Sharp Unveils 70-inch Aquos 8K Television, Will Ship in 2018

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The majority of US consumers still use 1080p TVs or below; 4K screens currently account for an estimated 15-20 percent of the US consumer market. With 4K content still ramping up, it might seem premature to focus on a future standard people won’t be able to take advantage of for years. Sharp, however, has set its sights on doing just that. The Foxconn-owned company announced its plans to launch its new LC-70X500 this year, with a true 8K panel. This isn’t Sharp’s first 8K product, but it’s the first to feature “just” a five-digit price tag, at $73,000.

The Aquos 8K (LC-70X500) is a 70-inch true 8K panel with support for HDR, 79 percent of the Rec.2020 color space adopted for UHD Blu-ray, and local backlight dimming to tune the display’s emitted light, depending on what colors and brightness level are being produced on various parts of the screen. Sharp’s current plan is to release the TVs in China first (October 2017) followed by Japan (December 2017), Taiwan (February 2018), and Europe (March 2018). It’s not clear when it’ll be available in the United States.

The 8K Caveats

8K

There are, of course, caveats — and plenty of them. First and foremost, 8K commercial content literally doesn’t exist. Movie studios and streaming services have begun to offer 4K options over the past few years, but there’s nothing available for an 8K display. The 70X500 is capable of upsampling 4K content for 8K display, and this does tend to improve image quality, but it’s not the same as native content. The 70-inch panel draws 470W at the wall (the previous 85-inch 8K TV from Sharp apparently pulled 1.4kW), and connects to your TV tuner or media PC via four HDMI cables — which means you aren’t hooking this thing to a PC any time soon.

Even the item name has a caveat. Sharp’s documentation notes: “BS/110 CS digital broadcasting tuner is installed, but the function to receive 4K-8K broadcasting by BS/110 CS is not installed.” If you want to actually watch 8K broadcasts when they become available, you’ll need to buy a separate tuner, the TU-SH1050, expected to arrive in Japan at the end of 2018 and to cost ~$64,000 then. The estimated product run per month for the 70-inch display is also small; Sharp is targeting 200 TVs per month or 2,400 per year.

Next, there’s the inevitable viewing distance problem.

Graph

The chart above lists how far away a person with 20/20 eyesight needs to be from a display to notice an improvement in resolution and detail. If you sit 6-8 feet away from a 70-inch television, you’ll probably be able to see the improvement when moving from 1080p to 4K. Even if we assume that the higher resolution area is entirely assigned to 8K, you’d need to be 2-4 feet away to see the difference. Even a 100-inch display at six feet away only barely touches the “Worth It” line. The slope of the line for the “Higher Resolution Worth It” is small enough that you might need a 120-inch television to see the difference at a modest (relative to the size of your television) eight-foot viewing distance.

Sharp is trying to create an entire ecosystem around 8K, but this is going to be a slow and gradual process. HDMI and DisplayPort will need to be upgraded to account for the enormous bandwidth requirements. Professional cameras and broadcasting standards will need to be updated. Given that we created a new encoding standard (H.265) when we went from 1080p to 4K, we’ll probably see something similar happen again, to keep bandwidth costs and broadcast requirements something approaching sanity — assuming 8K happens at the consumer level at all. HDR and Rec 2020 color are two ways to substantially improve visual fidelity without adding more resolution. Stuffing pixels into displays that no one will be able to see isn’t a great use of manufacturing capability, particularly not when the cost of 8K panels is so much higher than their 4K or 1080p counterparts.

Put together all the necessary pieces, and we still think 8K is 5-10 years away from being practically useful to consumers, and this assumes we adopt it for consumer broadcasting at all. Still, if you’ve got $75,000 to burn and don’t need a Tesla Model S, a 70-inch 8K TV would definitely be unique.

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