Whether you are considering your options for you next TV Commercial, Music Video, or Corporate video you owe it to yourself to explore the 4k camera options. Everyone would like the best quality. However, budgets can limit it. Many might be surprised to find out the cost that goes with the 4k cameras is not that prohibitive. It is definitely true, especially now with newer, better, and less expensive cameras coming on the market. A warning, just because you have one of the 4k cameras, it does not mean the final product is going to be substantially better. Lenses, lighting, and your camera operator all determine the quality of the final piece. You must have the proper gear and crew to realize the quality increase. With that said, here are some benefits to going with a 4k camera.
First, what is 4k? The actual term is Ultra High Definition (Ultra HD) as oppose to just High Definition (HD). A typical HD Camera shoots in 1920 X 1080 pixels (or close to it). The Red Scarlet, a popular Ultra HD camera, shoots in 4096 x 2160 pixels. To sum it up, an Ultra HD Camera gives you 4 times the pixel output of an HD Camera, which means it is far more detailed and produces a sharper image. As another point of reference, the now almost completely irrelevant Standard Definition (SD) Cameras shoot at a resolution of 720 X 480 pixels.
Plainly put, Ultra HD is better than regular HD, much like HD was better than SD. This makes it easier to conclude that you will see major quality improvements. Here are other reasons to consider 4k:
Future proofing your content – The future is here with Ultra HD TVs already on the market. They are currently a little pricy, but you can expect prices to come down and more options to come on the market. Ultra HD players are currently being developed (no standard like Blu-ray), while YouTube and Netflix are already capable of streaming Ultra HD content. Expect broadcaster to follow suit. Even 4k smart phones are being developed like the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Reframing – Since most of the final video projects get down converted to HD, you'll have a greater ability to zoom in, crop, and manipulate your footage without degrading the quality. If you want the final video in 4k, you lose the value of this method, unless you are shooting with a camera that has a resolution equal to or greater than 5k.
Color Grading Made Easier – When cameras record highly compressed images in camera that often comes with the drawbacks of clipped highlights, crushed shadows and what is considered a "baked-in" look. Once the footage gets to post production, this can mean big problems. With 4k+ RAW files, you can make your own color choices from the source data, instead of trying to change colors that are baked into a .mov file. This can lead to much better results.
Green Screen Keying - With four times the data, your keying software should have an easier time differentiating the green pixels you want to key from the precise edge of the talent. It also makes mismatches between background and subject more obvious and motion tracking easier. There's a reason why chroma key shots are often done with UHD or higher cameras even if the rest of a movie is captured on a different (lower resolution) format.
There are more benefits I can bring up about 4k, but there are also some negatives such as price, storage, and the need to upgrade equipment to support it. Capacity and processing speed has doubled approximately every two years since the publication of Moore’s Law in 1965, some argue that it doubles faster. This means that technologies will always chase each other and that a data stream that may seem very difficult to handle today may be a smooth, simple process tomorrow. Overall, if you want to give your video, movie, or commercial a longer shelf life or you just want to keep up with the quality output of your competitors, then waiting to upgrade is not an option.
Your "color grading made easier" segment is irrelevant to the issue of 4K, other than greater stress on the data pipeline and increased cost which is why it's still not the norm for even huge tentpole pictures to be finished in 4K. This begs the question, if $150M+ productions aren't uniformly or even predominantly finishing in 4K why is the prosumer, regional or independent being sold so hard on it?
I simply don't believe 4K video has any real future as a consumer product.
If it became practical to make wall-sized flexible TV screens, then 4K would have a place but only because of the finer pixel structure.
Other than that, I'd like to see the HARD evidence that the public are particularly interested in anything above 50 inches diagonal.
I have quite a large house with 9 foot ceilings but I'm damned if I can see anywhere I could put up a 10 foot diagonal screen. Apart from perhaps my hallway and one wall that would necessitate moving my sofas out into the middle of my living room, there simply isn't enough unbroken wall space.
I think some people need to get over it: Most people aren't that friggin' interested in watching TV at all, much less redesigning their lifestyles around it.They like to TV set in the house, but for most people a sub-$400 model is good enough A dedicated Home Theatre Setup is basically a loser's fantasy, or a sign that a rich person badly needs to get a life...
