As you already know, the current HD content you’re viewing while watching broadcast TV is either 720p or 1080i, so for most television viewing, 4K is strictly being shot for archival. There are new Blu-ray players on the market that can upscale HD to a UHD (3840×2160 resolution) set, but there are still no 4K Blu-ray discs on the horizon. Although UHD TVs are coming down in price (you can pick up a Sony or Samsung 55-inch UHD set at Best Buy for roughly $2,500), unless you own a 4K camera and UHD TV, you’re not going to be viewing 4K in the living room anytime soon.
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At NAB 2014, Netflix announced the capability of streaming Season Two of House of Cards and a number of nature documentaries in UHD. But as with broadcast television, just because you have a UHD TV doesn’t mean you can stream 4K. You’ll need a UHD television set that can support the HEVC/H.265 format, which is a compressed codec Netflix uses for 4K streaming. (At this year’s CES, LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio announced new sets in 2014 that can decode HEVC/H.265.) You also need to have a streaming bitrate of at least 15 Mb/s, so you’re out of luck if you’re a DSL user. (DSL speeds typically top out at around 6 Mb/s.)
Even though a minority of us will have these UHD TVs in the future, it’s safe to say that streaming will be the first platform to bring 4K content to the living room. Both the production and post industries are pushing full steam ahead to deliver 4K or UHD resolution to the movie theater and the living room.
One of the pioneers in working with and delivering 4K content is Encore, which is part of the Deluxe Entertainment ecosystem. Starting in 1985, Encore always has been at the forefront of technology in the fast-changing postproduction world. They provide color management, editing and VFX needs for a number of television productions, as well as provide on-set services to help productions streamline digital workflows. Some of their credits include work on Big Love, Deadwood, Lost, Nip/Tuck, Weeds and many other programs.
Currently, Encore is posting television shows in 4K, including FX Network’s Justified and Netflix’s House of Cards, which both were shot in 5K with RED EPICs and RED DRAGONs, respectively. HDVideoPro sat down with one of the leading authorities on 4K postproduction, Encore senior colorist and VP of Business Innovation Pankaj Bajpai, who has been instrumental in laying the post groundwork for both 4K file-based and IIF-ACES workflow.
We discussed numerous topics regarding 4K, and Bajpai showed us a few examples of the power of 4K at Encore’s suite, where House of Cards was colored. (Colorist Laura Jans Fazio graded the majority of episodes of the new House of Cards season.)
HDVideoPro: Walk us through Encore’s 4K workflow on House of Cards and Justified.
Pankaj Bajpai: Typically, the way we’re working in 4K, we’ll get 5K .R3D files and then we’ll maintain—both projects have various requirements—a parallel .R3D and DPX timeline. Our visual effects were being delivered in the DPX world at any given moment, and we’re able to mix and match the timelines. But to get back to your question, there really isn’t a simple 4K pipeline yet. Justified is actually a simpler project than House of Cards, which required keeping everything in 5K throughout the pipeline. The only time we went down to 4K and Ultra HD was when we did the final Netflix delivery.
HDVideoPro: In your opinion, what’s the biggest difference between working in 4K and 1080?
Bajpai: From a technical innovation point of view, there’s an enormous difference. It has to do with the hardware and how you manage all of that data. It’s hard to put an exact figure for storage needs because, on House of Cards, we were working on 13 episodes all at once. We utilized a cluster of Baselights, and we had four 50-terabyte SANs working.
But the workflow is still the workflow. You get the files, ingest them, conform, color and make deliverables. That hasn’t changed. The issue here is how do you manage to do this when you’re juggling three, four or five episodes at one time. The honest answer is really about managing 4K data.
HDVideoPro: What advantage can Encore have over an individual or small post house for 4K workflows?
Bajpai: Well, for one, we have two petabytes of storage here. [A petabyte is 1,000 terabytes.] Encore specializes in episodic television, so our customized workflows are designed to manage a large amount of data on a daily basis. Since we had already been running file-based workflows for many years, we had the appropriate infrastructure and resources in place to not only support the transition to 4K, but also make it affordable. This robust technology infrastructure, combined with our incredibly talented technical and creative teams, make these complex postproduction challenges achievable.
HDVideoPro: Can you tell the difference between a 4K image that’s downscaled to 1080 versus an image that’s shot at 1920×1080?
Bajpai: I can’t answer that, but what I can do is show you a 4K image on a 4K monitor, and I can show you a 1080 image following that. As soon as you see the two, I won’t have to explain anything to you. If you’re watching a 4K image on a 4K monitor, your mind gets used to that sharpness. It looks really sharp and great, but it’s more about the content and getting involved with the content. It’s not until you see something that’s in 1080 where you go, “Wow!” and see the big difference. That’s the defining characteristic.
HDVideoPro: When do you think we’ll ultimately see a 4K broadcast?
Bajpai: At the end of the day, it will come down to sports. To me, I don’t think there’s anything else that will set this on fire like sports in 4K.
HDVideoPro: So this is basically just for archival at the moment. Do you think the 4K implementation will be faster than the 1080 transition?
Bajpai: I think so. When you look at the display manufacturers, nobody is making 1080p TVs anymore. And if it’s a Sony project, it’s going to be finished in 4K. They have more at stake because of their TVs. You also have Netflix, which is doing both. They dipped their feet with House of Cards, but Orange is the New Black isn’t 4K. Amazon is playing around with pilots, and they’re making a commitment to 4K. It took a while for 1080 to catch on, but with 4K, compression technology and display technology is what will send it home. We’re at that stage where I think nobody wants to run away from it because they don’t know what’s in store, but if we can make the transition affordable, it’s going to take off. But I can’t really give you a timeline.
In some ways, a 4K story isn’t a glamorous one because a lot of people have doubts about it. Secondly, most people can’t see it yet. When you actually see 4K on a 4K monitor and then you see HD on it, you can really not only see the difference, but also feel it.
As a post facility, we’re not saying this is good, better, bad, worse—we’re really not trying to take a position on 4K. There are plenty of other people who need to figure that out. But as a post facility, what we want to do is to be ready and have the technology, resources and bandwidth to be able to take the project from start to finish.
For more information, visit the Encore website at www.encorepost.com.
Could UHD tablets be a tool for filmmakers?
Since we currently don’t have 4K distribution in broadcast or physical media, could mobile devices—in particular, tablets—be the first to scale the 4K distribution (nontheatrical) wall? For this to happen, there would have to be a huge increase in both mobile device hardware and processors. Late last year, Qualcomm released the Snapdragon 805 processor, which is the first commercial mobile processor to enable on-device Ultra HD display, including support for Ultra HD UI, gaming and imaging, as well as video capture and playback.
For tablets, Panasonic’s Toughpad 4K (UT-MB5) tablet could potentially be a breakthrough tool for both 4K production and distribution. Although the tablet can be used for different applications—architecture, design, health care, etc.—with UHD 3840×2560 resolution, 230 pixels per inch and a 15:10 aspect ratio, this could be a great viewing system for filmmakers and photographers who would like to see their work on set in UHD. The 20-inch tablet is powered by an Intel Core i5 vPro processor. Just like the iPhone, I’m sure there will be a number of app builders that will create specialized apps for cinematographers and post professionals, especially for onset workflow solutions like Assimilate Scratch or Light Iron’s Lily Pad for 4K dailies.
For consumer use, I’m guessing it may look a little strange watching a movie or TV show on a 20-inch display while sitting on your couch. Oh, and it’s $6K! Those specs may be barriers to most, but we’ll likely see more 4K tablets in the near future.
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