Blog: THE STRUGGLE FOR 4K Ultra HD
THE STRUGGLE FOR 4K Ultra HD
By Stu Brown
Tech geeks love it. Cinematographers embrace it. Television manufacturers and Internet delivery systems promote it. Post houses try to ignore it. American broadcasters reject it. Studios well, um, will always find a way to profit from it before it becomes commonplace. Like the motion picture business, the content production process, and the way we receive content is changing. In addition, our viewing habits are changing as well. There was talk in the mid-nineties about a new digitized, computerized upstart that had the potential to replace film. Enter digital video. We have since learned that we actually prefer the look of film, so digital video camera manufacturers adapted digital video to mimic the film look. In Hollywood, digital video coexists in a capacity to complement film. However, sometimes it is the preferred choice to film when it is necessary to keep budget costs down. Nevertheless, for the independent filmmaker, 4k digital video is a dream to work with. After all, even Hollywood makes features with it. Some smartphones even are capable of shooting in a 4k resolution.
THE INTERNET DELIVERY SYSTEM FOR 4K
In order to transmit this huge data stream over the Internet, it was necessary to make certain compromises. First, what is being touted as 4k is actually not true 4k which has a resolution of 4096 x 2160. Because the consumer version is only 3840 x 2160, it lacks a few hundred pixels, so its marketing name is Ultra HD or Ultra High Definition or simply UHD. Second, it was necessary to develop a codec that could handle so much data without too netflix 4k streamingmuch sacrifice of quality. The two major contenders are H.265 (the Netflix preference) and VP9 (the YouTube/Google creation). Both are available now with no upgrades necessary to the existing Internet infrastructure. So now, for the first time in history, the Internet, indie filmmakers, hobbyists and videophiles have the opportunity to set a new standard by popularizing this new, heavyweight 4k video format before the many major content providers do. That is fine with me because most of the video I am accustomed to watching is on demand anyway. Video on demand is increasing in popularity daily, but it typically is not an option within the distribution network that the major content creators have in place. This lack of video on demand contributes to the fact that TV as we presently know it is dying. People are either too busy, or find it inconvenient to sit around a television to watch a broadcast because it is being aired at a particular time. Broadcasters have the telecoms and the Internet to blame for that phenomenon.
VIEWING HABITS HAVE CHANGED
The eyes are moving to the Internet and the studios know it. That is why Fox, Universal and Disney invested in Hulu, the popular online streaming service. This year’s CES show proved to be a deal-making ring for Internet content providers, UHD TV manufacturers and movie studios. Blu-Ray is working to accommodate an Ultra HD spec on its discs called 4k Ultra HD Blu-Ray, and movie studios are supporting their efforts. Furthermore, a new television distributionreport shows that online movie streaming is as profitable as TV and disc sales. It also shows that revenue from DVD and Blu-Ray sales are likely to decrease by 38% over the next 4 years. Although telecoms are trying to provide their subscribers with TV everywhere, most people don’t know where, when or how they can access it, much less remember what their account login and password is for their home cable account — do you? These companies often charge extra for just plain HD while the Internet already has free UHD though the amount of content is limited.
PRICES FOR 4K HARDWARE HAVE BECOME MORE AFFORDABLE
Last year the price of a UHD TV was anywhere from $20,000 up, being a prized toy for only the elite. However, this year’s CES show featured a 50” Ultra HD TV under $1,000 from Vizio and Polaroid. Moreover, a few days after the show, Polaroid announced an even greater discount for the same model only without “smart” capability. Sony JVC-4K-TV-featuredboasted of a 4k camera that can be had for $2k, the FDR-AX100, and Dell is selling a 28-inch, 4k desktop monitor for $699. The more forward-thinking companies involved with media creation/distribution embrace 4k, and the list is comprehensive. Unfortunately, at this time, the broadcast industry (who is still reeling from tremendously expensive HD upgrades) will no doubt be last in line again. However, not to lose faith, the Japanese are conducting successful research in 8k broadcast systems.
