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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

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  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
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    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
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  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz
Tuesday
Jan222013

4K in the Home

Read this cnet article by Geoffrey Morrison called Why 4K TVs are stupid. Read every word. Because it is smart.

Have no doubt, manufacturers are going to start pushing 4K (some already are). The thing is, though, you don’t need 4K, because in the home, 4K is stupid.

Morrison goes on to back up this assertion with wonderful facts and math. If you bought a 60” television, you’d have to sit about four feet away from it before you’d perceive the full benefit of 4K over good old 1080p.

My favorite part of the article is this:

A few years ago I did a TV face-off with trained TV reviewers and untrained participants with Pioneer’s Kuro plasma (768p) against several 1080p LCDs and plasmas. Not one person noticed the Kuro wasn’t 1080p. In fact, most lauded it for its detail. Why? Its contrast ratio was so much better than on the other TVs that it appeared to have better resolution. The difference between light and dark is resolution. If that difference is more pronounced, as it is on high-contrast ratio displays, they will have more apparent resolution.

Those same few years ago, I would use charts like this to guide friends shopping for TVs toward a comparatively inexpensive 720p Panasonic plasma, because the deep, rich blacks matter more to our perception of sharpness than pixels too small to resolve at normal seating distances. Those who followed my advice were invariably happy with their choice.

I never doubted that last year’s push of 3D televisions would fall on its face, but I do worry about consumers being tricked into thinking 4K matters, because they were with 1080p. Many friends ignored my advice to go for the crisp plasma blacks of the 720p Kuro and instead opted for a 1080p set, due to the same inability to shake the sense of more-is-always-more that drives consumers to buy increasingly high-megapixel point-and-shoot cameras.

Back when Morrison was conducting his experiments and I was pushing 720p, we were already fighting a losing battle. No one wanted 720p TVs, even if their viewing experience would be better with them. 1080p became a buzzword, a must-have—charts and math be damned. Now you needn’t even check if a TV is 1080p “full HD”—they pretty much all are, because that’s all that would sell.

And today, that’s not such a bad thing, because the contrast levels of 1080p sets are now quite good. There are worse things about modern TVs than their excessive pixel counts.

Is 4K unilaterally worthless in the home? Not if you’ve got a projector, a huge screen, a close seating distance, and perfect eyesight. I’m building a new home theater, so this stuff is on my mind. I’m considering a 134” screen and a seating distance of about 15 feet. That puts me right on the very edge of wishing I had more than 1080 pixels across my screen.

A case can be made for 4K with larger screens at home. At the moment, though, light output limits screen size far more than resolution. For home projectors, let’s just shrug and ask, “OK, why not?”

The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, that 4K is expensive/unavailable in the home just now. But that will change. Eventually, all big TVs (and projectors) will have more pixels than the bare minimum for 1080p, and eventually this won’t be something you need to pay a premium for, or for which you’ll have to give up other features that matter much more, such as contrast.

In the meantime, buy your TV (or projector) not for its pixel count, but for its black level, and you’ll be happy.

Reader Comments (14)

Spot on as always, Stu. Although TV companies will find away while people should buy 55" 4K sets.

A year ago, volunteers and my dad helped me set up a 110" projector setup from used parts on eBay to act as third monitor to After Effects and blu-ray previewing to help with composition and camera move speed for my giant screen project for IMAX theaters. Don't know if this link will work but check it out here: Making a film for IMAX theaters in a basement

I sit at 9ft and 1080/2k is enough. I do like to sit 5ft to get true IMAX perspective and 4K would help there if I can find a company to donate a model given the pricing.

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterStephen van Vuuren

that pixel count has become rather meaningless… I truely think, from a post production point of view, HDR-video will be the thing, once they manage that. no more blown out skies… *sigh*

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterGunnar Refardt

Stu, could you please disable the autoplay on that video from last month? It's getting annoying to scroll down half a mile to pause it. Love you, bro. K Thanks Bye.

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterJoe Blow

Right on the mark, thanks for shedding some light into this. 4k for TVs is just a new way to make you buy that new TV you really don't need. Cinema screens of course very different. We didn't have that problem with celluloid projection, it was organic and without pixels. This is a problem introduced by digitization.

I would love if you could give your thoughts on the Hobbit 48p. I saw the 24p video you did but I can see a future for mixed frame-rates that use 24p for narrative people shots and HFR for aerials, action and other parts.

I shoot everything at 24p and wish to do so for the future, but maybe there is a case to be made for mixed frame rates in productions for the future. We may have to adapt or be extinct.

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterJames Benet

Stu...you're preaching to the choir...all of this for pixel counting without contrast and color depth...add the costs...and storage needs...oh wait...how is this 4K going to be delivered and stored...(high compression). Who cares how many pixels there are if the image you see can't be decerned 720 to 4K...ouch! Now yes if you are trying to project or display an entire wall and home theater. If you can find a great affordable...but color accurate, good contast and black levels...wrapped up with a 5000K lumens...let me know ;-). Cheers, Ray Adams

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterRaymond Adams

James, see my thoughts on HFR here.

