Sunday, 21 October 2012

To 4K and beyond... to Ultra HD

This week the Consumer Electronics Association (the CEA) made an announcement that the next jump in TV resolution will not be called 4K (as it has be called for the last four years) but Ultra HD or UHDTV (according to the ITU). Now before I get swallowed up by TLA's or even FLA's (five letter acronyms) I tried to work out what format I will be working with for the next eight years before 8K is expected to arrive.

With the help of my rusty calculator I did a few divisions and multiplications and worked out that the minimum resolution of 3840x2160 is indeed 16:9 but is a bit smaller than the 4096x2304 that is "real 4K". However it is both double the 1920x1080 we know and love and the format specified by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE for FLA lovers) in 2007.

But the CEA press release reads as follows:
Minimum performance attributes include display resolution of at least eight million active pixels, with at least 3,840 horizontally and at least 2,160 vertically. Displays will have an aspect ratio with width to height of at least 16 X 9. To use the Ultra HD label, display products will require at least one digital input capable of carrying and presenting native 4K format video from this input at full 3,840 X 2,160 resolution without relying solely on up-converting.

So that's a minimum resolution. Sony have declared that they will retain the 4K description and call their products 4K UHD, which presumably means their TVs will be 4096 pixels wide and 2304 pixels high. So what will broadcasters choose? My money is on 3480x2160 which reduces an image by nearly 2 million pixels a frame, quite a saving. Sony will just have to upscale, which is never a pretty job.

All of this makes producing stock material for the future no easier than it is now with 1080p, 1080i and 720p all being used in the real world. Currently Red camera operators can chose to shoot both Ultra HD formats so they may have to make a decision at the time of shooting. Even the (not so) humble GoPro3 can now shoot 4K either in 3480x2160 or the cinemascope (17:9) 4096x2160.  

Choices, choices, choices. 

But 4K or thereabout videos are BIG and you don't want to upload more versions than is necessary, so I will stick with 4096 x 2304 for now because shrinking will always look better than stretching. Won't it?

Please note: 4K footage is not currently available to download from the London Photography And Video web-site, but can be supplied on request if available.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The boring but extremely important part of video making

You've just finished the most brilliant bit of work you have ever produced. Shot on Red, edited in 4K, graded, dubbed and in the preview theatre it looks and sounds amazing. Now what?

Well the video needs to be distributed to lots of different recipients with just as many requirements. Is it going to be shown in the cinema in 4K? Played by broadcasters in 1080p, 1080i, 720p, standard definition? Will it be put on a BluRay disk or a DVD? And if it is going to be watched on a computer, how good is the screen resolution and does the computer have the ability to play it back? 

There have always been multiple options when it comes to saving a piece of video or TV, even in the old days of  U-matic you could choose Hi-band or Low-band. But now if I am asked for a QuickTime file I ask at least 5 questions which are inevitably followed by blank stares and shoulder shrugs. 

Every four years or so there is a new format in town, the last biggy being HD with a top size of 1920 pixels by 1080. The next big step is 4K with either 4096 x 2304 pixels or 4096 x 2160 pixels. We can make this now and there are a lot of formats we can save it to such as old favourites like Apple ProRes and MPEG4 as well as a few new ones like GoPro's Cineform. Shortly HEVC or High Efficiency Video Encoding will be officially released by the MPEG and VCEG joint group. This new codec will have the same quality as MPEG4 but half the size (or the same size and twice the quality). 

Bored yet? Of course you are, but what is the point of producing a superb video when the only place it looks right is in the edit suite? A final thought; archive to the least compressed (preferably uncompressed) format you can so you can always produce new compressed copies from this master. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

What will we be watching in 10 years?

I was sorting out a load of surplus electronic gear that has not been switched on for over 3 years and among it are three perfectly working TVs that I can no longer use, because the TV signal transmitted in the UK is now digital only and these only have analogue tuners. 

About 90% of the material I edit is now originated in high definition and as every UK broadcaster demands that all new programmes are supplied in 1080i I find it hard to watch anything that is not transmitted in HD any more.

I have now started to produce 4K (4096x2304 pixel) video from time lapses shot on a Canon 5D MKII (which are available through the London Photo and Video time lapse gallery). I have nothing to watch them back on yet but 4K TVs are becoming available and PC monitors have been close to this resolution for a while; I expect Apple retina displays will soon reach this level. With the 4K shooting Red Epic and Scarlet cameras becoming widely available more 4K material will be originated and the demand will increase.

The format is likely to remain 16:9 so my LCD and LED 1920p TVs will still be able to show downsized 4K material so hopefully they won't be redundant to quickly. But I doubt they will last as long as one of the TVs I need to get rid of - a Sony Trinitron bought in Hong Kong over 25 years ago and still giving a great picture. 

Maybe I will just keep hold of this one a little longer.