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Filmmaker Refuses To Buy Into 4K Hype

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 7s, 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

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 7s 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?