Growing availability of 8K TVs may be a watershed in the transition to next-generation TV, but eye-watering price tags make them more of a curiosity for consumers who are still getting their heads around 4K.

Expect to be inundated with information about the high-resolution technology in the pre-Christmas buying season, where TVs for mere mortals will be dwarfed by newly available TVs like LG’s $US29,999 ($A44,200) 88-inch giant or Samsung’s $99,999 98-inch monster.

Even if your next TV costs as much as a luxury car, there may not be much to watch.

That’s because moving from high-definition (HD) to 4K video quadrupled the size of the video files needed to deliver it, and 8K will quadruple bandwidth requirements again.

This creates very real issues for video producers that must juggle massive files storing hundreds of hours of content – and push the data smoothly through a host of colour-grading and other editing tools.

“We have big enough storage-space issues just dealing with HD, let alone 4K,” laughs Charles Spiteri, producer/director with Melbourne video production house Pixel3.

Capturing in 4K is most useful during post-production by allowing video producers to crop and zoom in on a scene without losing detail.

Doing this with 8K would allow even tighter cropping, yet storage considerations are a real issue. “We have to use compressed 4K instead of raw 4K,” Spiteri says, “which would be an absolute nightmare to deal with because we have so many projects going on that you just couldn’t store them all.”

Blunting the sharpest tool in the shed

If producing 8K video is challenging, delivering it is even more so.

Years ago, the introduction of 4K raised concerns that Australian broadband – currently ranked 62nd in the world – wouldn’t be able to keep up with streaming services from the likes of Stan and Netflix, which recommends a reliable 25Mbps service as a minimum for 4K.

Early YouTube experiments showed that streaming 8K video requires around 50Mbps – which would saturate the 50Mbps national broadband network (NBN) services that Australians are gobbling up.

Yet even though two-thirds of TVs sold in Australia now support 4K, many customers are price-sensitive and many won’t pay for 4K streaming services – much less 8K.

Many others watch most content on small-screen phones or tablets, where 4K is overkill and 8K utterly pointless.

Despite manufacturers’ breathless hype, market realities have driven analysts to lower their expectations: by 2023, Strategy Analytics projects, only 3 per cent of high-end TVs will support 8K.

Yet there’s another problem, Spiteri points out: we watch so many YouTube videos and vlogger reports that today’s video style is driving a less-is-more aesthetic – with subdued, organic natural colour palettes that aren’t helped by higher resolution.

“The fashion is now low-fi video production,” he explains, noting that corporate customers are requesting “something that doesn’t look slick, but looks more like a documentary style production.”

“People think it’s more authentic to go down that path, while 8K is more for the production of films, cinema and even billboard-sized projection systems. 8K will not make an ounce of difference on a small screen.”

Putting 8K where the sun shines

TLDR: today’s 8K TVs are too expensive and require content that isn’t being made, to be streamed from services that don’t exist, at speeds that are unattainable for most.

So, what is it actually good for?

Telstra offered one answer with a recent demo using the 5G mobile network to stream live 8K video of a Gold Coast beach to its Vantage industry show in Melbourne.

The demonstration – which united Telstra with partners Magna Group, Igloovision and Montreal-based 5G specialists Summit Tech Multimedia Communications – delivered immersive virtual reality (VR) broadcast onto a wrap-around 8K screen.

While the 8K video looked impressive, the real magic came from the 5G network’s low latency – which allowed it to refresh the VR view of the beach quickly enough to avoid the disorienting jerkiness known as motion-to-photon latency.

Control over the 5G network let Telstra tweak performance but this wouldn’t be possible using over-the-top (OTT) services like YouTube and Netflix, whose smoothness is limited by whatever Internet service they’re running over.

The secret sauce, Summit chief process officer Ron Nessim told Information Age, was IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) – a mobile network feature that co-ordinates streaming video alongside features like video chat, phone contact details, social-media ‘presence’, and even phone calls.

“At that point VR is an operator-based calling service rather than an OTT solution,” Nessim said, “and we have guaranteed quality of service between the two endpoints.

“Instead of this one-way broadcast mentality, it pairs to a phone number and becomes social.”

Live, immersive gaming and augmented reality (AR) are natural applications, while turning VR into a social experience would let you and a group of friends access a live concert stream where you could look around the arena, chat with your friends and capture photos in real time.

Nessim, who works with the global GSM Association standards committee, says phone makers and mobile network operators may build VR capabilities into phones’ chipsets, enabling smooth VR movement while sparing the phone battery-draining computations.

Streaming the entire 8K video won’t be necessary; rather, the phone will tell the network what resolution it supports and the network will crop a display window of that size from the full image.

In this way, the VR experience will be defined not by the resolution of the streaming, but the resolution at which the video is captured.

“You don’t have to transmit everything that you are capturing,” says Nessim, noting that his technical staff are already exploring 12K and 16K capture solutions.

“The implementation is being thought of from a social perspective, rather than a broadcast perspective, and that is a big difference in mindset.”