4k Delivery – Are we there yet?

I have been seeing a ton of RED footage in the suite lately.  4k, 6k, and 8K are all common occurrences.  It’s rare that I see anything acquired at 1080 or 2k anymore (which is pretty crazy considering where things were just a couple of years ago).

I saw this article in Variety the other day and it spurred me to write this blog posting.  Some people may disagree with me, but I see footage on a daily basis and I’d like to think I have a relatively informed opinion.  I realize that there is no right answer and that there are pros and cons to each side.  I’m always open to hear the opinions of others and starting up some healthy conversations!  I want to point out that I’m not arguing against the acquisition of higher resolution formats, I’m arguing against how it is used in the color suite and delivered upon completion.

I think the biggest advantage of larger acquisition formats is for visual effects.  The extra resolution can go a long ways when in the right hands.  Any VFX artist that I have ever talked to prefers more data to work with.  It just offers more flexibility and detail that you can’t get with the lower resolutions.

As far as color is concerned one of the most common things that I hear is “We shot 4k so we can reposition and reframe the shots to make new angles”.  I have to say, this is one of my biggest pet peeves.  I understand this is done with good intentions, but if you want to have a specific framing, use that framing.  Don’t cheat it.  The lighting won’t look the same and neither will the focus.  It just doesn’t have the same look or feel.  I have experienced this on countless occasions.  If done minimally, it can work, but I feel like it’s generally abused.

My opinion may be a little skewed since I primarily work in commercials, but when delivering for broadcast most specs are for 1080.  Almost all of my 4k deliveries have been for some sort of projection. I don’t have any problem working in the higher resolution, it’s delivering it that I don’t agree with.  Televisions are getting there and some streaming services (like Netflix) are pushing the envelope, but they don’t have the restrictions that the big cable companies do.  I think it’s important to realize that we will get there, but I just don’t think we’re ready for it quite yet (at least in the commercial world).  I’m not trying to be negative, I think the change is a good thing, I would just like to see the process a little more controlled so the quality remains high and isn’t degraded.

Another argument that I hear all the time is that the client wants to “future proof” their material.  Again, my view might be a little skewed because of my commercial work, but I feel like this is kind of a cop out.  What is the shelf life for commercials?  A year?  How many commercials are remastered?  It just doesn’t happen.  I understand why people might want to do it for movies, but for commercials I just don’t see the reason for it.

In summation I think that camera manufactures are focused on the wrong thing.  Everyone is trying to get bigger formats out there for the wow factor.  How long will it be until someone starts talking about 16K?  It sounds ridiculous, but I bet it’s not that far away.  Cameras are evolving and changing fast.  Almost too fast.  What I’d like to see a focus on the quality of the image more than the size of the image.  Better pixels not more pixels, please.




  1. Butch

    I agree with this position. Ultimately, even if something is shot and finished at 4k and above IF the dynamic range of the pixels that are captured is broad enough to begin with it will ultimately look sharper, more saturated etc. when reduced to fit 1080 and that’s visually more than sufficient for consumers on all tv sets available. Right now what’s happening is the marketing mumbo jumbo that happens when corporations want to create solutions for problems that don’t exist and fleece consumers.

    A crippled 4k dynamic range is going to suck as hard as a crippled 1080 dynamic range…it may be sharper, but without the correct dynamic range the blown out highlights and crushed greys to black will still make the images look horrible. The HDRI for 4K thing is interesting, but with no standardized screen ratio for home televisions it seems like icing a bowl of un-baked cake mix. Once the consumer has to start using the cheap tv scaler that built in to the TV’s software the little bit of sharpness one “might” be able to recognize from 4K HDRI images goes out the window.

    Most networks can’t handle universal 4K content distribution, most consumers can’t universally display real full resolution 4K content and now they’re attempting to slather on another thick layer of BS over the top of everything. What would have made more sense from the beginning would have been and still would be to introduce HDRI to 1080 and have settled on ONE UNIVERSAL SCREEN RATIO so no one is required to stretch or squeeze any images and cut out or distort visual information to fill their screen and make the most use of the home entertainment investment.

    The transition from VHS to DVD was the only real technological shift in the last 20 years in the home entertainment space that’s made sense. The frontier that needs to be conquered is bringing HDRI to 1080, conforming the television to one set ratio, and reintroducing recording to physical media without the need to subscribe to a service.

    Global electronics manufacturers don’t have a significant stake in any cable networks or any of the DVR companies, so it’s still in their best interests to satisfy customers with the ability to record programs once to an archive quality storable media and not have to repurchase content (access a server ) over and over again…which is where we are headed to financially support 4k and above universal distribution…a standard which no one really wants or even cares about.

    • Rob Bessette

      Butch, you said it all! Spot on with my feelings. With cable networks delivering material to households all over the country without any sort of standardization (not the mention support or compression) for 4k material it really is the wild west out there. At this point I think most of the terminology is used as buzzwords for selling new products to the average consumer. It’s a totally different ballgame in the professional world, but that also comes with a much higher price tag that the average consumer is not going to pay.

  2. Ted Irving

    No argument here. Spot ON! I would like to add that hardly no broadcast entity has a 4k, or higher signal. Not even 2k. After the digital transition in 2010 the FCC required stations broadcast via all digital and the resolutions chosen were 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. Youtube, ok they show in 4k. How many others? I guess cable will get there quicker but investments could be huge right? Or does broadcasting in 4k not really matter if a station is already digital?


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