Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why 4K? CCW part 1

So this week I was at the content & communications conference here in New York.  The conference is always interesting and somewhat informative.  Usually each year there are themes, and this year it seemed all about 4K.  Last year there were a lot of panels for 3D, and this year not a peep about 3D.  I always knew 3D was a fad, and would not catch on.  It's all about consumers voting with their pocket book, and 3D never had a chance.

4K on the other hand is another story.  It's all about product, and what will drive 4K will be content, and will that content be worth seeing in 4K.  Right now consumers are pretty happy with their flat panel screens of various sizes.  At one time the bigger the screen the higher the price, but not so today.  LED panel screens are the rage, and they reproduce HD content really well.  But the thing is no broadcaster is broadcasting in 1080, and so we're not truly seeing HD.   In the United States, 1080p over-the-air broadcasts still does not exist; all major networks use either 720p60 or 1080i60 encoded with MPEG-2.  So why this talk about 4K.

One of the seminars I went to was called: "Is a 100 year work flow possible?", and there the discussion about 4K was about that 4K has four times the data of 2K.  Every step of the process will take longer, and taking longer means more money.  4K with it's demand for increased bandwidth, and storage capacity can be taxing on a productions budget, so as many post production professionals said that it's hard to justify the expense.

Sure it certainly is nice to shoot in 4K and have it, so that way when the technology becomes more available in the market or more in demand by the consumer the producer can output a 4K program, and sell his movie, or program to that market.  But that's a BIG if.  Right now the expense is way too high for a low budget film to even think about finishing in 4K.

I did see 4K displays at the expo, and the images were great, and the bigger the screen the more cinematic it felt.  The price for a 4K display on the other hand was high.  In time I'm sure the price would or will drop, but right now it's all about the money, and will consumers go out and buy another display to see a superior image?.  I don't really think so.  At least not until the cost drops, but it's never too late for producers to shoot 4K and try and future proof their work flow for the future.  To not shoot in 4K is short cited, and it may limit your products distribution in the future.

The argument will go on for some time.  Some facilities will want to have the capability to go 4K since it is a choice that they can provide to the producers, but till there is significant product in the pipeline, and till the consumer sees a true difference between what he or she has now 4K will will take a back seat in the home theater arena.  For 4K to catch on it needs a foot hold, and there I would think it would begin with sports. Sports bars investing in large 4K displays for BIG highlighted games could be the foundation of where 4K catches on.  But for that to happen the networks need to have another tier on their cable channel offerings to consumers, and that may take awhile since the networks would need to invest on new equipment.  But 4K is here, and it's not going away, so welcome to the future because someday we'll all be looking at 4K, and we'll watch programs from the past like we do today, and wonder how we ever got along without 4K.

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