Filmmaker Refuses To Buy Into 4K Hype

Market doesn’t reflect interest

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

Although TV and camera manufacturers are moving headlong into ultra high definition (UHD), leaving filmmakers drooling for the 4K performance of such cameras as the Sony α7s, and the Panasonic GH4, one filmmaker simply refuses to buy into the hype. And he puts forth the case that there’s plenty of technological hurdles that shows that 4K isn’t going mainstream anytime soon. And you know what, he may just be right.

Kurt Lancaster is his name. and he’s written several books on DSLR filmmaking and shooting in Raw. And in his article “Why I would rather shoot 2K raw than 4K compressed,” he expresses the belief that the main reasons that 4K isn’t ready for prime time all boils down to two simple facts…

  1. The market isn’t ready for it.
  2. Uncompressed raw is superior compared to compressed 4K images

“If you look at the VOD revenues that ultra HD generated this year, even the forecasts we’re seeing for three or four years, they’re not particularly spectacular. As far as ultra HD encoding revenue forecasts are concerned, they’re less than ten percent of the total encoding market, even if you look four years out,” Rambhia said. “4K TVs are going to be probably less than 5 percent of the total streaming destination.” – Kurt Lancaster’s Blog, citing “Cutting Through the Hype: Ultra HD Not Going Anywhere Fast” by Troy Dreier at SteamingMedia.com.

The notion that the market isn’t ready for it is pretty true. Although just about every feature being shot today is digitally projected in 4K movie theaters all over the world, there is still a lack of 4K content in the market. There’s broadcast, cable, and satellite. The issue here is the narrow broadcast spectrum of digital broadcast signals, which offer limited range, and even then, you end up with highly compressing 4K in order to get it to fit in the spectrum, while HD is relatively uncompressed (even though it’s still broadcast at 60hz).

Compression is also how cable and satellite deals with transforming high definition video signals through the air, and standards for transmitting 4K are still in development. Granted, that’s changing, but right now, the only 4K you can get are through Netflix, RED’s REDRAY network and YouTube Channels, and Sony’s PS4 network. This is in addition to Sony’s 4K player.

But streaming of 4K video online is still having to deal with the issues of bandwidth caps and buffering brought on by ISPs that want companies like Netflix and YouTube to pay extra for the fast lane. Netflix caved into the ISPs protection racket, but Google is waging an information campaign to throw the ISPs under the bus when content is being buffered.

But we’re still early in the game. Regardless of who is at fault, the bottom line is that the home country of the Internet has the worst performance when it comes to bandwidth. And it’s not going to get any better. And even if it did, there’s the biological argument that most people don’t even notice the benefit of 4K unless you have TVs that are over 70 inches, or you sit extremely up-close. And even then, there’s an argument that your eyes can only see so much resolution.

And when you factor in the fact that “the bitrates they plan to use to deliver 4K content … why would independent filmmakers, digital journalists, and students want to go 4K … I for one would much rather shoot 2K or 1080p HD raw than compressed 4K. I prefer to shoot “thicker” images, then something that contains more breadth of pixels, but are too think to really make it feel like film. – Lancaster

Lancaster then argues that even with 4K, shooting in 2K Raw is actually a more superior image. While 4K does have a standard, the supporting elements of 4K – dynamic range and color gamut do not. As such, what may be true today for 4K may not be true tomorrow. And that’s largely a good reason to stick with 1080p and add Raw to your high definition quiver. When you look at the Magic Lantern movement and the trail it blazed with Raw HD video on the DSLR platform, and how companies like Blackmagic and Kinefinity is taking Raw to the next level, it’s really hard not to accept the logic of that. “… fundamental to (all Raw cameras),” writes Lancaster, ” is a “thicker” image, the ability to shape a post-production feel to your film project.”

I agree with Lancaster that shooting in 2K Raw may be a much better short term option, but once the unsettled questions of dynamic range and color gamut are dealt with in the 4K spec, even if the end result is 1080p, it’s going to be a much better source medium. We’ve seen from test footage of the α7s and the GH4, that shooting in 4K and then exporting to 1080p offers an amazing end result. So even if we’re in a high definition world for the next five years, starting with 4K and exporting to 1080p, will give us the best high def we can get until the time comes to formally leave it behind.

