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Preparing for a 4K future

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23 December 2014

2015 trends: Will 4K Ultra HD go mainstream in 2015? In a word, no. But Televisual has included it in the top themes of the year because 4K is the future of television – and 2015 will see important progress along the road to widespread 4K production and broadcasting.

A recent poll conducted as part of Televisual’s Production Technology Survey estimated it would take five to six years before 4K goes fully mainstream. Unlike the industry’s fleeting obsession with 3D, respondents were sure that 4K would take off.

For now, 4K television set sales are slow but are starting to pick up as prices fall. A 40” Panasonic Viera Ultra HD set is currently available for £699, for example. All the big brands, including Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Sony, now offer large ranges of 4K TVs.

Cost of the sets aside, the key reason that 4K Ultra HD sets haven’t been flying off the shelves is that there is currently little to watch in 4K.

Very few broadcasters around the world are have launched 4K channels. In the UK, the key players are still testing the technology. Sky, for example, recently shot the Ryder Cup in 4K as part of an ongoing trial. The BBC, meanwhile, has experimented with 4K broadcasts during big sporting events, including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the World Cup.

For now, most 4K content is streamed via internet by outfits such as Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix.

Netflix has announced all its originated content, including House of Cards, will be shot, posted and streamed in 4K. It’s also offering all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad in 4K, which it has remastered from the original film negatives.

Amazon is serving up shows such as Transparent in 4K.

However, consumers need a fast broadband services of around 20Mbps to receive 4K via the internet.

4K shooting is starting to take off as 4K cameras don’t always command a huge investment over HD cameras. Blackmagic, AJA, Sony and Panasonic all offer very affordable 4K models.

Televisual’s Production Technology survey found that a remarkable 23% of respondents had shot in 4K over the past year, on cameras such as the Red Epic or Sony F55. 33% planned to shoot in the format in 2015.

Many said they are filming in 4K to future-proof their productions or because they want to achieve the best quality visuals possible for a high-end doc or commercial.

Fewer have mastered in 4K though, choosing to downconvert to HD for post production. The amount of data captured when shooting in 4K is immense and requires a great deal more and a great deal faster storage, along with much more time-consuming back-ups and much more powerful (and therefore more expensive) equipment to playback and monitor 4K content. This all has significant cost implications.

Still, the industry believes that 4K workflows will become increasingly common as prices start to fall and the technology improves over time. Just as HD workflows slowly but surely replaced SD production methods, so too 4K will steadily move centre stage in production.

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