With the release of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 in 2020, we’ve started to see the era of console gaming finally taking full advantage of televisions with 4K resolutions (i.e. “Ultra HD” 3840×2160 pixels) which is becoming increasingly popular in the market. Now, however, at least one TV maker is already planning to support 8K-enabled consoles (ie, 7680×4320 resolution), which it believes could hit the market in the next year or two.
Polish gaming site PPL reports on a recent public presentation by Chinese television and electronics maker TCL. Hidden in a slide during this presentation is a roadmap for what TCL sees as “Gen 9.5” consoles coming in 2023 or 24. These putative consoles – dubbed PS5 Pro and “New Xbox Series S/X” on the slide – will be able to deliver 8K resolution output at up to 120 frames per second, according to TCL’s slide .
First off, there’s little reason to believe that a lesser-known TV maker has leaked the first official word on Sony and Microsoft’s next console plans. As GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb points out, it’s fair to say that TCL is speculating about the console makers’ plans “because they’re putting the information in big letters on a stage. confidentiality agreement.”
Still, speculation about a new mid-gen upgrade isn’t far-fetched. After all, four years after the Xbox One and PS4 launched, we’ve seen the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro offering their own resolution leaps over their predecessor consoles.
Since we’re speculating anyway, it’s worth asking the question: is there any real value in a console capable of outputting at 8K resolution? And will gamers have to switch to an 8K-capable television in the foreseeable future?
The answer to that first question largely depends on the screen size and viewing distance for your gaming setup. These variables determine the “angular resolution” of an image, meaning how many pixels can be squeezed into each degree of your vision.
A person with 20/20 vision is generally unable to discern visual detail that is less than 1/60 degree angular resolution on their retina. According to an analysis by RTINGS.com, using this heuristic, screen resolutions beyond 4K are only worthwhile for screens 65 inches and larger when you’re sitting 4 feet or less from the screen. That’s pretty tight for most living rooms.
More rigorous studies of how viewers perceive visual detail also suggest limited benefits in moving from 4K to 8K displays. TechHive’s Scott Wilkinson detailed a 2020 study, a double-blind test led by Warner Bros. that asked participants to rate the relative quality of a set of movie clips rendered in both 4K and 8K. This test provided results from nearly 140 participants of varying visual acuity, seated either 5 feet or 8 feet from an 88-inch OLED screen.
The study created a subjective scale for participants to rate the two different versions of each clip: “same” (0); “slightly better” (+1); “better” (+2); and “much better” (+3) (When the 4K clip was judged better, the results noted a negative value). On average, participants rated the 8K clips just 0.252 points better than their 4K counterparts. While that’s technically an improvement, it’s one that puts you just a quarter of the way to “slightly better” on the study’s subjective scale.
Additionally, a slim majority of participants who watched six of the seven clips said both resolutions looked the same; they literally couldn’t tell the difference. A significant minority of participants also said that the 4K image looked betterwhich might indicate that they are guessing.
Who is in the market?
Right now, 8K TVs are an expensive niche, with high-end displays costing close to $30,000. Given that and the relative lack of 8K-enabled content, it’s not surprising that manufacturers shipped fewer than 100,000 8K-enabled TVs worldwide in the last quarter of 2021, according to Omdia Research. And while prices will undoubtedly come down, Omdia sees 8K devices in just over 2.6 million homes worldwide by 2026 and “no convincing market demand for further development of 8K services” globally.
In other words, we may finally be reaching the point where the law of diminishing returns will finally force console makers and game makers to stop looking for more and more pixels as a selling point. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improved pixel densities when gaming, though. PC gamers who routinely sit a foot or two away from increasingly larger monitors could likely benefit from at least another doubling of the linear pixel density in their displays.
And let’s not forget VR displays, which routinely sit just a few inches from the player’s eyes. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey told Ars back in 2013 that a VR headset would have to generate 8K resolution “per eye” “to get to the point where you can’t see any pixels. And to get to the point where you can’t see anymore for further improvement, you’d need a multiple.” How’s that for a “retina display”?
Entry image from RTING.com