Everything you need to know about 4k in under 2 minutes.
Everything you need to know about 4k in under 2 minutes.
Whether you want to create your own or kick-back and watch something rather more professional, it’s all going down this year.
The Sony AX100E 4K Handycam, unveiled at last week’s International CES and due this summer priced just under £2,000, looks sensational.
Dramatically smaller than its pro-centric FDR-AX1E predecessor, it shoots Ultra HD in XAVC S, which is a derivation of XAVC, the 4K video format developed by Sony for TV production.
Panasonic is also prepping a 4K consumer shooter, a lightweight wearable action-cam styled on its head-mountable A100. Perfect for skiing apparently, which I will obviously do never.
Of course, the biggest 4K content news hails from Netflix. The non-contract streaming outfit has confirmed that it will be launching a UHD service this spring.
“We are at the forefront of 4K,” proclaimed Netflix director of corporate communications Joris Evers when I met him in Vegas.
“TV manufacturers are not going to sell any TVs unless there’s stuff to watch on them, that takes advantage of the technology advances built into them. This is the first time that the best video quality possible is only going to be available through the internet. We believe Netflix will be the way most people will get 4K content.”
Evers is probably right. 4K Blu-ray was notable only by its absence on the CES showfloor. Although the Blu-ray Disc Association had been talking up plans to upgrade their disc spec beforehand, there wasn’t a peep to be heard from any peeps. Not that I was surprised. A senior engineer at a large Japanese electronics company had already warned me that behind the scenes the 4K BD situation was “chaos!”
It’s important to realise that 4K Netflix will only be available on Ultra HD screens sporting an integrated HEVC h.265 decoder. That rules out all of last year’s TV launches, including the forward-facing HDMI 2.0 compatiblePanasonic WT600.
Not that there’s going to be any shortage of new HEVC-enabled tellies to choose from. But you might need to learn to love the curve.
Curling screens littered the Las Vegas convention centre like week-old sandwiches. Thankfully most appeared a good deal more appetising than stale bread.
I’d even go so far as to say the prototype 105-inch 21:9 ratio curved Ultra HD screens from LG and Samsung looked drop-dead amazing, although even Peter Andre and his 60 Minute Makeover team would struggle to find a way of getting them into my living room without demolishing most of the house.
Best 4K Ultra HD TVOur round-up of all the best options for choosing an Ultra HD TV for your living room
Away from the CES showfloor, Samsung previewed upcoming tech for future 4K lines. This proved to be pretty fascinating.
One engineering team is working out ways to improve the dynamic range of 4K sets, showing a prototype high-brightness 85-inch panel which peaks at 1000 nits of brightness. A side by side comparison of current and next-gen panels used a sequence from J.J. Abrams Star Trek: Into Darkness for illustration.
Both displays looked superb, but unfortunately when Abrams’ trademark lens flare hit the high-brightness prototype my retinas exploded.
The brand’s boffins have also developed a high contrast image processor which uses object-based contrast enhancement to give even greater delineation with 4K sources. The aim, I was told, is to help create an almost tangible 3D effect.
“It helps create that sense of immersion,” I was told. Perhaps bizarrely, the engineers responsible said there were no plans to offer similar immersion on flat 4K screens.
Disappointing perhaps, but salvation could be at hand. Both LG and Samsung also teased prototype flexible 4K UHD screens at CES which allow users to remotely alter the degree of curvature.
So thanks to some ingenious over-engineering, the world’s biggest TV brands have made it possible to make curved screens flat again. Remember when I said we were entering a new Age of Stupid
SEE ALSO: The 10 Best Super Bowl Ads of All Time
“It allows us to do an electronic zoom and maintain resolution,” Jerry Steinberg, Fox’s senior vice president of operations, told Mashable. “We have five Sony F55s and one Sony F65, all connected to the Super Zoom workflow.”
Fox introduced Super Zoom three years ago, Steinberg says, although the best cameras available that existed then were 2K. Once 4K cameras became available, about two years go, Fox moved to that format, and other networks such as NBC and CBS followed suit. Steinberg says he’d like to take the feature even further, to 8K cameras, but that wasn’t possible in time for this year’s game.
