I have heard a lot of discussion lately about the future of televisions and display technology in regards to resolution. Whether these are widespread discussions, or topics that exist solely in the echo-chamber in which I have imprisoned myself, I am unsure. But the topic is a fascinating one, and is often misunderstood or misinterpreted by those taking part in the discussion. Screens have come a long way in the last fifteen years, let alone since their inception. 4K is the new standard, with HDR pushing contrast and color range to vibrant new heights. Visuals in video games and movies have never looked better from a technical perspective, and we continue to push the boundaries of the technology we have available to us every day. But how far can we go? At what point do we hit the theoretical limit to what we as humans can perceive as a refinement of an image? When do we hit the limit of what we can produce given the technology available to us? The answer many are giving to these questions, in one way or another, is 8K.
8K, or 4320p, is the next major step in display resolution, and the highest achievable by current standards. It is a known quantity, but is not readily available to consumers for practical reasons. Nothing aside from very high end, multi-GPU PCs can output video or render at that resolution, and many markets and mediums are still working to fully support 4K as the new standard. While 8K is achievable technology, it is still cost-prohibitive to produce, and next to useless for all but a very niche market. But given the rate at which technology grows and develops, it won’t be long before 8K televisions are readily available to all who care to upgrade. But what is the next step beyond that?
8K Is the Theoretical Limit to What We as Humans Can Perceive
Some seem to misunderstand the statement, instead believing that 8K is the theoretical limit to our technological developments. I have no doubt that eventually, we will see the production of 10K and greater displays. But the human eye is only so sensitive, and at a certain point, cannot discern between two identical images at different resolutions, because both resolutions exist outside of the eye’s ability to comprehend. The point at which this problem is presented to the eye, is 8K.
That’s not to say that anything beyond 8K is unnecessary, mind you. There are potential applications for higher resolution renders either presented natively on a greater than 8K display, or downsampled to 8K. It merely means that any display produced that is greater than 8K will offer nothing more than imperceptible changes. They will be technical advancements, sure. But in a practical sense it won’t be anything more than a marketing ploy, or symbol of technological prowess.
Video Games and Rendered Mediums Stand to Benefit From Greater Resolutions
Post-8K resolutions may not greatly benefit practical effect film and recorded mediums in meaningful ways, since our eyes technically perceive the world in the equivalent of 8K. But video games and digitally generated images could still stand to benefit through either downsampling a higher resolution image, or rendering an image natively at higher resolutions. The process of downsampling a higher resolution image into a resolution that is native to a display is called supersampling. It is a method of anti-aliasing commonly seen in video games, and serves to smooth out jagged edges on a screen. Generally, this means objects on the screen will have smoother curves with less pixelation. It also greatly improves visuals at a distance, with rendered objects appearing smoother and less disjointed. The alternative to supersampling would be natively rendering visuals on a higher resolution display, which would theoretically present the same result given the eye’s inability to perceive a difference in pixel count.
The most exciting prospect of reaching the body’s limits in regards to display technology is not necessarily image clarity, however. While render resolutions will hit their theoretical peak, the technology that outputs those renders will continue to grow. From the perspective of video games, this means developers will have to spend less time optimizing their work, allowing them to refocus resources on textures, animations, physics, and systems. This refocusing of efforts could result in a transformation of the medium as a whole, as the complexity of what we can create, and the optimizations we can ignore, increases with each new hardware release. Soon after, these advancements will begin to trickle into more resource intensive mediums, such as VR.
While 4K is still a relatively new advancement in display technology, 8K is not far off. And while we will have reached the physical limits of our bodies in achieving 8K, The possibilities presented as a result of this resolution peak are endlessly exciting, and will help push rendered mediums forward in a way they never have before. It is easy to see 8K as a barrier to break through, a roadblock in the way of progress. But embracing the natural barrier that evolution has placed upon us will lead to far more exciting advancements than simple leaps in visual fidelity.