance penalty by blinking the backlight of the whole display.
We spoke to a display specialist that attended the event, and he mentioned that one of the comments of the judges during the 8K day was that, in terms of sharpness, the good signals provided to the sets meant that there was no actual difference in the sharpness of the different sets on show. However, the sets with more dynamic range and contrast did seem sharper, subjectively.
TVs in General
Looking to areas other than 8K, the panel was very positive about developments.
Robert Zohn, who organizes the event, highlighted that there had been a significant improvement in panel technology this year, with LG’s WOLED technology being improved and Samsung’s introduction of QD-OLED (although only in UltraHD format, rather than 8K as well). The processors have also improved to make this the most significant boost in performance in TVs ‘in a decade’, he said. TV prices are also competitive at the moment, so buyers are getting “a really good deal”.
The point was made that a new panel technology usually can have some disadvantages at introduction, but QD-OLED has given good performance ‘right out of the box’. TV makers have also reacted to a desire for better gaming performance on TVs, so developments have not just been about image brightness and color. The difference between gaming monitors and TVs is blurring regarding input lag and refresh.
HDMI has also improved a lot with filmmaker and auto low latency modes – a lot of the optimization is now ‘hands off’ for the user. Calibration control has also been improved, making the whole process easier and more accurate.
Premium TV has been essential to consumers as the pandemic has made high-quality entertainment more important in the home, which has helped improve the average quality of what is seen.
The first day’s testing concluded that while some years ago there were often significant differences between the different sets in performance level, these days the differences are minimal, and the difference between the first and second best sets on the UltraHD testing day was ‘minuscule’.