4k's number up at NAB

Will feature prominently at confab

In developments from digital-cinematography cameras to post systems and projectors, 4k resolution will figure prominently in the news this weekend when the curtain rises on the 2007 National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas.

What 4k resolution means, essentially, is more picture information. 4k represents four times the amount of picture information found in today's commonly used 2k resolution. Industry leaders have varying opinions on when a 4k workflow would be practical or necessary. Many industry vets say the difference in quality is substantial; many others believe there is not a noticeable difference for the average moviegoer. But there are many other aspects of 4k that will be discussed at NAB.

The cinematography community will be buzzing about 4k, in large part because of Dalsa Digital Cinema, which is set to announce a new 4k digital-cinematography camera and portable recorder along with the industry's first 4k anamorphic lenses, and Red, which said it would it unveil a prototype of its developing 4k camera.

Still more 4k cinematography options are in development, according to director of photography David Stump, who chairs the American Society of Cinematographers Technology Committee's camera subcommittee. "Behind closed doors, (digital-cinematography camera manufacturers) are all contemplating how they can build a 4k camera," he said. "It's being pushed along by Dalsa first; and Red second. … There's been a lot of buzz generated that 4k is better than 2k and (that) HD isn't enough.

"The challenge has been issued," he added. "The march is on."

In postproduction, most feature digital intermediate (DI) and mastering work is accomplished at 2k resolution. There also have been some 4k DIs, but they have been the exception, not the norm.

Efilm has been the loudest when it comes to 4k DI work. "A large portion of (Efilm DIs) are now being done in 4k," said Bob Eicholz, vp technology and corporate development at Efilm. "It's a standard that's been discussed and promoted for a long time by various studios."

One of those is Warner Bros.

"Warner Bros. believes 4k is very practical, and we believe it's necessary in theaters when seating is closer than three screen heights," said Wendy Alsworth, vp technology at Warner Bros. Technical Operations. "(In these instances), you need more resolution so audiences don't see the pixels. (Additionally,) we are mastering in 4k as much as we can because we believe we need to archive in 4k. … 2k resolution is less resolution than you can get off a (film) negative."

Others note that 4k requires four times the amount of storage as 2k, and as a result, 4k results in a slower post process. "(4k) can help raise the bar of the theatrical experience," agreed Joshua Pines, vp imaging R&D at Technicolor Digital Intermediates and vice chair of the ASC Technology Committee's DI subcommittee. "But it is impractical from a business standpoint because (most clients) are not willing to pay what it costs to do, and they are not willing to extend the (post) schedule."

Making a similar point from a European perspective, Philippe Reinaudo, technical director at Eclair (which already has completed a 4k DI), said: "I don't think the industry in France is ready to pay the difference between 2k and 4k. Today, (clients) go to the 2k DI process."

Still, technology continues to evolve, becoming more robust and less costly. At NAB, a large number of DI/finishing systems and related technologies in the exhibition will tout 4k support. How important is this feature for post execs making buying decisions? Very important, according to colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld, president of Company 3. "Upgrade flexibility is essential in this market," he said. "Eventually, we are going to have higher resolution requirements. As a businessman, you have to be concerned about that."

"(4k) is becoming practical," said Post Logic Studios colorist Lou Levinson, who chairs the ASC Technology Committee's DI subcommittee. "(4k DI) is more expensive than 2k but less exotic than it has been in the past. I would predict that in 18 months, 4k DI work will be far more routine than it is now."