Steinberg says the Super Zoom made a difference in the Dec. 15, 2013, victory of the Green Bay Packers over the Dallas Cowboys. In the final minutes, Packers cornerback Tramon Williams dove to intercept a pass, which was reviewed by the referees to see if it was a legitimate catch. The referees watched the footage caught by one of the Fox Super Zoom cameras and declared the catch valid, sealing Green Bay’s comeback.
As for the game itself, the only way to enjoy it in 4K is to upconvert Fox’s 720p broadcast
As for the game itself, the only way to enjoy it in 4K is to upconvert Fox’s 720p broadcast, which any 4K TV will do. Steinberg doesn’t believe broadcast standards for 4K will emerge for years, and sending an entire broadcast in 4K would require a tremendous investment; Fox uses 50 cameras for the Super Bowl broadcast. Even ESPN, which recently stepped up its production workflow to better accommodate 4K (and even 8K), doesn’t see 4K broadcasts in the near future.
“As a specialty tool in that application, [4k] works well,” says Steinberg. “As a broadcast technology, I think it’s very far away.”
However, prices for consumer 4K products are dropping (both a $2,000 Sony 4K camcorder and a $999 Vizio 4K TV were revealed at CES 2014), and software leaders like YouTube are figuring out new streaming standards that won’t demand Internet-choking bandwidth. The barriers preventing 4K from going mainstream are quickly being broken, and it’s just a matter of time before the big game and other events get the 4K treatment.
John McGrath of Rethink Studios, who’s always been giant steps ahead of the digital curve, has seen the future and it’s Ultra High Definition, aka 4K technology.
“It’s coming and it’s coming fast,” he predicts.
At 3840 x 2160, 4K Ultra HD is four times the total number of pixels on a full 1080pHD screen.
“All the technology is here, so we’re just waiting for affordable 4K TVs for the home and the cable boxes to deliver the content,” says 4K proponent McGrath. “It’s going to be what 3D never achieved.”
In fact, Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG 4K TV sets fueled the excitement at the recent Consumers Electrics Show. Netflix amplified the buzz by announcing it is partnering with TV manufacturers to produce 4K content.
Knox McCormick, Optimus director of operations, is cautiously approaching the new resolution. Although he’s been carefully watching 4K over the past year-and-a-half, “I’m not rushing to buy 4K monitors because I remember how many years it took to get 3D monitors in place,” a familiar refrain.
Although 4K monitors are becoming a market reality and 4K content is around the corner, Chicago has some catching up to do.
Many 4K camera choices available
There’s no shortage of 4K cameras, however. Craig Maltby’s Magnanimous Media offers plenty of 4K capture options: The Red Scarlett and Red Epic; Canon’s new C500 and the new Sony F55 Cine Alta 4K, which was recently rented to shoot content for a huge video wall in Walgreen’s corporate headquarters, Maltby says.
More than half the content that Magnanimous’ in-house DP, Jonah Rubash, shoots is in 4K: Fox sports shows, music videos, corporate videos, interviews and shorts. “The decision is usually based on the higher resolution quality issue,” he says.
No immediate 4K market for commercials so far
As for commercials, 4F is currently a format-in-waiting for commercials.
Optimus, for one, has the ability to edit and color correct in 4K, but lacks the demand for the higher resolution. “When clients come in and ask for 4K is when we will take it seriously,” McCormick says.
“It will start major big advertisers and corporations with big venues to showcase it. It’s like what happened when we shifted from SD to HD. The transition will happen when equipment catches up and TV sets are affordable,” he says.
When Nolan Collaboration Jeff Nolan’s commercial clients do shoot in 4K, they always finish in HD, he notes. To prepare his clients for what’s ahead, he always suggests they make a future-proof version of their 4K work for the day when resolution becomes standard.
But don’t wait, McGrath urges content decision-makers. “Shoot everything in 4K. It provides you far greater creative flexibility in design, effects and post.”
Rethink beta testing 4F rendering solutions
McGrath’s company, Rethink, is on the 4K fast track. Designers are currently beta testing what McGrath calls “blindingly-fast” modeling and rendering solutions with Nvidia and Autodesk.