THE BENEFITS OF ULTRA HD
Many who frown upon Ultra HD’s possible acceptance into the marketplace believe that its only benefit is a larger image. However, what they fail to mention is the image also has more contrast and 4:4:4 color space capability. Consumer Reports in October, 2013, conducted a test of several HD displays compared to a Sony Ultra HD display using 1080p and 4k sources. Here is what they said about upconverting HD to Ultra HD, “Compared to the image on a 1080p TV, the same content upconverted to 4K gives you most of the benefits we saw with the true 4K image, minus the extra detail. When displayed on the 4K screen, the finest details in the HD image were better resolved, with edges that were visibly smoother and less jagged than on the HDTV’s coarser 1080p pixel grid. And I saw no obvious upconversion artifacts to speak of, which demonstrates that the benefits of an Ultra HD TV's higher pixel density can still be appreciated even without true 4K content to watch.” When the price difference of a new 50-inch HD TV is only a couple hundred dollars less than a UHD TV, why not purchase the UHD? What am I trying to say? It all boils down to this: Ultra HD content will be coming because Ultra HD makes HD look better. Ultra HD is now affordable. Owners of Ultra HD TVs will want native content and Internet-based content distributors are the first providers via streaming. Do not mock the desire to have postproduction capability for Ultra HD content because the demand is approaching fast. The postproduction facility that will be scrambling around at the last minute trying to upgrade to UHD will miss out on some of this new business. Every post facility should have at least one edit bay that can handle the format--and possibly more. It's true the video files are much larger, and storage space can be quite expensive, so maybe it's time to look into cloud storage to keep the costs down, temporarily at least.
Stu Brown is a Chicagoan by birth and Californian by zipcode and yes, he knows many gangsters.
As a stock footage producer I've just begun to capture real time 4k. Like anything on the cutting edge it can be a bit of a struggle to deal with as systems of distribution, storage, etc. may not be quite there as of yet.
Also, as of right now there doesn't seem to be much of a demand for it from footage buyers but I know in time that will change and I figure it's best for me to get started now.
One immediate benefit for me and my customers is that 4k downsized and delivered as an HD file produces some great quality files!
Thanks for the article!
Need hd video backgrounds? Then download my new pack of Green Screen Video Backgrounds
Thanks for commenting, Bryan. My friend in the film library here at a major studio tells me that all the studio's dailies are archived into 4k format. This includes all features and television programs. You are definitely doing the right thing by shooting 4k for stock footage. He turns around and sells the footage to producers on a regular basis from the 4k source.
A Go Left Productions Company
I feel like it may be an uphill battle to get it adopted from every practical standpoint. As an animator and editor, it doesn't shave a bunch of time off my workflow like the move from SD to HD. Moving to HD was easily worth a 30K investment in hardware because it streamlined the whole process of capturing footage and applying metadata. It could pay for itself in saved labor-hours within a year easily. 4K though, requires me to buy new equipment to keep from getting a slow-down in render times and data transfers, but doesn't really save me any time. What's more, I watched the world steadfastly refuse to acknowledge 3D for years, making waste of a ton of marketing and preemptive studio upgrades. As one pro with a budget I'm not moving a micron on 4K upgrades until it looks like a sure thing.
As a consumer, I can't bring myself to care that much. I haven't even bothered to buy most of my Amazon video library in HD. In fact, no one I know has. Techies and producers worry about quality and resolution. Consumers worry about download times and (in the U.S) bandwidth caps. Then surely 4K is going to incur a higher cost to buy or download, just like HD has. With net neutrality gone companies like Amazon and Netflix are going to have to pay a premium to get that 4K video delivered at a reasonable speed and they're going to have to recoup those costs somewhere. Frankly, I don't see 4K going anywhere until either Google opens up gigabit tech in more cities, or Chatanooga's public-utility gig model catches on. Even if the internet monopolies are broken, the most likely billing structure for public utility internet systems would be usage based. Is it worth it to the consumer to pay a premium for the 4K content itself, plus the additional bandwidth usage?
Even worse, is it going to be worth it to advertisers? Most of my clients want explainer videos and short web ads. 4K is a hard sell for them- they want their videos to load fast and be in the viewer's face before they can click away. Catering to 4K owners is going to continue to be a luxury most of them don't care about until the world forces them to.
As geeks and techies living in front of our 27 inch screens with our high-speed cable connections it's easily to overlook the fact that most everybody else, the people for whom we're ultimately making content, live more and more on a 10 inch or less screen and an LTE connection.
Hi Drew. You have made some excellent points in your post and I certainly empathize with your concerns. Allow me to bring a couple of my posts to your attention. Although we live in these United States, other parts of the world have surpassed us in television technology. Check out my post 4k Ready U.S. Only 17% – Akamai: http://wp.me/p45CkU-XP: For the progress that Europe is making in this area check 4k TV Channels on the Way: http://wp.me/p45CkU-Zu
4k is definitely on its way. It just looks as if the US will come in last in the race. I attribute our lack of advancement in communications technology to be directly related to the apparent state of insecurity in the federal government. Otherwise, there is no reason to not have 4k capability.
A Go Left Productions Company