4K is coming

It’s incredible – I’ve been looking at the iPad 3 retina display and thinking about video.

It’s very good to see 1080p, but looking at other demos, I want to emulate that ‘looking through a window’ effect. Not just HD video, but full-on 2048×1536 pixel-for-pixel video, filling the screen and providing an uncanny, hyper real look that will have people trying to reach through the glass and touch.

Well, of course, NAB is coming and the current ‘alphanumerique du jour’ is no longer 3D, but 4K. Of course the exotica of the camera world – Red’s Epic, Sony’s F65 and plenty of others, shoot in 4K on productions with sumptious budgets. Big movies like the new Girl With a Dragon Tattoo have been filmed in 4K, even when few cinemas can currently project it at its full resolution.

I don’t work in that world, but in my Corporate niche, we were able to jump into 720p and ‘Medium Format’ HD sooner than broadcast because our audience uses PowerPoint. They were doing HD before you could buy an HD TV, let alone an HD TV in a supermarket.

We’re still working through the roll-out of HD and there’s an awful lot of Marketing ‘fluff’ out there: Can we tell the difference between 720p and 1080p from the sofa? How big does the screen in your living room actually have to be to see the difference from your sofa? How big will your domestic screen get over time?

There’s a great (but very technical) article on Creative Cow that takes a careful look at some of the marketing messages about 4K.


I see a different trend with the iPad 3 – a much more intimate experience, where video becomes almost an analogue for high quality print in terms of magazine photography. Android devices will inevitably sport similar resolutions, we’ll see more and more tablet devices crop up in all sorts of situations – after all, they’re no longer ‘geek gadgets’ and have become widely accepted by a new computer illiterate audience with little or no preconceptions.

So once again, it’s the corporate/educational/industrial market with its smaller user base and less legacy that can drive the demand for these new technologies, in their quest for novelty and impact.

Okay, so HD (1,920 dots across by 1,080 dots down) is less dots than the screen – and leaves black bars top and bottom. But surely 4K, which contains four times the pixels, is a little overkill?

Firstly, shooting with plenty of spare pixels gives you scope to zoom into an image. Shoot at a wider framing, then crop in at the edit stage to help with framing, or perhaps add little zooms, or track motion. Purists may see this as a bit of an underhand trick, but ask a photographer about cropping – it’s an important part of the process. Furthermore, with careful thought, the old film practice for shooting for different aspect ratios can be readopted. Michael Cioni’s presentation at a LAFCPUG meeting makes the ‘shoot 5K for 4K’ message come alive:

Secondly, shooting a lot of pixels on cheaper or more compressed formats, then shrinking the final image down, can help apparent sharpness and detail. If you are shooting in a 4:2:0 codec and shrink the image down in Post Production (often handled at 4:4:4), you can effectively get 4:2:2. This was a great trick in the early days of HDV. We were shooting HDV, specifically to shrink it down to PAL in post, and the rather ropey colour information became clean enough to pull a chroma key.

With the new crop of 4K cameras coming out, this trick may soon return as, unlike the F65 with its 4:4:4 recorder and £3,700 cards, I foresee this breed’s 4K being heavily compressed.

However, with a little love and tenderness in post, I hope to get that ‘window on reality’ look on ‘retina’ style devices. Either that, or this is the most convoluted excuse to buy an iPad 3.

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