We’ve been so caught up in the quality of our screens that we’ve potentially lost sight of the very nature of what they do and hour our brains work, meaning we think we’ve already seen the best that screens have to offer.

Professor Kyoung-Min Lee

Not so, according to Professor Kyoung-Min Lee from Seoul’s National University – when asked if 8K is the limit he says “I don’t think so”, adding “your brain can gather information well beyond the resolution”.

Professor Lee spoke to EFTM at Samsung’s global headquarters in Seoul, Korea. At Samsung’s request, he’s been researching the impact of what he calls “super-resolution” screens having previously done much work in the field of Head Mounted Displays (VR Headsets as we know them).

And he seems genuinely fascinated by the concepts of understanding how the Human brain interprets what it sees and what impact these higher resolution displays will have on what we see. And frankly, having listened to him and engaged with him on the topic for over and hour – it is bloody fascinating.

Of course, Samsung has a vested interest in this conversation, recently at IFA in Berlin they released the first commercial 8K TVs in the world, on sale already in Europe and the USA. It doesn’t take much to assume that 8K will be all the talk at CES in January also.

So – if your retina can only see so many pixels, or understand a limited resolution – why then would any higher resolution matter?

Firstly, and it goes without saying – we can sit closer. If you sit closer to a higher resolution display, you’ve got less chance of seeing the pixels as they are smaller and packed more tightly into the screen.

But at a much deeper level, there’s some serious brain science going on to understand just why an 8K screen would look better than a 4K one. Put simply, your brain has more capacity to interpret an image beyond just the resolution of the screen.

It’s a little thing known as the JND – Just Noticeable Differences – and here’s an example. A straight up and down vertical line. It’s a straight clear edge. Now tilt that line by a couple of degrees. If you were viewing that in the real world, you’d see a straight line – on an angle. But on a TV screen or monitor, that line will now have jagged edges, like steps. Very small, hardly discernible, but there.

With a higher resolution screen, the steps are less obvious, they seemingly disappear.

The higher the resolution, the less “information” in the picture is lost on display. And if there’s less “loss” there’s actually less work for your brain to do. Yep, you’re using less brain power to watch a higher resolution display.

Now while you could look at a 4K screen and an 8K screen side by side and not notice any pixel density difference, Professor Lee suggests that the difference will be in the depth you can perceive.

The human brain, moreso than just the eye, is able to interpret what you see and make assumptions about things such as depth. Knowing something is at a distance, or in a certain part of your field of view is most certainly information obtained by your 3D vision, the left and right eye images combined. But when viewing a flat image – like a TV, there’s a lot of additional information in what you see that gives away information like depth.

It’s these incremental enhancements which will make watching 8K TVs a more vivid experience. Until now I’ve often tried to look at the pixel level to determine the quality of any given screen versus another, but what we really should be doing is taking a step back to see the detail in the picture overall.

So is 8K the limit? Not according to Professor Lee “We need to envisage 16k and 32k – there will be certain applications for that… but the limitation is infinite”

Looks like 2019 is going to be the year of 8K.

And before you ask about content, we’ll have to test one for ourselves to understand how good the upscaling is – because 8K only works as a concept if upscaling is done well.


Trevor Long travelled to Korea as a guest of Samsung Australia