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Feature
What Is 4K And Why Would James Cameron Want It?
A guide to screen resolutions and technical jargon...

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Over the last few years even the casual film fan has had to learn the difference between native 3D and the post-converted sort; between 24fps and 48fps. But what exactly is 4K when it’s at home and why do you need it? Here’s a quick primer…

WORDS JAMES DYER, HELEN O'HARA
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James Cameron Avatar Camera

What is a 4K?
The 4K simply refers to a horizontal digital resolution of 4,000 pixels. You’ve probably seen TVs advertised as being “720p” or “1080p”, or had to faff about with your 1280X1024 computer screen / computer images / online video sizes, so you already have an idea what those are. Well, 4k comes in at almost double the width of current ‘full HD’ content and provides four times as much detail.

Why is that good?
Well, the clearer, the better – especially for audio-visual nerds like James Cameron (we mean that in the most flattering way possible). The more information in the frame, the greater the illusion of reality, so goes the thinking, and someone like Cameron creating somewhere like Pandora is all about creating an immersive reality. Even if you reduce something shot in 4K to the currently-standard 2K format, you still get more detail and clarity.

Don’t patronise me; exactly how many pixels are we talking about?
Alright, nerd! 720p video is 1280 x 720 pixels and a 1080p is 1920 x 1080 pixels. The precise size of 4K images depends on the format; “4K Ultra HD” refers to 3840 pixels x 2160 lines, and that’s what comes as standard in most of the generation of “ultra high-definition” TVs you’re beginning to see around your local electronics shops (“ultra-wide” TVs may be 5120 x 2160). In 4K cinema, however, the standard is 4096 pixels × 2160 lines, so that’s what we’d expect Cameron to use.

What’s the downside?
The problem is the sheer size and quality of the image, especially for home viewing; if you want to stream 4K content from Netflix or Amazon you could run into broadband fair use limits pretty darn quick. A single episode of House Of Cards in 4K would take 18.8GB at current compression rates – though if using the newer H265 encoding method (on devices that support it) that could go down. It’s still going to be hefty, however.

These pixels – square or rectangular?
Wow, you know your stuff! If it’s to Rec.2020 standards, they will definitely be square.

Is this it? If I get a 4K TV and go to see Avatar 2, am I done?
Dear me, no! 8K TVs already previewed at last year’s CES, so expect the industry to move towards that format in the next few years. Still, given that 4K originally premiered in 2003, you should have a good decade before 8K becomes popular enough to trouble your broadband connection.

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Your Comments

1 RE: Missing the point
L: ado123 The entire 4K thing is missing the point, ot really want our movies to look like reality, quite the opposite in fact. to see reality I can just open my eyes and look around me. Effects related films should never be in 4K, because it exposes the unreality of the fabrications with perfectly real clarity. These guys are blinded by technology as some kind of drug or something. Newer is not always better and because you CAN do something does not mean that you SHOULD do something. peak for yourself. Whilst you may think you speak for all, you do not. You'd do well to remember that next time when trying to convey an opinion you hope others will care about. More

Posted by fang on Saturday February 22, 2014, 16:53

2 Missing the point
The entire 4K thing is missing the point, we do not really want our movies to look like reality, quite the opposite in fact. I want to see reality I can just open my eyes and look around me. Effects related films should never be in 4K, because it exposes the unreality of the fabrications with perfectly real clarity. These guys are blinded by technology as some kind of drug or something. Newer is not always better and because you CAN do something does not mean that you SHOULD do something. More

Posted by ado123 on Thursday February 20, 2014, 18:23

3
Hey Helen, no worries didn't mean to hate. I thought 4x the amount of pixels would mean 4x times the resolution? I agree 4K is on the rise in cinemas, but should be far from being a standard. More

Posted by Robert3000 on Wednesday February 19, 2014, 22:53

4 waste of time for home viewing
4K for home viewing is a complete waste of time. a Human eye with perfect acuity can see noting smaller than a 60th of a degree of arc. So, if you had an 84" 4k TV, in order to actually see the difference you would have to sit less than 6 feet from the screen, anything more than that the eye wont see in 4k. When 8k comes along you would need to be sitting approx. 50cms from a screen over 2.2m across You can make the image as clear as you like, but the eye only has so much resolution, and that's not going to change any time soon. More

Posted by rubenjames on Wednesday February 19, 2014, 14:51

5 RE: not the best research...
Actually, the article is spot on. 4K UHD has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the 1080p HDTV format, with four times as many pixels overall (not 4x the amount of resolution). The DCI consortium established a standard resolution of 4096 pixels × 2160 lines for 4K film projection. The DCI 4K standard has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of DCI 2K, with four times as many pixels overall. Nearly all Vue Cinema are using Sony 4K projections, as are Cineworld, Showcase and Odeon. So you're watching these films in the same projection, whether it's a 2K or 4K film they're all being processed by the same projector. Hunger Games, American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street are examples of major 4K releases. L: Robert3000 "Well, 4k comes in at almost double current ‘full HD’ content and provides twice as much detail." NOT TRUE, it contains 4x the amount of resolution. "In cinema, however, the standard is 4096 pixels × 2160 lines" NOT TRUEMore

Posted by davis2804 on Wednesday February 19, 2014, 10:24

6 RE: not the best research...
L: Robert3000 "Well, 4k comes in at almost double current ‘full HD’ content and provides twice as much detail." NOT TRUE, it contains 4x the amount of resolution. "In cinema, however, the standard is 4096 pixels × 2160 lines" NOT TRUE, most cinemas have digital projectors these days and they are a standard 2K resolution (2048 × 1080). obert, we meant 4K cinema projectors. I thought that would be obvious from context but I'll redraft to make it clear. More

Posted by Helen OHara on Wednesday February 19, 2014, 10:21

7 not the best research...
"Well, 4k comes in at almost double current ‘full HD’ content and provides twice as much detail." NOT TRUE, it contains 4x the amount of resolution. "In cinema, however, the standard is 4096 pixels × 2160 lines" NOT TRUE, most cinemas have digital projectors these days and they are a standard 2K resolution (2048 × 1080). More

Posted by Robert3000 on Wednesday February 19, 2014, 09:50

8 Oooh...
Finally get to see Papyrus the way it was always meant to be seen... More

Posted by tommypocket on Tuesday February 18, 2014, 22:47

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