Ultra HD 4K is still well established and there is already a higher resolution for the door: 8K Ultra HD. We got some time to get the Sharp LV-70X500E to the test, the first Ultra HD 8K TV available on the market. What does 8K mean for the viewing experience, and how does the first 8K score TV?
A word about Sharp
Sharp has disappeared from the radar for a while because of financial problems. In the US HiSense got a license on the Sharp TV brand, and in Europe that license went to the Slovakian UMC. The company Sharp came into the hands of Foxconn, the Chinese giant, who served as a subcontractor for several well-known electronics brands, including Apple, in August 2016.
Foxconn then bought a majority of the shares in UMC, so that Sharp retraced its TV business in its own right. hands, and can again make TVs for Europe. Sharp and Foxconn are apparently serious about getting back on TV, because 8.8 billion USD has been invested in a new Gen 10.5 LCD factory in China. From the 2940 mm x 3370 mm LCD glass plates of that factory, eight 65 inch screens can be cut.
Although Sharp currently mainly targets the mass market (read: the cheaper models), it also works a return to the premium segment. This new Ultra HD 8K TV, with a price tag of 11,000 euros, is clearly part of that plan. With 16x more pixels than Full HD you might wonder if we can still see them. We have already talked extensively about the possible use of 8K in a previous article. Not coincidentally, Sharp cites the same reasons to look at 8K. Such images / screens can provide an impression that ‘you really are there’, because they provide so much detail that we come into ‘hyper-sharp’ territory. Sharp clearly made it clear that 8K is primarily a technology that will allow us to bring larger screens to the living room, because those larger sizes are really needed to get some use from 8K.
When we look at the market of last year we notice that sizes of 30-44 inches are still half of the sold numbers, but that their share is shrinking. Even 50-55 inches, accounting for 14% of the numbers sees its share dwindling, all in favor of the larger models. Large screens are therefore on the rise, and since they are generally also more expensive, manufacturers will be happy to see that.
The living room evolution
A striking image of Sharp illustrates how our living rooms have evolved (and how they hope that they will evolve further). With the introduction of Full HD, a 32 inch screen was “big”, although not huge. With 4K we can put four such screens together, good for a 64 inch diagonal. That is the situation today, and it was almost unthinkable 10 years ago.
Sharp clearly hopes that this trend will continue. With 8K Ultra HD we come to a 128 inch screen diagonal (four 4K screens, or 16 Full HD screens). That is not impossible, as many projector viewers will agree, but it does require some adjustment. How fast we will adopt such screens is therefore to be expected.
Good, but where is the content?
Besides a screen you also need content. Is that there? Sharp was also very honest in that respect. The main source of 8K content will be upscaling. Read, your existing Full HD and Ultra HD content that is enlarged by the image processor. In addition, it will mainly concern content created by the consumer himself, especially photographs. After all, they often already have a much higher resolution than 4K.
Such images therefore provide unseen detail. The first image below fills the entire 70 inch screen.
This close-up is taken from a distance of 10 cm (!), You can see the reflection of the photographer, in the iris of the eye.
On a professional level Sharp has his own camera, the 8C-B60A, which was already used for parts of Roland Garros this year.
YouTube already supports more than two year 8K (eg here and here) and the Netflix series ‘Lost in Space’ was recorded in 8K. Remember that such content stream requires a lot of bandwidth (min. 20 Mbps to easily 50 Mbps and more).
Conclusion: the content is hardly there at all. Sharp also hopes for a quick breakthrough here (at least faster than with Full HD and 4K), but that seems very optimistic. Broadcasters are looking at huge investments to spread 8K, and the required bandwidth means that streaming is not just a solution. We may therefore also have a next-gen codec like AV1, a successor to the current VP9 and H.265.
Sharp LV-70X500E: There he is: the first 8K ‘tv’
Time to get it to talk about the first 8K ‘tv’ and yes, we have to put the word tv in quotes because officially it’s about a monitor. After all, the screen is not equipped with TV tuners, nor with a smart TV system, and then it may not carry the name TV.
Sharp’s reason for this was very clear. This screen is for business purposes, and for consumers who are not looking at a Euro more or less, but simply want the best. They can then provide a set-top box (for digital TV) and a smart TV solution of their own choice. Apart from that, the specifications look fine.