“We’ll have our clients in real-time CGI modeling, animation and lighting sessions in the very near future, at 4K.”
Rethink has always set its own screen sizes and resolutions, he says, “so 4K is just a broadcast standard that is going to make the images from our virtual cameras look all the more real.”
And those images are heading for the consumer market.
Entertainment content in 4F is being readied for the big splash. Streaming 4K video from Netflix is due out Feb. 14, with “House of Cards: Season 2” set to be its first 4K streaming content. AMC’s “Breaking Bad” will be upconverted to the new format.
M-Go, a joint venture of DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor will launch its UHDservice on Samsung next spring.
As many viewers already know, the second season of Netflix web-show House of Cards will premiere on Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day), giving fans of the show something to do with their spouses as an alternative to the traditional dinner date.
Our last article pointed out how the people behind the show used consumer data to create such a successful show but pundits are saying that now the pressure is on for the producers to continue what they started, when expectations abound.
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Regardless of the stories that take place in the second season, we can be sure it will be a delight for the eyes. For the first time, House of Cards will be shot and produced in high resolution 4K, meaning 4,000 pixels in the horizontal picture.
This is good news if you have a TV that is capable of playing 4K video but if you don’t, you can still watch it in high or standard definition.
For users who want to stream the extremely high-definition video, an internet connection speed of 15 megabits per second will be required to play the video smoothly. The ultra-high definition video will be compressed to 15 Mbps, which is possible to achieve through Wi-Fi.
Not all users will have a similar viewing experience, however, because the average internet speed in the country is only 8.7 Mbps and more than half of internet connections are less than 6 Mbps.
Faster plans cost more money, which may be the way users will have to go in the future as more people stream their shows and internet bandwidth becomes increasingly important.
Those who have or can afford to pay for the 4K capability will be able to tap into the full potential of the show.
Netflix, Amazon, M-GO and YouTube are the four biggest streaming platforms with plans to stream Ultra HD 4K content this year. Expect a slow start from Netflix, as it is banking on a handful of nature documentaries and the second season of its original series, House of Cards, to get things started. Things look a little more promising with Amazon – at least at the start – as it has announced partnerships with Lion’s Gate, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox and Discovery. M-GO is backed by Technicolor and Dreamworks Animation, so we can likely expect plenty of 4K animated features there. As for YouTube, it appears to be partnered with Sony, though it is unclear how Sony will reconcile any content it distributes through YouTube with its own Video Unlimited service, which is designed specifically for Sony TV owners.
Broadly speaking, you’ll need a 2014 Ultra HD television. The Ultra HD TVs that were released in 2013 (which are still being sold today) will not support the apps or the decoding chips necessary for viewing streaming Ultra HD out of the box. It is possible that manufacturers will have a fix in place for early adopters. Samsung, for instance, may offer an upgraded ‘One Connect’ breakout box to those customers who purchased a first-generation Ultra HD set.
But as we dig a little deeper, things get a little more complicated. Each of the streaming services mentioned above are partnered with specific TV manufacturers, sometimes exclusively, sometimes not. M-Go, for instance, appears to be partnered exclusively with Samsung, while Netflix tends to be spread out a little more with Vizio, LG, Sony and Samsung on board. As for Amazon, its partnership appears to be restricted to Samsung right now, though we can’t image that relationship remaining monogamous for long. Support for YouTube’s Ultra HD content appears to be more widespread. The company showed off Ultra HD streams at LG, Panasonic and Sony’s booths at CES 2014, and Samsung, Toshiba and Sharp have all been named as hardware partners as well.
Netflix and M-GO have both stated that their Ultra HD streams will require no more than a 15 Mbps connection. Amazon has been less specific, though in a forum at CES it was indicated the company’s services would not require more than 20 Mbps. YouTube is different, though, because it will be using its own codec, called VP9. Though we do know that VP9 will be royalty-free (and, therefore, open for anyone to use), we’re not certain what kind of bandwidth requirements it might impose. Likely, it won’t exceed that of the H.265 (HEVC) codec that Netflix and M-GO appear to be using.