The public is interested in size more than pixels. The most common sizes sold has more to do with cost, I'd say. If you could buy an 85+" set for what common 40-55" sets are going for there would be a lot more giant sets out there which, ironically, would allow more people to actually enjoy 1080 content. 1080 content is wasted on most sets in common living room viewing situations as it is because of the most common sizes. People aren't watching from a couple feet away like a computer monitor or demo at a tradeshow or consumer electronics showroom, they're watching from across a room, 6-10' away.
4K is inevitable because folks like Sony and others selling the hardware are simply going to keep applying pressure at the consumer level hoping that this trickles up, I guess. They're going to keep selling people stuff they don't need or care about to create a foregone conclusion that theatrical and motion picture production simply must be done at 4K or higher and finished at 4K, which isn't standard right now.
4K on ~50" sets in typical living room scenarios is the equivalent of Sony selling consumers on magic beans. They don't know any better but if they're successful that will force everyone else who should know better to get in line. Somehow consumers aren't supposed to be able to tell every source for HD content is compressed all to hell but they're craving more pixels? Sales and marketing hogwash.
The fact that compressed broadcast 1080P is more like 720P in resolution is a different issue...
I've seen demos of 4K material shown on 4K monitors standing about five feet from the monitor and there is an appreciable level of detail increase over 1080P. Also keep in mind in this discussion of when you can start to see 4K level of detail on a movie screen or a TV screen is that ideally you have some oversampling going on, in that you are sitting just at the point before you can discern pixels or individual film grains in a movie theater, or at home. In other words, if you are showing 4K, you probably want to be sitting where you could resolve a bit more than 3K so that the image looks smooth and detailed with depth, more like a window, you don't want to see a window screen effect of a grid of pixels.
That said, for home viewing, other than for nature documentaries and sporting events, 4K material shown at 4K can be uncomfortably sharp for looking at actors' faces on screen in a fictional program -- I can see diffusion filters becoming even more popular than ever...
On the other hand, people will be looking at a lot of older 2K/1080P material on their new 4K screens for a long time to come.
Five feet is very close to be watching a television. Didn't your mom ever warn you about that, David? Notice on the graph above though, that is to be expected. At 5' you start to see the benefits of 4K over 1080P on a 50" set. But I'll bet you weren't looking at that 4K set from 5' away in a livingroom presentation type scenario. That was a demo which, by design is going to show what they're selling on their terms.
Even in a typical LA apartment or cracker-box West Side bungalo that's close. 5' would be like sitting on the edge of a couch, with only a small coffee table and slim path between you and the screen. Perhaps that's why these things are, if you listen to some pitches, selling quite well in Asia but while I've seen closet-sized livingrooms in LA I don't think these are quite the norm and something closer to the 10' would be closer to average. Get out to the 'Burbs or out of SoCal where folks other than millionaires can own real houses and I'm sure of it.
Edited by Sean Cunningham, 10 March 2014 - 12:23 AM.
I'm surprised there isn't a push for 4K home theater projection the way there has been for 4K TV's since short throw wide projection is the fastest way to see a real difference. Currently there's nothing on the market for 4K projection that's even remotely affordable.
I've had a 720p projector for about 6 years now and 1080p bluray is still amazingly sharp at 150". Enough to see unwanted detail like bad makeup etc. I can only imagine how worse it's going to look when it's 4 times sharper.
Edited by Michael LaVoie, 10 March 2014 - 03:33 PM.
Yet you never hear about make up problems, reduced realism in production design or sets with 65mm acquisition or IMAX. The problem with how people look on screen at high resolution has more to do with digital sensors than the number of lines. Just watch SyFy's Face/Off.
All the short-hand and tricks of the trade with impressionistic detail that craftsmen have taken for granted for decades goes out the window even with 1080 lines if you're using a digital camera to get there. There's no place to hide anymore. The show does its contestants a very real disservice by never addressing the reality that most of them will never actually work in film and they need to re-learn how to make make-up effects not look absolutely fake. The folks working The Walking Dead have the cards stacked in their favor, essentially, given it's a Super 16mm show. Most anyone else, if it doesn't look absolutely real to the naked eye it doesn't look real on screen.
But the simple fact of resolution isn't the enemy of make up artists and production designers. Take the resolving power weilded in the close-ups for something like, say, The Master. That's a lot more than 4K equivalent lines there yet it was jaw droppingly amazing to behold. Arri (and previously Aaton) seem to be the only manufacturer acknowledging this phenomenon.
Edited by Sean Cunningham, 10 March 2014 - 09:03 PM.