4k, regardless of whether you like to admit it or not, is the future of video production. Video production has always advanced from one format to another, never dwelling on its successes or standards. A continual leapfrog saw resolutions rise from 35 horizontal scan lines to 100, then from 405 to 625 lines (in 1963), and then the modern era welcomed a standardization of 625 as the PAL system, but debate raged on about what would constitute High Definition (HD). Today’s definition is 1920 x 1080, and has been 20 years in development. However, there’s a new kid on the block. The next generation is 4k resolution (4096 x 2730), also known as UHD (Ultra high definition), and is forecast to become the new standard for program acquisition, delivery and broadcasting, with some cameras even reaching the dizzying heights of 6k resolutions. So why 4k, what are the pro and con’s, and is the world ready for this monstrous format?

The Good

Output, post-production and delivery is now fully equipped to hand HD (1920 x 1080) but the modern world, and modern systems are being designed for even greater resolutions and 4k has become a common production format. There are a number of obvious advantages for adopting a 4k workflow today:

  • Incredible image quality and detail
  • The flexibility to re-crop and reframe, with digital zooming options
  • Future-proofing. Recording in higher resolution formats will stand the test of time. Well, for 5 years at least.
  • Thanks to the well-defined edges produced by 4k imagery keying is a dream.
  • 3D looks much better at these higher resolutions
  • 3D television sales have disappointed consumer electronics manufacturers, so flogging 4k to the masses will be in their interests.
  • 4k easily outperforms HD on the big screen, paving the way for the future of cinema.

It seems like the advantages are rather clear, and why wouldn’t you want to upgrade your system to suit the worlds fast-growing 4k needs? Well, for most studios, 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 HD codecs have been good enough for television, and even features. 4k means an overall increase in costs, storage requirements, and editing power, giving DOP’s everywhere a dilemma. There is no doubt that 4k will happen across the board very soon, but that initial cost means upgrading your entire system, not just your camera.

The Bad

Before the all-powerful red camera exploded onto the market with the Red One 4k camera, there were no image sensors with a higher resolution than 1920 x 1080 HD. Many of the reasons for manufacturing camera sensors at this resolution was to help with moire issues, aliasing, and artefacts, so it became the standard for acquisition and delivery. New strategies have been employed to reduce aliasing and moire artefacts by restructuring sensors into new configurations, e.g. Red Cameras have sensors greater than 4k to achieve higher-quality, super-sampled images, but here’s the snag, how much data do you need to store to capture one an image?

Storage and handling large files is a major issue. The price of solid-state storage will undoubtedly improve in the future, but transferring huge amounts of data is a problem that won’t disappear overnight, because cameras are producing larger formats by the day.

What glass to use is another issue, while zeiss and cooke haven been able to capitalise on their outstanding quality (Cooke claims that its lense are rated not just for HD and 2k, but also for 4-16k). You just cannot expect dslr lense and zeiss compact lenses to perform the same quality and resolution. Lenses are pushed to their limit already on an open iris and any defects will now be highlighted. So lens choice becomes a huge consideration when shooting in resolutions above 2k.

The Future

If you have a very powerful workstation to handle the data throughput and processing this article may not be of any relevance to you. 4k cameras offer you 800% zooming capabilities in post, better keying, colouring, rotoscoping, and the quality is very special. The downside comes when you are not that special person who can afford to spend 40k on a new system, and that’s before selection what camera you chose to shoot with. A more practical problem will be consumer based, as the world has only just caught up with the HD craze, and 3D hasn’t exactly taken off in the way it would have liked. HD broadcasting will continue for the foreseeable future, but 4k is just around the corner. Some are embracing it and others are avoiding it. If you choose the 4k route you will undoubtedly give your clients additional capabilities in post production. Your pictures will be fitire-proofed for 4k projection, and you’ll stay ahead of the competition.