Unfortunately, a speedy Internet connection is no guarantee of successful Ultra HD streaming. Much depends on the capability of a service’s servers, as well as the capabilities and actions of a given Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Currently, Netflix customers are struggling to get reliable 1080p and even 720p HD streams, especially during peak hours. Our own rudimentary test of Netflix streaming indicates the issue likely resides with Netflix’s servers. However, it has been noted in the past that some ISPs may be intentionally slowing down high bit-rate traffic from sites like Netflix. No matter which is to blame, the issue remains: If steady 1080p streams are unreliable, then Ultra HD streaming is little more than a pipe dream. Never mind whether the Internet infrastructure is ready, it’s the politics between ISP’s and streaming media companies that need to be sorted out.
If you have a data cap on your broadband Internet service, then Ultra HD streaming may not be such a good idea for you. If an Ultra HD stream consumed a steady 15 Mbps throughput for an entire hour (not likely), you would burn through 16GB of your data cap in one sitting.
The Ultra HD video streams we get will be very highly compressed, otherwise they could never be streamed over the Internet as we know it today. Unfortunately, the term “compression” has a bad reputation in the world of video, and is often misunderstood as being synonymous with poor quality. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. In fact, most people have watched nothing but compressed video their entire lives and been perfectly happy with it … impressed, even.
For those not familiar, compression, at its most basic, is the processes of taking a huge file and shrinking it down to a more manageable size. Lossy compression, the technique used to shrink down video files, works by removing data we’re not supposed to notice. Sometimes, it doesn’t quite work that way. For instance, in overly compressed video, large, off-color blocks will be visible in what should be a solid pool of black. Bands of color will likely not move smoothly from one another. All kinds of tiny errors crop up during fast-moving scenes.
But that doesn’t mean all compressed video is bad. The video on DVDs is compressed to anywhere from 15 to 30 times its original size, but it was still hailed as a massive step up from VHS when it arrived because of its higher resolution. Likewise, the HD video feeds we get from our cable or satellite companies are highly compressed, but still look vastly superior to standard-def because of their higher native resolution. Even Blu-ray, the least-compressed 1080p source the consumer can get his hands on, is still highly compressed, and we all agree it looks spectacular.
This isn’t to suggest that the Ultra HD streams will be glorious. We will see the same compression artifacts that we see with compressed HD now. Still, detail will be enhanced, color will be a little deeper, and, at the end of the day, it will look better than the 1080p we see streamed now. Having seen compressed Ultra HD streamed in the flesh, we can confirm that it is, indeed, a leap forward from the status quo.
What will be hot in consumer electronics and computing in 2014? Read our full coverage of International CES 2014to find out.
While we’re still skeptical that consumers really care about 4K video, Google is laying down plenty of ground work to make sure it’s prepared for the future.
Today, the media giant’s YouTube revealed toGigaOm that it will be showing off 4K video streaming using its VP9 video codex at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The 4K format is roughly four times higher resolution than regular HD (3,840-by-2,160 pixels vs. 1,920-by-1,080 pixels). But as VentureBeat has pointed out repeatedly, streaming 4K video is exceptionally data intensive (meaning you need a reliable high-speed Internet connection) and requires a 4K-ready television set, which most consumers probably won’t have.
So why is Google bothering with 4K? Well, it could be something that consumers demand in the future, and the company wants to make sure it’s prepared. (The company previously tried to create its own video codex — VP8 — which never quite panned out since many hardware and software makers had little incentive to support it.)
Google’s VP9 — which it’s showing at CES — is a royalty-free video codex that it created as an alternative to the H.265 video codec that many other hardware and software providers already use for 4K video. The VP9 codex should also help deliver HD content faster, speeding up video streaming.
And since there aren’t many people demanding the 4K format, Google and YouTube have a pretty good chance of getting hardware manufacturers to use VP9. YouTube global director of platform partnerships Francisco Varela also revealed that YouTube has partnerships with 19 hardware makers — including LG, Panasonic, Sony, ARM, Intel, Broadcom, and Marvell — to use the VP9