What do you guys think?

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    Look at how people are using the GH4…shoot 4K to stabilize in post…or increase your high ISO performance by downsampling to 1080p..or shoot loose and crop in post…

  2. John Brune says:

    At first I thought this article was written about me. I absolutely refuse to cave in to the 4K hype. HD hasn’t even totally caught on and manufacturers are trying to cram new tech down our throats. It’s too much too soon and I’m not going to drop everything I own and spend MORE money on hard drives and camera support and lenses just because a select few thump their collective chests and say “gotta keep up with the technology or be left behind”. I’m happy with HD and in no hurry to change the way I do things. Jobs are coming in and the the pay is fantastic and I don’t expect anyone except other camera people to bug me about 4K anytime soon.

  3. James,

    Cool article and I’m happy you cited by blog. Just a correction on the first block quote. You attribute it as if it’s from me, but I’m actually quoting from Troy Dreier’s article (who is quoting Avni Rambnia), as I cite in my blog:

    “Cutting Through the Hype: Ultra HD Not Going Anywhere Fast” by Troy Dreier at SteamingMedia.com. Citing Avni Rambhia, we learn:

    “If you look at the VOD revenues that ultra HD generated this year, even the forecasts we’re seeing for three or four years, they’re not particularly spectacular. As far as ultra HD encoding revenue forecasts are concerned, they’re less than ten percent of the total encoding market, even if you look four years out,” Rambhia said. “4K TVs are going to be probably less than 5 percent of the total streaming destination.”

    Thank you kindly.
    Kurt

  4. Why ignore the fact that you can also shoot Raw in 4k, 5k and 6k and not only 2k?
    Ignoring the merits of 4k, and there are many, and concentrating on resolution alone undermines the credibility of this article.
    And just because the market and the broadcasters haven’t caught up with the camera technology YET, doesn’t mean they won’t in a very near future. Hardly a case for abandoning the 4k.

  5. Steve says:

    John, just because you are shooting at 24 fps, that doesn’t mean the shutter speed is also 24 fps. It’s completely possible to shoot 24 frames per second but each frame have a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second.

  6. As older generations pass and move on, I think a big influence into super high resolution may be coming from the gaming industry, where gamers are always looking for more realistic graphics and resolution. I see nothing wrong with 1080p or 2k, but unfortunately tech progress will continue, we’ll have to decide which will benefit or hinder.

  7. joe dunton says:

    4K cant we just wait for the 4 colour camera with nano pixel movement side ways and back forth to make grain and adjustable focus this would put the emotion back into our moves rather then modifying tv cameras to look like film

  8. John Heagy says:

    The other reason is 24p. 24p does not produce sharp images. Try taking a sharp still photo at 1/48th of a second. shooting and displaying 4K @ 24p means 4k motion blur… pointless. Unless you shoot 48 or 60fps 4K @24fps makes little sense.

    • Almost every film known to man has been shot in 24fps. If you don’t like motion blur pick a different shutter speed/angle. It’s nothing to do with 4k or 24fps.

  9. Greg says:

    I work for a major studio, and the other concern is the aesthetic problem of shooting actors in close ups. Sounds superficial, at first, but a lot of money is spent with “beauty fixes,” or correcting make-up or hair-lines (wigs). There’s an argument that 4K might be better served for shooting plates, and capture most scenes in the more forgiving 2k realm.

    • Andrew says:

      As Greg says – a lot of actors and presenters don’t want to see closeups of themselves in 1080 let alone 4K. First time I saw The Empire Strikes Back on Blu-ray was on a high-end large LED panel and I was shocked at how the talent looked regarding skin tone and smoothness. At least I now know they all have the same skin issues as the rest of us mortals.
      As for the acceptance of 4K – yes I’m sure it will catch on in five to ten years when the internet catches up and everyone has ultra-fast broadband or access to fast editing computers for those of us who are quite happy to make videos/promos for watching on You Tube or a website. Until then 2K is ample because after all…better to have high quality 2K than mediocre 4K.

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