Thursday, 21 March 2013

8K - is bigger, better?

A few years ago, well seven I think, I decided that I wanted to find out if my brain was capable of learning new things outside of my comfort zone and after a short investigation I decided to take an Open University course called "T175 - Networked Living", exploring information and communication technologies. It took 8 months to do and at the end of it I had 30 points towards the 360 I need to get a full degree. I was hooked.

Since then I have studied modules called "Beyond Google", "Design and the Web", "Communication and Information technologies" and "Computers and Processors" and a few others. Currently I am doing "Innovation - Designing for a sustainable future" and "Technologies for digital media". 

Coincidently this last module has posed a question about UHDTV or Ultra High Definition TV and refers to a document written by two Japanese engineers, Masayuki Sugawara and Kenichiro Masaoka which looks at the future of TV and what is the ideal size and resolution of screen. They did a series of spatial rendering tests and concluded "that UHDTV should have around 8000
horizontal pixels based on the research results described above. Interoperability with existing television system suggests:
- a picture aspect ratio of 16 : 9 is preferable;
- a simple integer ratio between the pixel counts of TV systems is preferable.
Finally, we concluded that 7680x4320 is desirable for the pixel count of UHDTV." 

Now I can't argue with that especially now that 4K is officially half that resolution. The engineers looked at the ideal size of the screen or panel to watch this on.

"Recommendation ITU-R BT.1845 provides guidelines on the relationship between screen size and viewing distance given that the optimal viewing distance is one at which one pixel corresponds to the visual angle of arc-minute. The optimal viewing distance is, e.g., 100 cm when viewing an UHDTV image on a 100-in screen.[...] The optimal viewing distance for a 20-in screen is 20 cm, at  the human visual system (HVS) reaches the limits of accommodation. The size of a 20-in screen is close to A3, and a 7680x4320 pixel screen would have approximately 350 pixels/in."

Let me just repeat that. The best way to watch TV is on a 100 inch (presume diagonal measurement) screen from just 3 feet 3 inches away - wow! I'm now old enough to need the full length of my arms just to focus on something and I tend to watch a 42 inch 1080p screen from about 8 feet away. And if I wanted to look at an iPad screen (presuming it had 8K pixels) "optimally" it should be about 3 inches away from my face.

Really? If your mother is like my mother she would be telling you to move back from the screen or you'll ruin your eye-sight, and this time she might be right. So if this is the ideal do I want it? Does this mean that if I bought a 100 inch 4K screen ($25,000 says I won't just yet) I could watch it from a comfortable (and ideal distance) of 6 feet 6 inches. At least I wouldn't get yelled out by all the people behind me. Be interested to hear from anyone who has actually stood in front of a 100 inch 4K screen for their opinion.

So my vote is that bigger, in this case is not better, which adds more weight to my argument that 4K will not be a stop gap resolution but a very good and well loved one. Now I better get back to my studies as I still have 2 years to go.

* The full document mentioned above can be purchased here.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

4K at BVE in London and future proofing

It's been a week since BVE was held at it's new location at Excel in East London and I really enjoyed my two days there, partly for the old colleagues I kept bumping in to, partly because of the new kit I could actually see and touch and partly because of the 4K Cinema presentations. The 3D & 4K Cinema seminars were held in a room about 5 minutes away from the main exhibition so I felt like an orienteerer (or whatever someone who participates in orienteering is called) getting my badge scanned each time I moved between the two locations.

Philip Bloom's excellent presentation "The DSLR journey: from the 5D mkII to the 4K 1DC" was so popular that over 150 people were turned away each day, including me on Tuesday. Philip has not been too positive in the past about 4K's future but one of the reasons I follow him on twitter (@PhilipBloom) is because he is prepared to have his mind changed. He had shot a pop video with Olly Knights on the Canon EOS-1D C the previous week, quickly edited it in Adobe Premiere and Dissolve and produced a 4K ProRes 422 file which the venue guys converted to a DCP to show on the 4K projector at BVE.

The first time he had seen the video in 4K was at rehearsals the previous day, because he, like 99.9% of us working in 4K, doesn't have a 4K monitor (Sony had one on their stand). The only way he could check his pictures at 4K resolution was blowing them up into quarters on his retina screen. I have to say the pictures looked very good and Philip didn't have a massive rig like Canon used on "The Ticket", he just added a TV Logic field monitor:

Canon EOS-1D C on the Ticket (from Canon website)
Philip Bloom (with bag) shooting the Olly Knight video with EOS-1D C
(from Philip Bloom's blog)
The video had been shot very quickly and on the hoof, in Philip's words - guerilla filming - which is pretty incredible at 4K, and he managed to turn it around in about 5 days, which makes a nonsense of anyone claiming that shooting 4K at the moment is impractical.

Of course when you are on an island in the Pacific you might need a bit of backup and Sky's Galapagos series was certainly ambitious. 3D on a volcano - tick, and 4K? Why not. The first episode was shown in 4K 3D (or is it 3D 4K) at BVE and we were suitably furnished with dark glasses, which was a little disappointing. But the effect was not. Once you have seen a marine iguana snort out salt in 3D4K there is little that can impress you. I was in row 6 but wanted to be in row minus 3 to really see the crispness of the image but it was still pretty good from 12 metres away.

In an interview with tech radar this week John Cassy, the head of 3D at Sky TV reaffirmed the company's commitment to 3D and claimed that 4K would not be the innovation that replaces 3D but the technology that enhances the format, "There are very clear benefits that 4K gives 3D. The resolution is better and also it could help in glasses-free 3D because it enables that whole resolution and picture quality." He also claims to have seen a glasses free version of 3D but like a News of the World journalist failed to reveal the source.

Canon's 4K camera the C500 is dropping in price but is still at almost £19,000 so it is a hire only beast for now,but the EOS-1D C £10k less than that but still some way off my Christmas list. To me the cameras that will change the broadcast world though are the Sony PMW-F5 and F55 with the AXS-F5 4K recorder (about £16k and £24k respectively) which get round the rolling shutter problem and are "proper cameras" provided you have perfectly flat shoulders. 

There was a lot of talk about how much storage all this 4K material is going to take up but now I wouldn't consider buying less than 3 terabyte external drives (4 TB are out there), 6 times larger than I was buying 2 years ago. With the amount of storage looking like it will shortly double on a hard drive platter I am looking forward to shooting RAW 4K at a price point close to shooting HD now in about 2 years. 

To conclude I will quote John Cassy of Sky again who sums up my opinion on 4K, "We have a watching brief on Ultra HD and 4K. Actually what we have been doing, the Attenborough shows have all been filmed in 4K - and in some cases 5K - so they have been captured and future-proofed in a sense, as far as we can." 

Future proofing avoids obsolescence, if you get it right.