Is 4K the future? And if so, when?

Trying to switch to 4K, you have to look at the target screen size
Andrew Davies
Andrew Davies

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When trying to decide the need to switch to 4K, you have to look at the target screen size. There was a compelling need within the home to shift from 625 to 1080i or 1080p standards as TV screens went beyond 40”.

2k and 4k within the home will only become a requirement if the average size of home screens becomes considerably bigger again. However, that said consumers are fickle and you may see manufacturers able to push new screens purely on the basis that 4k is bigger than 2k (like the digital camera Megapixel ratrace).

Currently standardised content distribution models top out at 1080p with blue ray, so any home technologies will be limited to downloaded content or home movies.

For DTH platforms, still the predominant delivery model in this region, 1080i is really the end game at the moment with no-one seriously expecting even 1080p delivery to the home in any significant quantities for the foreseeable future.

For a producer, with 4K there is the possibility that more quality from the original scene can be preserved. However, this assumes that the quality is there to preserve in the first place.

Moving to 4k is more than just a format shift. Content producers need to ensure that their cameras are equipped with quality lenses which will ensure the extra pixels on the image sensor capture the detail of the scene and not just the lens aberrations!

Many crews with TV experience are still trying to capture a “film look” using TV style zoom lenses with all of their inherent failings and limitations. Film crews have always used prime lenses to ensure a pristine unadulterated image is presented to the film stock or image sensor.

Content producers moving to 4k have to recognise that simply purchasing a cheap camera body capable of 4k is not enough. A move to 4k will involve significant upgrades to almost every area of a crew’s tool kit.

Costumes must be made to a considerably higher quality, make up must be applied to film standards not TV standards, lighting design is taken to a whole new level.

Tricks that have been used to save money in the TV industry for years are no longer possible when every scene is captured in minute detail. Compliance can also be more of an issue; crowds of people pose particular problems where previously the lack of detail in SD would have rendered individuals unrecognisable and offensive hand gestures impossible to pick out, with 4k these all become very easy to spot.

For a viewer too, it comes down to whether the quality was there in the first place. Content such as high end nature documentaries from the BBC and high end Holly/Bollywood films will be a treat in 4k.

High production values and well trained crews with experience of shooting on traditional 35mm and 65mm film formats will ensure that a high quality, well lit and composed image is presented to a 4k image sensor for capture.

However, we have to ask how consumers will get this content. At the moment 4k distribution over the internet is possible but the sheer size of the files is prohibitive. Compression can make this more of a reality but with compression comes artefacts which often outweigh the benefits of the additional resolution.

The real issue is that much of the content produced in this region is currently presented to even SD Image Sensors at sub standard quality with low production values, poor lighting and little attention to detail.

4k is actually going to make this kind of content look worse! There are some notable exceptions to this generalisation such as the excellent Hindustani series recently produced by OSN for their Yahala channel.

As flagship content to launch a new channel this shows what is possible. It remains to be seen whether such high production values can be sustained economically in the long term.

Andrew Davies is General Manager at TSL Middle East.

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