These days, “4k” is the buzz of the home theater community. Digital cinema projectors are (slowly) transitioning from 2k resolution to 4k models. Recent Blu-ray titles have been advertised as benefiting from new 4k transfers. Many people assume that the HDTV standard will jump from 1080p to 4k any day now, and a whole new 4k video format better than Blu-ray will be needed to support it. What most people don’t realize is that “4k” isn’t necessarily really 4k. Confused? Read on after the break.
One of the biggest dangers in the home theater hobby today is how easily people can be mislead by specs and marketing hype, which often attempt to reduce complex topics down to simple linear mathematical analogies. High numbers sound better than low numbers. This game is played all the time with stats like contrast ratio. A TV that claims a 100,000:1 contrast ratio must be twice as good as another set that only claims 50,000:1, right? Frankly, no. The issue these specs ignore is just how those contrast numbers are achieved. Is that a native contrast ratio, or is a dynamic iris needed? How are these number measured? Can either of them actually be achieved in real-world viewing? At what point are there diminishing returns? These are just some of the questions that need to be asked.
Likewise, resolution stats have a similar problem. “4k” just sounds so much better than 2K (or 1080p), doesn’t it? Gosh, it must be twice as good! 4 is twice as much as 2. How much more obvious can it be?
Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. In an interview for a publication called Creative Cow (“The Magazine for Media Professionals in Film, Broadcast & Production”), John Galt, the SVP of Advanced Digital Imaging at Panavision, attempts to demystify the difference between real pixels and “marketing pixels.” Here are a couple of relevant quotes from the article, titled “The Truth About 2k, 4k & the Future of Pixels”:
Unfortunately, one of the tragedies of digital imaging, is that now we’ve got these ridiculous numbers games, because so few people understand the fundamentals of the imaging technology, everybody wants a number to latch on to. The numbers don’t mean anything in the context of 100 years of development of film and motion picture technology, optical technology and laboratory practice and cinematographers did wonderful work without understanding anything about the chemistry or photographic emulsion technology.
Whenever I do a presentation about digital imaging, my first question these days is, “Anybody know how many grains of silver are on a frame of film? Hands up, hands up!” Nobody ever puts their hand up. My second question is, “Hands up! Anybody ever thought about this before?” You can tell the nerds in the audience from the hands that go up!
So why do we care? Because after 100 years of being comfortable with a relatively stable film based motion picture technology, along comes this new and disruptive digital imaging technology, and we’re all clutching for some magic number that we can carry around in our heads, and this will define the process for us. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. It’s messy and it’s complicated, and lots more so today than it was in the days of film.
So if you had true 4K resolution in your local theater, everybody would have to [be] sitting in the first 6 rows. Otherwise they wouldn’t see any extra detail. Their eyes wouldn’t LET them see it. You know this intuitively from passing by these beautiful new monitors at trade shows. You find yourself getting absolutely as close as possible to see the detail, and to see if there are any visible artifacts. At normal viewing distances, you can’t.
So the whole 2K 4K thing is a little bit of a red herring.
The article is pretty technical, but it’s a fascinating read. Galt does a fine job of explaining complex topics in an understandable manner, without simplifying them to the point of abstraction. I recommend it to anyone who’s bought into the hype about 4k, or the hype about any marketing statistics in general.
(Source: Creative Cow)