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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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