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The inevitability of 4K, and why it’s good in the long run…

Published by Michael Rissi in The Resolution Race · 6/3/2015 18:56:00
Tags: 4KMichaelRissiBlog
In my last blog, I pointed out the dubious state of demand for 4K from the consumer, as well as the relative hassle and significant expense for independent videographers to keep upgrading equipment.

But the point of this post is to look into the future a bit and explain why 4K and all continuing resolution improvements are pretty amazing overall and will be appreciated by all in the long run.

First of all, let’s think about the very recent past. Up until the year 2000, the beginning of the twenty first century in other words, VHS was still the dominant and most viable format for video distribution. That is only 15 years ago. Within five years or so, DVD almost completely wiped out VHS.

Both of those formats have what is still known as the “standard” video aspect ratio with a 4:3 picture frame with 525 lines of analog resolution. For nearly 50 years, NTSC video, with 525 lines, 59.94 fps interlace video was considered state of the art, professional video. Most people had televisions which could only resolve about 350 - 400 lines of that resolution too!

But then came about massive strides in computer displays, analog video conversion to computer video file formats, and the changes couldn’t come fast enough it seems!

-- Which brings us to our current situation.

Translating from the analog NTSC days to the language of digital resolution definitions, the highest resolution for broadcast in those days of “standard” resolution was approximately 720 X 486 pixels -- and Sony DigiBeta was the dominant professional format for acquisition and masters. As computer displays kept improving, people started realizing that TV image quality was significantly inferior to computer monitors.

Also, our old TV’s were bulky and unwieldy, and as new flat panel style TVs were introduced, people realized they were much more convenient and desirable in nearly every way.

When HD televisions became inexpensive enough for the average consumer to purchase, the resolution revolution came pretty quickly, and the final straw, the move that spelled doom for 4:3 NTSC video was the U.S. government mandate that the television industry as a whole switch from analog to digital. Congress set June 12, 2009 as the deadline for full power television stations to stop broadcasting analog signals.

The change had really been long overdue, but there was still quite a bit of resistance until HD televisions became relatively inexpensive during the first decade of the 21st century.

Today, 4K is the new kid on the block, but it will have staying power, and it will eventually be superseded by even higher resolutions. I’ll address all that in the next blog.

The trouble with 4K...

Published by Michael Rissi in The Resolution Race · 24/2/2015 19:50:00
Tags: RissiProductionsDigitalVideo
One of the main problems with any industry that depends on cutting edge technology is the very real cost of keeping up with the Joneses.

In the video industry, there are currently so many formats and file types, it is difficult to keep track of all of them. For the sake of brevity and clarity, for now I will stick to discussing only one aspect of the digital video revolution, which has been going on pretty much since George Lucas decided digital technology was so advanced, he would make his next chapter of the "Star Wars" saga completely digitally. He worked with Sony to develop a high definition digital video camera which could shoot 24 progressive frames per second, which up until that time had only been possible with film. What now seems like a very obvious idea was truly revolutionary. George Lucas has been a trailblazer for so long, I don't think he knows any other way to function.

Anyway, the movie business hasn't really been the same since. And what started as a way for Sony to please George Lucas, quickly trickled down to every videographer on the planet. Today, 24 frame progressive HD video is everywhere. Even consumer cameras have it. Progressive frames, as opposed to the old fashioned "interlace" frames, present a decidedly superior image when played back, especially if "paused" as freeze frames for scrutiny. More importantly to many filmmakers, such as myself, the cadence of 24 frames per second has a more dreamlike quality, which makes everything shot at that rate look much more like film than the previously ubiquitous alternative, 30 frame interlace video.

So 24P digital video has won over most filmmakers as a viable alternative to film, if not always the preferred one.
The argument against HD video for years has always been about the resolution. HD is 1920 X 1080 pixels, that's four times the quality of what used to be standard resolution broadcast quality video. Now, most people who own HD TVs are pretty happy with them. There has no been a clamoring by the masses for a higher quality picture, so far as I can tell.

But producers need to protect their investments and "future proof" their material to the best of their ability, and this requires obtaining the best possible resolution at the time they shoot their material. Hence, the constant cry for higher and higher resolution. When will it stop? The old saying, round and round and round it goes, and where it stops nobody knows -- seems fitting here.

Basically, it will stop when consumers decide it will stop. Because producers and content creators ultimately are always aiming at consumers -- their audience, in other words.

What this all boils down to is the limits of human vision. At what point is more resolution pointless because the average consumer can’t tell the difference?

Well, for television viewing, which most people do at a distance of at least seven or eight feet away, HD is already perfectly sharp. To see the difference between an HD display and a 4K display at that distance is not easy. Try it some time if you haven’t already.

Therefore, for now, there is hardly a pressing need to switch to 4K unless you are a content creator and you plan to screen your material in a large theater.

That is not the end of the story, however. And I will explain why things will continue to change in my next blog.

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