4K Ultra HD In The Future, or Is It Now?


Professionals using Vimeo will soon be able to playback their 4K content through its services. Currently a user can upload 4K Ultra HD content and it will only playback in HD. However, the original 4K file can be downloaded to a user’s desktop through Vimeo’s download options.

YouTube is developing a new codec, VP9, as an alternative to the H.265 codec supported by Apple. VP9 is reported to be less bandwidth intensive and is royalty free, meaning hardware producers pay no licensing fees for it. H.265 is said to double the compression of the ubiquitous H.264 codec while maintaining the same video quality. It can support 8K UHD resolutions up to 8192×4320! That’s insanely WACKY!

Ok, so I’ve mentioned a few delivery options. What about viewing options?

Right now there aren’t many. There have been a few 4K TVs on the market by the big names Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, and Sharp but they are prohibitively expensive for most. Prices range from LG’s 55″ LG 55LA9650 at $3,000 to Samsung’s 85” S9 UN85S9AFXZA at $40,000. Again, that’s insanely WACKY!

However, this year at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Chinese based Seiki introduced a new line of Ultra HD televisions. The new Seiki Pro 4K models will be available in Q2 2014 at an MSRP of $1,299 for the 55-inch class model, $1,599 for the 58-inch class model, $2,199 for the 65-inch class model, and $7,999 for the 85-inch class model.

These sets are in addition to their existing lineup of Ultra HD sets starting $499 for the 39”, $899 for the 50”, and $1,999 for the 65”. All together now, that’s insanely WACKY!

Let’s back up and define “4k” and “Ultra HD”. 4K refers to the horizontal frame width of 4096 pixels of the theatrical Digital Cinema Package, or DCP. This is what is shown in modern, up to date digital cinemas these days (actually, most are 2k projections but more on that in another post). Ultra HD refers to the size of television sets currently being marketed as 4k televisions. The frame size is 3840×2160 pixels which is exactly 4 times the resolution of HD 1080P. Some times the term “Quad HD” is used. In general, all of this is referred to as 4K.

Now the question, is it really worth it?

To readily see the difference, one needs to get so close to the screen that you can’t see the entire screen, only a small section of it. When seated at an optimum viewing distance from a 39” 4K set and a 39” HD set, the difference is hardly apparent. However, when the 4k and HD images are increased to an 85” display, the HD screen starts to show its pixels because of the lower pixel density, where the density of pixels in the 4K screen is high enough that the human eye doesn’t start to see the individual pixels yet.

As for what a client may want, the 4k tag is similar to how “HD” was seven or eight years ago. People may want 4K as they did HD over standard definition, even though the content was down sized to SD for distribution.

4K is desirable for a number of reasons. A practical reason is that shooting 4K “future proofs” your productions. Projects can be produced and cut in 4k and output to HD for distribution now, and remastered in 4k when it makes more sense. An advantage to this is that down sized 4K footage makes for better HD footage quality. Another good reason to shoot 4k is if it’s a theatrical release or content that could be used in 4k projection for trade shows. It’s also never a bad idea to keep up with current, emerging, and cutting edge technologies to be ready when they are adopted or asked for.

As technology advances, it doesn’t necessarily make things easier. There are some pretty hefty hardware requirements that change the way we do production and post production. They also add cost and need to be considered when planning a 4K Ultra HD job. I’ll get into the current solutions in my next post.

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