4K – My views

Panasonic recently announced their Lumix GH4 which is essentially a slightly enhanced GH3 with 4K video; I have already posted my first thoughts on this model but mentioned that I would say more about the 4K in a future blog post.

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To explain why I am going to give some background. The manufacturers of televisions have a problem, although most of us (there are a few of us out there that “have a perfectly good CRT based television”) upgraded from our CRT based TVs a few years ago to the flat screens, no-one is buying new TVs anymore except when they eventually wear out, the last major upgrade that people went for were TVs with either HD-ready (720p) or full HD (1080p) screens. This coupled with the associated HD output devices such as SKY, BBC, Blu-Ray discs and now online services has given us better quality programming/films.

At this stage we have the first slight problem, although I can see the difference between standard definition and 720p HD, I (and most people) cannot seen any difference between 720p and 1080p (I will explain the numbers later in this post).

Since the HD/HD-ready screen based TVs have been released we also had 3D, the TV manufacturers and Film Producers thought that this would be the next big thing and everyone would purchase new 3D televisions to get this new superb technology; it was and has been a big flop. The reasons (putting cost aside) I believe are may fold:

  1. You have to wear glasses and also sit at the correct angle to the TV to get the 3D effect
  2. When you watch any TV you after a short while “zone-in” on just the TV programme or film you are watching, when this happens most of the 3D (or HD effect) is lost and is not noticeable
  3. You need all new ways to get hold of 3D content, all new Blu-Ray discs, 3D Sky Box, 3D capable Blu-Ray player, etc.
  4. Lack of real fully 3D content, watch any 3D film and there will be parts that are not in 3D.

So if they couldn’t get us to purchase new TVs for 3D they need a new must have feature. They think that this new “must have” feature will be 4K. So what is 4K? This is a double the resolution of full HD; HD has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (this is where the 1080p comes from, the “p” stands for progressive and all you need to know is that “p” is better than “i” or interlaced); 4K’s resolution is 4096 x 2160 (or 3840 x 2160). This could have been called 2160p but I guess that 4K sounds better and although the resolution is doubled the overall number of pixels is quadrupled:

  • HD: 1920×1080 = 2,073,600
  • 4K: 4096×2160 = 8,847,360
  • 4K: 3840×2160 = 8,294,400

So the only feature that 4K has over 1080p “HD” is a higher resolution; if many people cannot tell the difference between 720 and 1080 are we going to notice 4K? This is just the first problem, we all need new TVs and new computer monitors if we want to watch 4K. My computer monitor (a 24” Dell) has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and this is one of the higher resolution standard 24” monitors out there! I have had a look around and even the latest Apple Hardware cannot display this resolution, the two models I looked at had the following resolutions:

  • 27” iMac: 2560×1440
  • 15” MacBook Pro Retina: 2880×1800

Let’s put this aside for a moment and look at bandwidth and storage size. Storing 4K video is going to require around 4 times the storage of HD video which isn’t known for its small size today. How are we going to transfer this larger video around? Although the basic broadband speed has increased in speed and capability we are probably a few years away from being able to transfer anything more than a few minutes long, like storage we are going to require about 4 times the bandwidth to transfer the same file in 4K over a 1080p version.

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The final issue is processing power, you are going to need a beast of a computer to deal with the video manipulation. I have what I consider a fairly powerful PC (see the bottom of the My Gear page for the spec) and this struggles with simple 1080p video and takes an eternity to transfer to YouTube. This is where you can say you need one of the new MacPro models fully kitted out with the new optimised version of Final Cut Pro; by the time that you have added storage a 4K display and an apple thunderbolt display (you need this to do the actual work on the 4K display is simply a preview monitor) you won’t have much change from £10K. I know that you could get this figure down a bit but this would still be out of the range of most consumers who might purchase a GH4 and decide that they want to shoot and edit 4K video – which is where this blog post started.

It is interesting that the manufacturer of the GH4 (Panasonic) also have a new range of 4K televisions too. 🙂

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