Cine Gear: 'After Earth' in 4K Draws Crowd; Why iTunes Will Go Ultra HD Before TV Nets

After Earth Will Smith Sophie Okonedo - H 2013
Columbia Pictures

After Earth Will Smith Sophie Okonedo - H 2013

Dismal reviews didn’t stop curious Cine Gear Expo attendees from packing into the Paramount Theatre on Friday to examine After Earth projected in 4K. In fact, after guests filled the 500-plus-seat theater, a second screening was added to the Saturday program to accommodate additional show goers.

After Earth was one to watch in production circles, as it was among the first features lensed using Sony’s 4K F65 camera -- and the first F65 feature to be finished in 4K. (At Cine Gear, it was screened using a Sony 4K digital cinema projector.)

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The movie was lensed with the first F65 models off the production line (serial numbers 1-7, provided by L.A. rental house Otto Nemenz). Sony played a short video with excerpts from a conversation with the film’s director of photography, Peter Suschitzky.

Opining that the F65 images were “better than film,” the cinematographer said the camera “behaved really smoothly. We had one or two very challenging locations that would be difficult to shoot on film -- in the jungle in Costa Rica and in the Redwood Forrest in Northern California. [With] the sensitivity of the F65, I experienced no problems.”

Sony, of course, isn't alone in the market. Most major camera makers, including Canon and Red, as well as many postproduction technology tools are now able to support 4K. "4K processes have come together in the last year, but we need more work before it is an everyday occurrence," said Canon's Tim Smith.

During Cine Gear, The Hollywood Reporter talked with a few directors of photography about what they currently think of having 4K as a creative tool at their disposal. Those THR spoke with confirmed that they do want a 4K option to create and preserve images with more picture information but said clients have not been asking for it, citing added cost and increased data requirements for postproduction.

This summer, Sony is aiming to give 4K for the home a boost by launching a 4K media player for its Ultra HD TVs. This will allow consumers to download 4K titles, both recent movies such as The Amazing Spider-Man and restored classics such as Bridge on the River Kwai. Plans are to launch with 10 titles and reach 30 later this year (After Earth will presumably be among the movies).

Currently, there is no viable system for distributing a steady steam of 4K programs to the home, and there are no technical standards to enable broadcasters to deliver the format. But during Cine Gear, THR spoke with Sony Electronics president Alec Shapiro, who projected that since “90 percent of homes in the U.S. get their programming through cable, satellite or fiber, [4K] is a challenge that these and the Internet [content providers] will overcome in the next two years.”

Also speaking with THR at Cine Gear, Light Iron CEO Michael Cioni argued that there’s “no excuse” not to shoot in 4K, and said that if broadcasters don’t move forward, “somebody else is going to step up.”

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He believes that will be online distribution platforms and said he is already hearing interest in producing 4K from Netflix, Hulu, Microsoft, YouTube, Amazon and Apple. “The iTunes store is going to go Ultra HD before NBC,” he said.

That will be helped along by HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) compression, which was standardized earlier this year.

Ultra HD TV emerged as a big topic this year, largely driven by the consumer electronics industry, where all major set makers are now offering 4K TVs.

But Cioni said the industry has it backwards and warned: “We need to make the content before the displays. If we do it in the wrong order, it will prolong [adoption].”

Sony has by far been the most aggressive in producing 4K content. In addition to certain movie titles such as After Earth, it also finished in 4K select TV projects including NBC’s Save Me from Sony Pictures Television. It is additionally remastering library titles in 4K.

Earlier this year, Sony also released two lower cost 4K cameras, the F55 and F5, which list for $34,900 and $19,400, respectively. The F55 in particular and F5 have been a “resounding success,” with more than 2,000 already shipped worldwide, according to Shapiro. That includes more than 1,000 in the U.S. and Europe, which make up the cameras’ largest markets.

As previously reported in THR, the F55 is going to be used in a 4K broadcasting test at the FIFA Confederations Cup, which begins June 6 in Brazil, with an eye toward shooting the 2014 FIFA World Cup in 4K. (Additional testing is scheduled to occur at Wimbledon).

“There’s a high level of interest in shooting the World Cup [in 4K],” Shapiro said. “That will probably be determined after the Confederations Cup.”