Recently, I seem to recall reading about a survey, carried out at IBC, which asked whether or not industry professionals wanted 4k. I think I remember correctly that the answer was, no they didn’t. That surprised me. Why would anyone not want the remarkable clarity of super high definition pictures? Why would they shun such an improvement?

I wonder if it’s a reaction to 3D, that other two-character alphanumeric technological breakthrough? For a long time we were told 3D was the future and although the world of stereographers, depth budgets and very non-designer glasses still has a place at the table, 3D now seems to be sitting well below the salt. Perhaps this has left a bad taste in the mouth and a reluctance to invest in another untried and untested new technology.

Or perhaps the 4k aversion is because we’re already struggling to store all the HD file based material we currently produce. We seem to have as many conversations about workflow as editorial these days. If every minute of rushes would require something like four times the storage, how would we manage then? Don’t even think about the bandwidth required for live broadcasts!

Then again there’s 4K post-production. Current technology has largely banished those render induced progress bars that leave you forgetting what it was you had started out doing. We wouldn’t welcome them back would we?
Also, and most importantly, is there a need for better pictures? I reckon most viewers are hard-pressed to spot the difference between SD and HD unless their televisions are very, very big and they’re fans of visual high fidelity.

So perhaps we don’t really need the extra definition 4K delivers?

All in all, I can see why so many might have voted ‘no’ to 4K. However, I’d still vote ‘yes’.

Fresh from directing the broadcast of Puccini’s Turandot live from the Royal Opera House to cinema screens around the world, it has been gratifying to receive so many positive comments. There definitely seems to be a growing audience for such big-screen performance. Whether its opera or theatre or ballet, increasing numbers are enjoying a cultural night out at their local cinema. It’s a place where, as well as enjoying the cinema relay, audience members can meet friends and share the experience together.

It’s here where I hope 4k will play its part. The added clarity would be more widely appreciated when seen on the large cinema screens and the feeling of ‘being there’ would surely be enhanced. First, the hurdles 4k’s increased bandwidth would bring need to be overcome. These are primarily technical obstacles and so I’m confident they’ll not prove insolvable and there’s the incentive of an existing network of 4k cinemas eager for 4k material to screen.

4k OB units, complete with 4k cameras and lenses would of course also be needed. Should the 4k cameras have large size super 35mm or conventional TV 2/3 inch sensors? We’d welcome bigger sensors for a more filmic look but, in practice, how difficult would it be to hold focus with the reduced depth of field they would bring? There’s no place for adding additional burdens such as hitting marks for the cinema, the pressure on the performers is great enough as it is. As I’ve said before the coverage should be as invisible as possible to both performer and viewer.

There’s another use for 4k too, on HD productions. It’s not unusual to have a locked-off camera covering the whole stage. Often in the edit, it would be beneficial to crop this wide shot. A stage can look pretty empty and unbalanced if all the action is taking place on one side. With a 4k source the image can be panned and scanned to balance the framing whenever required. The image can be zoomed in to a quarter of the picture area before HD resolution is lost, a great new post-production option.

Perhaps you could apply this technique to other shots too. Instead of using zoom lenses, how about using high quality primes lenses and cropping the shots to suit in post?

I might be getting a little carried away but I reckon it’s not just increased definition that’s exciting about 4k. There’s an opportunity to re-examine the production techniques used to capture live performance, there’s an opportunity to experiment with new approaches and there’s an opportunity to deliver higher quality relays for the ever-growing audience these screenings serve.

If any manufactures or suppliers would like to test run their new 4k kit on a recording of a live performance then please do get in touch, I’d be delighted to put it through its paces and see what else, beyond its crystal clarity, 4k can deliver.

Ian Russell is a director of creative broadcast and corporate production services company Sparkly Light

Staff Reporter

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