8K Upscaling Wars Get Under Way At IFA 2019

September 10, 2019

Rob Stott

In all fairness, 8K upscaling has always been a part of the conversation around the latest TV technology. But, without a doubt, that conversation was cranked up a few dials during IFA 2019 in Berlin.

We first saw 8K introduced by the major brands at this show last year, including LG, Samsung, Sharp, and more. But in the time since, those brands have been busy prepping their respective retail launches, and explaining the technical advantages of 8K versus existing 4K TVs. And, again, the lack of content and the need for upscaling has been present and discussed, but it’s rarely been the focus.

Obviously, though, it needs to be. Because, despite how awesome the marketing reels look as they roll across these massive and gorgeous screens on a trade show floor, the fact is, consumers are going to put them in their homes, and they’ll generally be used to watch local TV, sitcom reruns, or whatever sports happen to be on that night—the types of content that still are years away from being available in true 8K quality, and in the case of sitcoms, I don’t think they plan to reshoot ‘Friends’ in 8K any time soon.

True, the most recent Super Bowl featured a handful of 8K cameras that were deployed by CBS, and broadcasters of the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics will likely employ 8K cameras. (In fact, one Japanese network has begun streaming in 8K.) But the capacity for 8K both from a bandwidth perspective and the cost of investment make the realization of native 8K content a bit of a pipe dream right now.

And that’s what makes upscaling so critical for the early early success of 8K.

Upscaling from Full HD 1080 to 4K was also an important talking point—and still is in a sense, because even 4K content is hard to come by today. But we’re already looking at a reality where we’re going to need that same FHD content to look even better on larger, even-higher-resolution TVs. Those 33 million pixels need to be filled up somehow.

Which brings us back to IFA 2019, where upscaling was a major focus.

In each of the 8K sets that we’ve walked by here in Berlin, brands have placed a striking amount of emphasis on the upscaling capabilities on their 8K TVs. Using a combination of built-in technology like local dimming zones and artificial intelligence, these TVs can generate enough upscaling power to make lower-resolution images appear crisper and more vibrant.

TCL and Samsung QLED TVs refer to the process simply as 8K AI upscaling, while LG applies their ThinQ AI technology to its 8K sets to complete that process. No matter the naming convention, the fact is it seems as if the technology is performing as intended. And it really just comes down to the processing power that TV makers are putting into their newer flagship models. AI chips have improved in the years since the launch of 4K, and they’re continually learning and improving as they upscale content. That’s AI in a nutshell, right?

And it’s not like these TVs are simply sliding the “sharpness” setting all the way up to try to smooth out the pixels. They’re also leaning on the other high-end TV technology found in today’s sets to improve things like color contract, sharper text, enhanced detail, and more.

So, while we’re still a ways off from widely available 8K content for these TVs, it’s been made clear here at IFA 2019 that manufacturers have done just about everything they can to try to make the content we’re already watching appear as if it was made for their new sets. Does that justify the tens of thousands of dollars these 8K TVs cost right now? Perhaps that’s conversation for another day.

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