Sharp LV-70X500E: Connections
How do you deliver 8K video? With four (!) HDMI connections at the same time, it turns out. The device is not yet equipped with HDMI 2.1 (the specifications were only finalized at the beginning of this year). Since 8K requires an enormous bandwidth that HDMI 2.0 can not deliver (HDMI 2.0 is limited to 18 Gbps and 8K requires 32 to 128 Gbps), a creative solution was needed. 8K is therefore supplied via four aggregated HDMI connections. Of course you need a player who offers that, and you can only find that kind of equipment on the professional market (read: a few thousand euros), which again indicates that this device really does not aim at the big masses.
What if there will be players in the consumer market next year who do offer HDMI 2.1 and send 8K video in that way? We asked Sharp if they would provide a solution, and that is apparently still being investigated.
Via USB you can supply 8K photos, but unfortunately no 8K video.
Sharp LV-70X500E: Image quality
We had the opportunity to perform some of our tests on the new television. The device is equipped with a VA type panel, which provides good contrast but a limited viewing angle. To further improve the contrast, a full array local dimming backlight has been used which is subdivided into 216 segments. That sounds good, but on a 70-inch screen that is not an exaggeration, and for a top-end device that is even a little too little (the Sony ZD9, Panasonic DX900 and Samsung Q9FN are more around 500-700 segments on a 65 inch ). You can also see the segments here and there at work, typically when a dark scene comes right after a bright one. Also the uniformity of the panel showed no perfect result.
The upscaling yields solid results, but certainly no groundbreaking. A short test with the Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull Blu-ray showed quite clearly that the image is good, but not better than what you would expect from the Blu-ray.
The X500E was well calibrated. The black value is excellent, with excellent contrast as a result. The gray scale is nicely neutral, and has a slightly too cool color temperature (blue tint) which will disturb few people. The color reproduction is fine.
Sharp LV-70X500E: HDR
An 8K screen without HDR that really would not be possible. The Sharp supports HLG and HDR10. Whether there would be support for HDR10 + Sharp could not tell us, but Dolby Vision is clearly excluded.
The X500E is equipped with a ‘new’ technology to generate a broader color palette and that showed itself during the measurements. With a coverage of 78% Rec.2020 this screen is the new leader in that area. (both oled and qled today deliver a maximum of about 71% Rec.2020). Because a green has been chosen that goes very clearly in the direction of the real Rec.2020 green, the coverage of the P3 color range is slightly less (89% compared to 97-99% for OLED and OLED). It was difficult to estimate the impact of this on the current content (which mainly targets P3). But the color range is indeed large enough to allow good HDR reproduction
In terms of light output, the Sharp has a specification of 1,000 nits and that was during the measurements easy to confirm. In some circumstances the meter went to almost 1,400 nits. The EOTF curve is followed fairly well, but as we see with more manufacturers, the brightness is too high here. The screen also removes all the detail above 1000 nits, and in a test with other metadata, the TV turned out to ignore that metadata. There is therefore a risk that content targeted at, for example, 2,000 or 4,000 nits is mastered, which will lose white detail.
The Sharp certainly has the necessary base on board to ensure excellent HDR reproduction.
Sharp LV-70X500E: Conclusion
This first 8K monitor / television is, not unexpectedly, a special case, something that Sharp was also very honest about. The screen is intended to start the 8K market and is therefore primarily aimed at business use, and consumers who absolutely do not look at the price tag of 11,000 euros. 8K video can only be delivered via four HDMI cables. There are no TV tuners nor smart TV system provided. Things that all make clear that he is not meant for the average consumer.
The amount of detail you get from a 70 inch 8K screen is impressive, but to see it you have to be very close to the screen standing, about 1.4 meters. If you continue, then the added value is limited. Especially if you know that this added value also depends on the use of real 8K content which is currently very scarce (almost non-existent). And the upscaling performance of the Sharp did not immediately show that you can make perfect 8K content from Blu-ray content. In terms of pure image performance, the Sharp is well equipped, with an excellent contrast, local dimming (which has to make the thumbs up compared to the real top models), good color rendering, and HDR performance that can provide a very lifelike image when calibrated. In short, as was the case with several first introductions, there are still some features (especially HDMI 2.1), but the device offers a first glimpse of what we can expect in the future.