Sunday, 3 March 2013

4K Video: Do you really need it and will anyone be able to watch it?

4K, Ultra HD, Quad HD, these buzz words dominated CES this past January. Television manufacturers began to ready the public for the next big television revolution. 4K is coming, there is no doubt about that, but will you be able actually watch it and will there be content to watch? In this post we will look at 4K and what it means for the digital video producer and the cliental they wish to reach.

First lets look at what 4k is and if you really do need it for your productions. So what is exactly for 4K?
4K video has 4 times the resolution of HD video. We are talking just over 2 million pixels for HD video vs 8.8 million pixels for 4k. That's a resolution difference of 1920x1080 for Full HD vs. 4096x2160 for 4k. Big difference. Especially when it comes to larger screens. This translates into a shaper, more detailed image, even put on bigger screens such as theatre projections compared to full
To full HD.


So do you need this much resolution? Well that is a very subjective question. It is true that most broadcasters aren't broadcasting in 4k at all, most are still either doing 720p or 1080i or in fact many are still broadcasting SD, very few are broadcasting in true 1080p except for special events. Most
 North American broadcasters just finished updating their equipment to be HD capable and are in no rush to spend even more millions of dollars to upgrade everything again to 4k.

Outside of North America and Japan a good majority of the world including a lot of Europe has been slow to adopt HD video due to cost and other obstacles. For a lot of these countries adopting 4k will be a very slow process. In-fact there is a lot of talk among broadcast circles of skipping 4k completely and going straight to 8k, making the cost of upgrading a more long term investment. Of course also there is the big question of content. At CES this year a slew of 4k televisions were released from Sony, Samsung and LG, just to name a few. With prices that most consumers will see as unattainable and almost no content available, 4k seems like less of a priority for the video producer. That being said  there are however some real solid reasons to look at 4k as a option for your next video investment. Let's explore some of these reasons for utilizing 4k now.

In video size matters. The more resolution means more the detail, the more information and the more options you have to do what you want with that footage later on. Remember it is always easier to convert down to a lower resolution than it is to go to higher one. If you shoot in 4k and end up mastering out in 1080p and 720p it will be a easier compared to going the opposite route and it will also future proof your projects for when broadcasters and the web catch up to current consumer 4k TV sets and prosumer and professional 4k video cameras being released this year. Now that brings us to a important point. The internet plays a huge role in how this 4k wave plays out. After all the web is how more and more people are accessing video content. This will only continue to grow as the main way to access television and movies compared to traditional video broadcasting methods. Check out my previous post on how the broadcast world is changing: Broadcasting is changing as we know it. 
Look no further to Netflix and their partnership with Samsung to deliver 4k to viewers and you know that 4k is closer than many people think. As with most technology these days it tends to out pace most people's conservative estimates. When it comes to streaming 4K to the web we have a ways to go. Anyone trying to stream 1080p with a less than stellar internet connection knows that long buffering times await them for having a smooth streaming experience. There is however hope around the corner for all of us wanting to get on the 4K experience train. H.265 is set to replace the standard web upload and streaming compression H.264 as early as 2014. This is good news for those who want to stream HD on low bandwidth networks and will also make streaming 4k to sites like YouTube and Vimeo a real possibility. If that happens then those who wish to produce 4k content has a much larger and realistic market to broadcast to then waiting for broadcasters to catch up. Check out the link below for a better understanding of what H.265 means for the future of streaming HD and 4K video on the web.

H.265 is approved. How it will change how we stream video.

So we covered the possibilities of people actually being able to view 4k today but what about down the road and what about if you plan to deliver in only 1080p? or even 720p today? Then what? Why should you care about 4k, if your client will never see it? As I mention in the above section it all comes down to options. The fact that you deliver in 1080p today doesn't mean you will tomorrow. The fact is that broadcaster will eventually start broadcasting in 4k or even 8k and the web will probably be able to stream 4k sooner than the broadcasters. So you must think 2,3, 5 years down the road what will your footage look like. Broadcasters love to future proof themselves. I hear more and more of my clients telling me that their broadcasters are requiring more and more different formats to deliver their content on.  Broadcasters want to prepare for the future, because right now no one really knows where this is all going to go. 4k? 8K? What format? When? It was a lot easier when it was only BetaCam SP and SX but way things are going with technology who knows what the new standard will be and if there will truly be one. So broadcasters want to be ready for anything. If you can deliver a 4k product that they can bank on next year or in a few years down the road being able to be part of the 4k content wave that will becoming it is a better investment for them. Even at the lower level . It's amazing how old everything seems now that HD is here. As I look at my SD footage I had shot only a few years ago it doesn't seem to have the same impact as the HD footage of today. The fact is technology is moving faster and faster and 4K is closer than people think. Consumer demand of 4K & 8K televisions will drive 4K & 8K content. Unlike the failed niche markets like 3D, 4K & 8K will have much bigger impact on the consumer and the video producer.

Framing: Another reason to shoot in 4K is options in post for framing and adjusting shots. Say for example you are mastering out in 1080p this gives you a lot more options when it comes to framing adjusting a wide shot to a medium shot and a medium shot to close up. Just another reason to consider 4k as an option while shooting.

So in closing, do you really need to shoot in 4K today? The answer is no. with currently no real viable option for delivery and no demand as of yet, 1080P video still looks great, web streaming is becoming easier as bandwidth increases and most people own 720p and 1080p televisions. Unless you have a specific reason to shoot 4K, like theatre distribution or cliental asking for it then 1080p video will be fine for almost all of your needs. However 4K does offer some nice options for framing and will future proof your work if is is used in the future.

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