The 4K Resolution Revolution

Offering four times the image information of high-definition video, this holiday season saw a big push for consumer-level 4K televisions from companies like Panasonic and Sony. While content is still in short supply, it’s likely this year will see an even bigger explosion of new projects, as the means with which to capture and play back 4K are starting to come down to affordable levels.

Popular movie rental and streaming service Netflix, for example, has been testing 4K video streams, and many of their original content shows, like House of Cards, are being shot in 4K. Amazon has also announced several new 4K productions, while Google and YouTube have been showing off a new video-compression format called VP9, making high-quality compression a reality for streaming 4K video over the Internet much faster and with better reliability.

Huge new 4K television sets from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and others are capable of playing back this content, as well as upscaling high-definition content, and there are also a few new 4K projectors, like the Sony 4K Ultra Short Throw Projector, which will turn a blank wall into a 147-inch 4K display. Several Blu-ray sets and 3D systems will upscale high-definition content for playback on these new sets, as well.

So while you may not feel you’re ready for 4K, if you have any interest in future-proofing your video content, you should consider a look. Current offerings actually make 4K productions a possibility, thanks to new and affordable camcorders and monitors. Up until 2013, there were a number of 4K-capable cinema cameras from RED and Sony available for 4K movie productions, but these solutions were priced for professional filmmaking, and they require a dedicated digital workflow to manage the massive amounts of data created by each frame, which offers four times the image information of a 1920×1080 high-definition frame. 4K video is also useful for HD productions, as well, because frames are large enough in terms of resolution that you can reframe or crop for editing into HD resolution projects.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, Ultra HD refers to the more broadcast-friendly UHD resolution of 3840×2160, while true 4K video is 4096×2160 pixels or more. Frame rates of up to 60 fps are currently available, which is a very fast frame rate more suited to action sequences. Peter Jackson recently used the format for his latest Hobbit films. Other frame rates are also available; 24 fps and 25 fps are most commonly used for DSLR video because the look is very smooth and cinematic, while 30 fps is a slightly faster frame rate for a crisp video look.


Ironically, some of the very first devices capable of capturing 4K video were smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note III and the Acer Liquid S2, though the video compression is so high that the advantage over HD video is questionable. The Nikon J1 and V1 mirrorless cameras are also capable of capturing 4K sensor output at up to 60 fps, though this is technically a workaround on the electronic bursting mode and captured videos are very, very short.

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