The terms “8K” and “4K” describe a television screen’s resolution or the number of pixels it contains. A pixel is essentially the smallest dot that can light up on a screen. So-called full-HD screens — the best of the best a decade ago — display 1920 by 1080 pixels. This level of resolution is also sometimes expressed as video content or a screen being “1080p.”
But technology always moves forward, and HD now pales compared to 4K or 8K offerings. Screens that are 4K have a display of 3840 by 2160 pixels, while 8K TVs shine with 7680 by 4320 pixels. Essentially, 4K screens have twice as many pixels in both width and height vs. HD or four times the total pixels. 8K has 16 times the pixels as HD.
Televisions with 4K resolution are now pretty standard in people’s homes. Almost all 4K TVs feature smart-TV capabilities, built-in streaming apps and other home entertainment software, and many have helpful voice controls.
Well-known brands that make 4K TVs include Hisense, LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL and Vizio. Depending on the size of the TV, buyers can expect to pay between $1,000-$2,000. Some 4K TVs retail for less (even under $300 on Amazon), but these almost always have screens of 50 inches or less, a size too small for a home’s main TV space.
The jump from 1080p resolution to a 4K TV is enormous. A 4K screen has more detail in every picture it displays with the sheer number of pixels. It’s worth noting that 4K is the lowest digital resolution that will capture the complete detail of 35mm film, which most movies have been shot on. So 4K can give users the visual experience of a movie theater at home.
Most importantly, space. Consider the room in your home that you want a TV for, and then look at 4K models available to that room. Generally, screen size is the most significant factor in determining a TV’s price.
Unfortunately, 4K TVs can sometimes make footage that was not initially intended for 4K resolution look worse. HDMI cables are not all equal, so depending on your purchase model, you might need to get better HDMI sockets for your TV to handle decent framerates in 4K quality. This was a bigger problem when 4K first came out, but you should be aware of the HDMI inputs you plan to use.
Always double-check the connectivity and types of HDMI connections that a TV has before buying it. Just because a 4K TV has a high resolution does not mean it will reliably display moving images at that resolution for a quality viewing experience.
The star players for 4K TVs are reliable brands like Samsung and Sony. Samsung’s QLED Series 4K Smart TV has a Quantum Processor that upgrades lower-resolution content to 4K. In addition to features you would expect from a smart TV.
The Sony X950H 4K TV has similar 4K benefits and some unique features that might interest some users. It has a dedicated game mode that allows for a smoother 4K gaming experience using PlayStation consoles. It is also compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant software, so you can control your entertainment experience hands-free.
Televisions with 8K resolution are a tiny slice of the market. They don’t boast features not found on other smart TVs, except for the number of pixels displayed.
Most big-name TV manufacturers produce 8K models, brands like Hisense, LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and TCL. These will mostly be priced between $1,500-$3,000, but some bigger models will stretch several thousand dollars higher.
The resolution is four times more pixels than a 4K TV and 16 times more than a Full HD 1080p screen. If that difference sounds massive, that is because it is. If you love details and color, an 8K TV just has way more potential than other screens, mathematically speaking.
The primary current use for an 8K TV is in upscaling 4K and other lower-resolution content to look better than ever. As more companies and platforms jump on board creating 8K content, the library of overwhelmingly detailed, high-quality 8K visuals will grow. To access that cutting-edge content at its full potential, you would need a screen that supports 8K resolution.
For the most part, the human eye cannot discern the difference between 4K and 8K resolution. Viewers would need to sit pretty close to the screen to notice the difference in resolution quality.
A more considerable drawback is a lack of native 8K content available. Netflix, Disney+ and other large streaming services do not stream 8K content yet, and likely won’t anytime soon, given the bandwidth required. Also, the best resolution currently offered in gaming consoles and content is 4K. So most TV buyers will struggle to reap the supposed benefits of 8K.
There are not many 8K TV models out yet, and given how new the technology is, not too many customers have provided feedback and reviews of their experiences with an 8K screen. However, one stand-out model is the Samsung Flat QLED 8K TV with built-in Alexa compatibility and an AI system that handles 8K upscaling. The TV remasters lower-resolution content for viewers to watch at a higher resolution.
Just as videos below 4K quality may look worse on a 4K screen, an 8K screen’s exponentially higher resolution could cause even more problems for viewing content you already have. And, as noted before, there is very little native 8K content available.
A 4K TV can be a big jump in resolution, detail and quality, especially for fans of the moviegoing experience. Once more content is meant to be viewed in 8K, that higher resolution might be worth it.
Early adopters certainly will want to consider buying an 8K TV. But for most people, particularly those still watching HD screens, purchasing a larger 4K TV would provide a more noticeable improvement in TV and movie watching.
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Elliott Rivette writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.