Beyond 1080p

It’s a simple question, but a fascinating one: What’s out there beyond 1080p?

What should content producers, F/X artists and postproduction individuals know about the future, now that the 1080 high-definition revolution is all but settled? The question of whether technology simply must move into better/faster/smarter forms is a given; it usually does. But in video—specifically, what we refer to as high-definition video—what are the stars in the sky we follow, and what’s our sextant?

One of the first things to consider is that recording digitally is vastly different than recording in analog, and applying pixel counts as a guide to better pictures may not be the best way to go.

Most experts say that the sharpness of an image shouldn’t be solely based on resolution. The other key factor is contrast ratio. Some note that production staffs who judge camera performance purely on pixel counts may be short-changing themselves on the actual quality of the images that are finally seen on big and little screens.

A different measurement system, Modulation Transfer Function (MTF), is a more practical tool in understanding how digital sensors capture content. According to Mark Schubin, well-known technology writer and SMPTE Fellow, MTF provides an insight into the “psychological sensation of sharpness.” MTF, in brief, helps shooters predict the trade-off between sharpness and resolution that shooting in digital brings about in the contrast scale, and lets them adjust accordingly.

When we think about the 150-inch-plus television screens that some set manufacturers have been showing since CES 2008, it’s clear that we either need to have rooms big enough to accommodate both the screens themselves and the distance from the screen, or the picture resolution must increase dramatically for us to get any benefit from the next step up in HDTV viewing. And if that resolution isn’t based on the scientific realities of digital image capturing, those trade-offs will become far more glaring on screen, especially in the ultra-intense 8K future.

For features, the RED ONE and the Silicon Imaging SI-2K seem to be the most popular choices today, although other cameras can work effectively in 3D rigs.

As strange as it may seem, probably nothing will emerge in the foreseeable future that was as earth-shaking as the transition from NTSC to digital video. From yesterday’s video delivery silos of NTSC, PAL and SECAM, there’s now global agreement on the high-definition 16:9 aspect ratio/1080 lines. Standards changes to 4K or even 8K essentially will be multipliers of the existing standards. According to Peter Symes, Director of Engineering and Standards at SMPTE, today, it’s 1920×1080 for video and 2048×1080 for cinema. In a transition to 4K, cinema is 4096×2160 and 3840×2160 for video, which essentially doubles the current 1920×1080 standard.