Why 4k video is important

3 minute read

I recently had a conversation with a video professional who said, “If we currently shoot in 1920 and air in 720, then why shoot in 4K – what’s the point – if we still air in 720?” That may sound like Chinese to many, but I think I can translate and explain. I’ll tell you the ending first – 4k is the best quality video we have ever seen. And we are standing on the edge of a video revolution that’s quickly getting better – exponentially. It’s all about capturing the best possible image. Then displaying it on whatever monitor is being used, regardless if it’s lesser quality.

4k Video Production

Since the beginning of television, for over 100 years, North Americans watched analog video at a frame size of roughly 720 pixels wide by 486 pixels high. That’s 349,920 pixels. Around 15-20 years ago, High Definition video was beginning to be used and watched. Two new frame sizes emerged. 720p (1280×720 [921,600pixels]) and 1080p (1920×1080 [2,073,600pixels]). Do the math and you’ll see that 1080p video has just under 6 times more pixels than the old analog video. Fast forward to 4K or Ultra HD video. 4K is 3840 x 2160 or 8,294,400 pixels. That’s over 4 times larger than 1080p and just under 24 times larger than standard def. How does that translate to video quality? More pixels equals more screen information. In the video world, more information means you can see significantly deeper dark and light, refined colors, better texture and details. But does the difference between 1080p and 4K even matter?

Ansel Adams "The Tetons -- Snake River"

Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1) Ansel Adams (1902–1984) “The Tetons–Snake River” Wyoming, 1942.

Consider this. During the standard definition TV era, our production company shot most of our commercials on 35mm or 16mm film. All national TV commercials and motion pictures did the same. Why? Because film looked SO much better than video.  And it had exponentially more “information” within each frame of film to manipulate. Legendary photographer Ansel Adams shot most of his best work on 6”x6” film cameras. The film was literally that big. Why? Because there was more information on a bigger negative. For motion picture film and photography film, the recording mechanisms, chemical processing and tiny silver halide grains of film create high resolution images that kept SD video in a much lower league. Now, depending on how you count it, 35mm film is comparable in resolution to 4K video! So for the first time ever, video is eclipsing film for quality.

With all this information in hand another video professional recently said, “So!” I think that sentiment is a bit short sighted. Will consumers care? Consumers do care about quality pictures. Just look at any TV store and you’ll see the quality is growing because consumers demand it. Will TV and movie studios use 4K? TV and movie studios already use 4K – a lot. Most major sporting events are shot on 4K, most TV shows are shot on 4K and almost all movies are shot on 4K. My local movie theater is even projecting movies in digital 4K. What about talk of 8K and even 12K? Well that’s for another article. But talk on the street is we will see 8K within the next few years and we may see 12K video cameras in the next 8-10.

Today our production company shoots most of our commercials on digital 4K. That’s because it’s currently the best possible video capture format out there. And when 8K and 12K come around we will most likely shoot there too. Does it all matter? Hell yes!


steve profile for web

About the Author
Steve Simkins directs and produces videos at North By Northwest. His storytelling ability lies somewhere between LL Cool J and Jerry Lewis. He’s been making videos since he was a wee lad. Steve’s afro is not that big and he is nothing like LL Cool J.


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