Sony To Give 'Breaking Bad' A 4K Makeover

Breaking Bad Midseason Finale Screengrab - H 2012

"Funny Girl" and "Ghostbusters" among the titles that are being remastered in 4K to take advantage of Ultra HD TVs.

All five seasons of Sony Pictures Television’s Breaking Bad will be remastered in 4K, as part of Sony’s overall initiative to grow the amount of available content in the format.

This initiative includes an effort to remaster select productions in 4K, including TV series such as Breaking Bad and features such as Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters and Glory. Sony is also continuing restoration work on classic movies in 4K, including soon to be completed Funny Girl and On The Waterfront.

An estimated 50 “Ultra HD,” or 4K, TVs were launched earlier this month at CES. Certain displays from companies such as Samsung, Toshiba and Sony offer the ability to upconvert content to 4K, which is four times the resolution of today’s HD programming. Still, many stakeholders are also asking when native 4K content might become available.

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Sony is stepping up with its effort to restore and/or remaster select library content so that it is available when there are methods in place to deliver a steady amount of native 4K to the home.

“It has increased our workload somewhat; there is a need for 4K content. We are hoping to fill some of that need,” Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s executive vp, asset management, film restoration and digital mastering, told The Hollywood Reporter.

For film-originated content such as Funny Girl and Breaking Bad, the process involves scanning the original camera negative in 4K and doing all of the work including image clean up (for restoration projects) and color grading in 4K resolution.

4K has already been a part of Sony's restoration strategy. Among its recent projects is a restored 4K version of On The Waterfront, which makes its debut in a few weeks at the Berlin Film Festival. The restored version of Funny Girl has a planned premiere in April at the TCM Classic Film Festival; a theatrical re-release with a Blu-Ray release is also being planned.

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To illustrate what 4k brings to the restoration process, Crisp cites the scene in the 1968 musical Funny Girl during which Barbara Streisand sings Don't Rain On My Parade and catches a tugboat. “It is a stunning helicopter shot. [In 4K] finally all of the detail is there,” he said. “We finally get to see the films as they really are."

Much of this 4K work is being completed at Colorworks, a Sony-owned postproduction facility based on its Culver City studio lot. On Thursday, Colorworks is launching a 4K television production department.

With Ultra HDTVs just starting to enter the consumer market, Sony plans to offer a “Mastered in 4K” program that it announced earlier this month at CES. Through this initiative, the company will select certain content for release on Blu-Ray that was sourced from 4K masters. Blu-Ray doesn’t support 4K, but Sony claims that this 4K mastered content, upconverted on an Ultra HDTV, can provide the “best possible picture” until native 4K is available.

While Sony is bullish on 4K, Bryan Burns, vp of strategic business planning and development at ESPN, expressed the more cautious viewpoint during a panel at CES. “There might be a gradual evolution," he said. "I don’t want to make the capital investment."

In related technology news, this past week members of the International Telecommunication Union agreed on a new video coding standard, known informally as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC).

“It could enable the practical introduction of 4K broadcast services on today's over-the-air channels,” Sony Electronics’ CTO Hugo Gaggioni said of HEVC, describing its standardization as “a significant next step toward enabling the transmission of high-bandwidth data, such as 4K content."