*Not guaranteed to be the Next Big Thing
How 4K aims to be the new High-Definition standard
High-Definition has changed both the consumer and video production landscapes over the last decade. What was once an experimental format shown on prototype monitors is now the norm. HD film and video production are the standard — and the content they produce is viewed on millions of consumers’ HD sets. HD is the audio and visual law of the land, if you will.
But for how long?
In the digital spectrum, a challenger named 4K has recently emerged. 4K is a generic term for display devices or content with a horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels (4096×2160). 4K UHD (Ultra HD) measures 3840×2160 pixels, and is targeted toward consumer televisions. 4K has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the 1080p HDTV format, with four times as many pixels.
The video and film production industries have already started to embrace the new resolution. Many of today’s feature films are recorded in 4K, along with a growing number of video productions. YouTube and Vimeo now allow for 4K uploads. Companies are manufacturing new 4K cameras — competitively priced — that are making it easier for small and independent producers to jump on the 4K bandwagon. A recent article on the trade website Red Shark News stated that “up to 20 new 4K cameras” would be introduced at this year’s NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) annual convention next month. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of prognosticators claiming 2014 as “The Year of 4K.”
So what could possibly slow down the revolution? Well, for starters, although it’s becoming cheaper, production costs for 4K, both in cameras, external recorders and increased storage, haven’t come down far enough for it be widespread. And even if you could produce in 4K, there are very few places to display it. 4K sets are still few and far between and are still cost-prohibitive — and certainly no one is broadcasting in it yet. More telling is the fact that after some subjective analysis, researchers are reporting that unless you’re a few feet in front of a 4K monitor, it’s hard to see any improvement over an HD signal. There’s even some industry chatter suggesting that it isn’t 4K but 8K that will be the next frontier.
So you probably won’t have to rush out and get a 4K set this year — but you might want to plan for it. Certainly, manufacturers of cameras and production equipment are betting on 4K, and of course for TV manufacturers, 4K means new sets and bigger profits. And researchers are testing the feasibility of broadcasting 4K, with promising results so far.
But many questions abound: Can all the main characters — manufacturers, marketers, producers, engineers — come up with a solution that will work? How long will it take? Are we even ready for a new format?