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterStu

There is no rush for consumers to get a 4K TV at all. Only if you want a projector and yes - that's amazing if you can afford one with the proper light intensity and screen.
But for the production side we have to move to 4K quickly if we want our stuff to be seen in the future. Because 4K is going to arrive in the homes and not in the form of regular TV but whole walls acting like a TV. People will have a different relationship to video and film because TV as we know it will be dead in a few years.
The moving images will jump from our iPhones and iPads onto surfaces we can't even fathom now. New glass technologies for example will make this possible.
Sony's new F5 and F55 as well as their 4K ready FS700 point the way in production.

January 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterJan Becker

Even if 4K walls are in our future, that chart above will still be true, so they'll only make sense if people stand very close to them. That means you'll have to shoot for those 4K walls the same way you'd shoot for IMAX today: very wide shots to make the picture surround you. My guess is that unless you're shooting like that too, 4K won't make your content future proof.

January 25, 2013 | Registered CommenterSamuel H

4k it's annoying matter...
why?
Home 3D not work be cause there aren't enought 3d movie (shooted in 3D) that push people to buy a 3d tv. it's only a gadget.

4K?
Hey guys how many movies are avaible in 4k?
Actually most of people (i talk for italy) see a wonderful 576p inflated to 1080p to their shiny HD tv, play some 720p files, and less than 1% of people that i know had bought BD player... but they not notice difference.

Before to do technology for 4K is very important to build a culture of quality.
Until a common guy use his tv to see some compressed HD file shooted with smartphone or comsumer camcorder no one think to buy a 4k tv.
I saw many BD, but how many BD are really good BDisk?
I saw BD destroied by noise reduction, other so low dectailed that seems a scaled DVD... and some dvd that i have seems better that same movie in BD.
Just to note, i see projected on screen large 250 cm, i can see very well the difference...
But most of common people not see the difference.

January 25, 2013 | Registered Commentercarlo macchiavello

i believe 4k is the future for sure! even 8k and 16k which already exist. i don't know the typical size of rooms in homes of america or the rest of the world but personally, i think the trend is going to be, believe it or not, devoting an entire wall worth of space to view media on. LED, LCD and even Plasma all stop being worthwhile at 60inches. i dont think there is a single panel maker aiming to sell many units below 60inches. ill bet you a drink that in ten years people have a majority of whole wall "screens." i would prefer to read more about your screen stu. pics!

January 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterJonathon Thompson

I recently attended a Sony 4k event here in Denver. They demoed their 84 inch 4k tv and their projector. I was disappointed that the 84" inch tv was a 16:9 aspect ratio as I thought for sure such a high end product would be geared toward watching films in their 2.35:1 aspect. Sony's 4k footage looked amazing on it though and an excerpt of a 3D IMAX coral reef film pretty much sold everyone there. 3D is where 4K shines the most, in my opinion. They did play some 1080p stuff on it and it looked great as well but the 4k stuff was stealing the show, of course.

The projector was an entirely different experience. Yes, the darks still lacked a little definition but the overall size made the picture amazingly immersive. 1080p still looked great but the 4k stuff that size is something undeniable. A true theater killer.

I thought I was going to be bummed coming home to my 50" 1080p Panasonic but you know what? I wasn't. 1080p is super good and cheap. The 4K stuff is incredible but WAY TOO EXPENSIVE.

I hope I am around to see the transition to dots per inch displays. I think that will be the true image display revolution. True print on monitor.

Thanks for your wonderful blog Stu! I wish you posted every day.

January 31, 2013 | Registered Commenterigor tkac

P.S. I asked the reps what 4K file format they were playing and thought it was pretty funny that none of them knew. Probably some sort of proprietary SONY file extension?

January 31, 2013 | Registered Commenterigor tkac

I run the video production dept at a resort in California where we just added 2 of the 84" Sony 4K TVs running 4K content in our hotel lobby - beauty shots like landscapes and macros of flowers that we shot ourselves. People are blown away by them, and they've become the highlight of the lobby. They look literally like giant printed backlit posters, not TVs. Now we also have a 55" Sony 4K running the content and while it looks great, it's not as impactful.

So screen size is important for 4K - and the 84" is not so big as to not look great on the wall of many people's homes, I get what you're saying about black levels being important, and I agree, but I do think you're throwing the baby out with the bath water a bit. Why not 4K res on a panel WITH great black levels? The 84" Sony actually has awesome black levels, come out to Temecula, CA some time to check out our setup. :)

January 3, 2014 | Registered CommenterDavid Kudell

David, your application is a totally reasonable one for 4K. People won't necessarily be viewing your screens from a normal viewing distance for watching TV or movies.

January 4, 2014 | Registered CommenterStu
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