To 4K or not to 4K, That is the Question

When I was shopping for new TV equipment two years ago, I was sorely tempted to go all 4K at that point. But in all honesty, there was so little demand for 4K at that time, it seemed like overkill and that it might be a bad investment. You don’t necessarily want to be a pioneer in new technology—the old saying that pioneers are slaughtered and settlers prosper—isn’t far from the truth.

For example, the next big thing in TV was supposed to be 3D, which was a major flop. Somehow wearing 3D glasses in the theatre is ok, but nobody seems to want to do that at home. The home 3D goggles were klunky and isolating. (The smart money is on virtual reality now instead of 3D for the home. Major players like Facebook are making significant investments in virtual and augmented reality, and there seems to be a natural extension from gaming to all forms of entertainment).

Back to 4K; there’s no question that 4K is a much better picture at four times the resolution of High Definition. But from a broadcast standpoint, so many shows, networks and outlets aren’t even HD yet; it’s hard to visualize how we can mainstream a format that requires even more bandwidth and expensive TVs.

The new term catching on for 4K is UHD (ultra high definition). Most of the challenges for 4K are on the post-production end. Shooting is not a problem—but data management is. It’s a much higher cost than posting in HD and if anything goes wrong, the render takes longer and it can be difficult to synchronize sound. The proper professional workflows just don’t exist yet.

Also, I spoke with a couple of networks at NATPE and they don’t even have the capability to receive true 4K yet, much less transmit it.

The work around may be to shoot in 4K, then downconvert to HD and edit in HD. You’ll have better image quality and a workable post production solution. We did this in the early days of HD, shooting in HD and then posting in standard definition. Because you started with a better image you ended up with one, not unlike shooting on film and then editing on tape (now non-linear).

My gut says 4K is here to stay, unlike home 3D video, but it may still be a couple of years before I invest in the equipment.Thoughts, questions, comments? I’d love to hear what you think.