Resolution doesn’t matter, until it does. People were perfectly happy with VHS until the introduction of the DVD; gamers were happy playing in standard definition (SD) until it became possible to experience their favourites in 720p, 900p, and 1080p.
So if anyone tries to tell you that ultra-high definition is pointless, or some kind of fad, don’t listen. They’re the same people who said the internet would never catch on. 4K video production provides a massive difference in detail, and if it is not the norm now, it will be eventually.
While we do offer all manner of different cameras and resolution options, we’d always advise companies to opt for the best possible image – what looks passable now may look outmoded in the very near future. Trim those nostrils, pluck those eyebrows, and prepare for the future. We’re all about to get a whole lot uglier.
What is 4K, anyway?
Way back when, SD was the only game in town. It had a 4:3 aspect ratio, a 576*480 resolution, and it was fine – mostly because there was nothing to compare it to. It was grainy, and it was blurry, but it was either that or going outside and looking at things.
Then came high definition (HD): 1920*1080 and 16:9 aspect ratio (aka widescreen). Going from SD to HD was like getting specs after years of walking around squinting. Action scenes were cooler, video games were prettier, and everything that came before looked positively primitive.
Now we’ve got 4K, which comes in two flavours: the DCI standard of 4096*2160, and the UHD-1 standard of 3840*2160. The image quality is going to be really good regardless, so this doesn’t really matter: there are maybe three people on the planet who care which kind of 4K your video uses, and two of them are me and Dan (my producer / cameraman / shoulder to cry on). The other one is statistically unlikely to be a customer.
Why bother with 4K video production?
Good question, hypothetical interrogator! While you can buy 4K TVs at the moment, you can’t really do very much with them: there’s some pay per view channels, there’s the Netflix app, and that’s pretty much it. Right now, they’re more or less expensive toys, but that’s likely to change as 4K becomes the new standard.
So why bother with 4K video production in 2016?
Well, there’s a reason we shoot everything in 4K if we can help it: basically, there’s no reason not to. Ultra HD is a fairly widespread standard for desktop PC monitors, and many online video platforms allow for extremely high resolution streaming – in fact, more consumer content is watched online than on televisions. Providing 4K video means every viewer gets the best possible experience: downscaling to a lower resolution is fairly trivial, and platforms like YouTube and Vimeo do it automatically.
It’s rare when creativity and convenience intersect, but this gives your production team many more options. Let’s say we film a portrait shot of your CEO or MD striking a heroic pose, the wind rustling through their silken hair. If we shot it in boring, vanilla 1080p, we wouldn’t be able to do much with it; if we shot it in 4K, we’d be able to zoom in 200% and still have an HD image. 4K cameras also come equipped with special light sensors superior at rendering colour: even if you do downscale, the image will still look better than it would in HD.
It’s not perfect, of course. Believe it or not, not everybody wants their physical imperfections thrown into sharp relief: zits that are almost imperceptible in HD look like throbbing red Ozarks in Ultra HD. What’s more, if the image is even slightly out of focus, you’re more apt to notice it at a higher resolution: cuts and transitions will be awkward and jarring, so you’ll want to make sure your 4K video company knows what it’s doing.
In 2016, our video team has filmed with 4K cameras in London, Toronto, Sydney, and Singapore . These are some of the most interesting cities in the world: no footage can ever capture their true majesty.
4K, however, comes bloody close. Sooner or later, it’ll be standard across all mediums and formats. Some time after that, it will no doubt be replaced by something else. Maybe 8K. Maybe 16K. Maybe they’ll beam things directly to your cerebral cortex using microwaves or…whatever. Maybe VR will become mainstream.
Right now, however, 4K video production is the only way to make sure you’re not sitting there in 4 years’ time with obsolete, incompatible video footage. It’s the future – for the moment.
To discuss 4K video production, get in touch with Jamie Field. He lives for this stuff.