16K TVs Explained: What Comes After 4K and 8K Resolutions?

Is it time to start thinking about 16K TVs? In the ongoing race among TV makers to outdo their competition, technological standards are continually being pushed to new heights, which means 16K resolution – the next step after 4K and 8K – has arrived.

For most homes, 4K is the standard resolution on the best smart TVs. It’s rare to buy a new TV without 4K being part of the bare minimum you’d expect. But it’s by no means the best resolution option on the market today. In fact, even 8K TVs aren’t the best available, given the advent of ultra-advanced 16K displays.

Promising unparalleled clarity, crispness and detail, this is arguably the holy grail of an exceptional cinematic experience. Still, the technology is still fairly new and it’s priced high, which begs the question of how it differs from 4K and 8K, and will it become a base resolution option?

Sony was the first major brand to unveil a 16K TV in 2019. Their 16K Crystal LED display was, and still is, a thing of beauty. Its 1,000 nits brightness, 15,360 x 8,640 pixel count, and modular configuration allow this technology to create a “near-virtual” reality that offers immersive visualization. It almost sounds too good to be true… and if you’re not a commercial buyer, unfortunately it is. For now.

While all of the above features make it too tempting to say goodbye to 4K for good, while bypassing 8K entirely, we can’t. This is because 16K being a household standard is a long way off. Most home entertainment is currently not available in 16K. Truth be told, there are still a lot of channels that don’t offer true 4K, and this resolution has been available since 2012.

Still, while we can’t all buy one now, our guide can tell you what 16K TV really means, what we know so far about this technology, and ultimately whether it will ever dominate our living rooms.

What is 16K?

Basically, the term 16K refers to the number of pixels in an image. But to put 16K’s 15,360 x 8640 pixels into perspective, we have to look at what the 4K and 8K resolutions have to offer. Typically, 4K is defined as 3840 x 2160 pixels, while 8K is 7680 x 4320. This means that 16K TVs have a pixel density of 16 times that of 4K and eight times that of 8K. It’s a big improvement.

Since the pixels need to be smaller to fit that much in a single screen, individual pixels also can’t emit as much light – so it’s crucial that 16K TVs provide benchmark brightness. This is why the 1000 nits marker is such an important feature of 16K resolutions.

Assuming that 16K TVs retain the modular setup presented by Sony, the overall TV would be made up of 16 x 18 inch square screens with 360 x 360 resolution in each. This would then provide 120Hz frame rates, 10-bit grayscale, and 99% black area, allowing for deep blacks and excellent contrast. Again, this assumes other brands go for similar specs.

The new TCL 6-Series 8K TV with Mini LED

(Image credit: TCL)

Are 16K screens really better than 8K?

It might sound outrageous to ask, but do 16K screens really make such a difference? It is important to ask yourself before you start dreaming about the arrival of such advanced screens in our homes, because they are far from being installed.

In truth, it all depends on the size of the TV, what content you will be watching (are you watching 16K content?) And how far you are sitting from the screen.

The higher the resolution of a screen, the closer you have to be to see the increased detail. So if you’re sitting 10 feet from a TV screen, you probably won’t be able to see the difference between 4K and 8K – let alone 16K.

If you are sitting close enough, you’ll need some native 16K content – a video that was recorded or created in 16K – to see how good it can be. Today’s 8K TV makers are always looking to improve low resolution content efficiently, and the greater the disparity between content resolution and screen resolution for a TV processor.

So the will be be a noticeable difference in quality compared to 4K or even 8K, but that difference would be minimal unless certain conditions are met.

The downsides of 16K right now

As we mentioned in our 4K TV explanation, the file sizes for 4K content are much larger than those for low resolution content. Streaming this kind of content over the internet at home or on data is now difficult, and that without higher resolutions being included. Quite simply, the bandwidth is not there yet – not just for broadcasters but also for viewers, as most people do not have broadband, especially in more rural areas where reliable internet is lacking.

When you start adding these variables, the advantages of crisp images and smooth movements start to pale in comparison to any potential drawbacks right now.

Sony PS5 console standing

The PS5 is technically capable of playing 8K, but that’s realistic years away – and 16K games can be decades away. (Image credit: Sony)

What about 16K games?

It’s possible, but it’s not an easily accessible option, which is a recurring theme with 16K. Players have played in 16K before, like YouTuber Linus Sebastian demonstrated after setting up 16 4K displays for gaming. Its results were impressive, but arguably not true 16K, nor the smooth graphics we’ve seen produced in 16K since.

There’s also the fact that the latest PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles have only recently plunged into 4K options, so expecting 16K is in big demand right now. PC gamers, as always, fare better than their console counterparts, but it’s the cost that will always make it difficult to get 16K.

Are we ready for 16K resolution?

Commercially, yes. In residence, no. Right now, 16K is a luxury that few people will be able to afford and / or properly enjoy. If you just focus on Sony for now, the price is assumed to be $ 10,000 (around £ 7,500 / AU $ 14,000) by module, on top of that, you have the logistics to keep this exceptional technology running in peak condition.

As consumers, we’re hungry for the latest and greatest technology, and it’s clear manufacturers are capable of running 16K – but the day-to-day cleaning isn’t ready yet. It won’t be for the next two years either. If 16K is ever to be rolled out for everyone, it will be a constant and gradual process, with 8K TVs first set to become as widespread as 4K TVs are now.

What’s next for 16K TVs?

While this is an exciting prospect for home theater connoisseurs, 16K television is still in its infancy. The innovation we have already witnessed opens up many possibilities, but it will be time before 16K delivers the high standards we demand from such technology, with the affordability necessary for mainstream acceptance.

There is also the fact that 8K resolution hasn’t had its day yet, although the way it is rapidly gaining momentum means the time may finally be right. The number of 8K units sold has tripled in the past year. When it comes to the next natural steps, it seems obvious that broadcasters and viewers will want to switch to 8K before they switch to 16K.

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