On the heels of Romney Whitehead’s call to adopt a ‘curate before create’ attitude, I make the case for video producers to think before they shoot in the latest high resolution format. Yes, I’m looking at you 4K (I see 5K nodding its head in the wings). When will the race to be the first to use nascent formats end? I’m here to tell you that technological innovation and the drive to exploit it is here to stay. In this blog post, I discuss some aspects of shooting in high resolution formats and present a rubric to help you decide whether to ‘plus’ your video by going 4K or not. I’m speaking from a corporate video perspective, but much of what follows may be used by producers in other fields.
It’s not the title of some children’s cartoon. I’m talking about how much storage space this new media will require. Here’s a taste of what’s in store for you. Most of you are familiar with HD, so I’ve included it as a baseline against which you can compare the other data. As you can see, there is a 400% jump in file size between High Definition and 4K.
||GBytes per minute*
|*These approximate totals include 2 channels of 24 bit 48KHz audio. Video spec was set at 23.98fps, 10 bit uncompressed. Data calculated using AJA DataCalc.
The Price Argument
You are right to think that today’s new tools are cheaper to purchase than ever before. I’ve seen 4K prosumer cameras being sold at the same price point HD cameras were five years ago. Hard drive prices are falling like they were going out of style. Before you open your wallet, lets consider a few other questions:
- How easy will it be to exchange the old gear you might still be paying off for cheaper newer gear?
- Is there such a thing as quickly swapping out old drives for new ones in your NAS or DAS?
- How much is your and other people’s time worth?
Not only will new hardware be necessary to your upgrade, but people’s efforts — not to mention system downtime — will be required to implement the change.
I’m Not Finished Talking About Time
Besides the time and money it takes to upgrade your hardware, you will face much longer transcode, render and transfer times, all of which can be somewhat reduced with supplemental equipment upgrades (e.g, direct attached storage, fibre connection to said storage, and newer, faster, computers). If your video team currently lives within a gig-e network they must already contend with long transfer times. If they thought pushing a high definition video across the network, compressed or not, wait until they attempt the same with a 4K video file. Furthermore, imagine the time they will have to wait while their entire edited project media is pushed to a central repository (such as a DAMS) for archiving and discovery.
Future Proof? There is no such thing.
If you think that shooting in 4K is a way to ensure the longevity of your footage, think again. Digital video formats are rapidly changing. What is in vogue today may be obsolete in ten years. You may not be able to open the file if it was encoded using a proprietary codec. In a worse case scenario you’ll find yourself migrating and/or refreshing an abundance of very large media files. No easy task.
The Quality Argument
When was the last time a viewer noticed what camera you used to shoot the project? Can you watch a film or video and definitively say it was shot in 1080, 2K or 4K? Most people focus on the story more than the resolution (Sound is a different matter altogether!). You might roll your eyes, but there have been many successful video projects — documentaries, commercials, and movies, etc. — that were originally shot in a small frame format (e.g., standard def) and then up-resed to a larger output format (e.g., high def). My point is that up-resing isn’t unheard of and, if it helps tell your story and fits the director’s aesthetic vision, then consider it.
When I was in film school, we learned to keep our shooting ratio down because film processing was expensive. Now that digital video has all but replaced film, many filmmakers tend to shoot a great deal more raw footage. Digital video is not ‘free’. The more you shoot the more time you spend managing and storing the files. Keep the shooting ratio down by pre-planning your shots, rehearsing, and deleting obvious mistakes. No one wants to see more test footage of the focus chart or of the DoP’s feet when s/he forgot to ‘stop tape’ in between takes.
Give it Some Thought
Before you jump on to the 4K bandwagon, ask yourself whether your company and the project would really benefit from it. Shooting at a high resolution may offer you greater latitude during the color-correction process. You win the flexibility of pushing in or reframing your shots during post production. Some special effects, such as keying or adding camera shake, become easier (beware of render times though). My rule of thumb while I was a post producer was to choose the format that best fit the highest quality final deliverable (e.g. theater projection)— while protecting for all of the others. Ask yourself: will the footage will be repurposed for a higher resolution output in the future? It’s best not to assume the answer to these questions and go higher res simply to ‘future proof’ your footage. As has been previously discussed, there can be real — and costly — repercussions to your decision.
Standards and Beyond
If 2K DPX files were good enough for Kodak to scan film to, then maybe it is good enough for your project. I’m only half joking. Rather than being forced to upgrade our gear every year or two, wouldn’t it be nice to choose from a few standards rather than a dozen? Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see this happening any time soon. Until then, I urge producers to weigh their shooting options carefully and to encourage their team to curate — select for use and preservation — rich media from production to post. You and the professionals managing your files will appreciate it.
AJA Video Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.aja.com/en/family/software
Norcross, E. (2014, February 19). 4K Resolution vs 2K Resolution: Why it Matters. Renegade Cinema. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://renegadecinema.com/23865/4k-resolution-vs-2k-resolution
Thibodeau, K. (2002). Overview of Technological Approaches to Digital Preservation and Challenges in Coming Years. In The State of Digital Preservation: An International Perspective. Washington, D.C: Council on Library and Information Resources. Retrieved from http://www.clir.org
Whitehead, R. (2014, April 14). Guru Talk: Romney Whitehead – Net-A-Porter Group. Retrieved from http://damguru.com/guru-profile-romney-whitehead/