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The Terence and Philip Show Episode #64: Finding the Resolution Sweet Spot with 4K

Terence and Philip discuss 4K – the good, the bad, and the bandwidth

To listen to the Terence and Philip Show episode #64 where Terence Curren and Philip Hodges discuss 4K pipeline issues, a sweet spot with resolution and more, click the player below. A transcript of the episode itself is below the player.





Announcer: When we last left our heroes, they were locked into a terribly important discussion. Let’s drop in on them again as they plot the future. Now, from the Top Dogs kennel in beautiful downtown Burbank, it’s the Terence and Philip Show!

Terence: Once again, thank you so much Gary.

Philip: Welcome to another Terence and Philip show. I’m Philip Hodgetts.

Terence: And I’m Terence Curren. It’s funny, I was just sitting here and we’re recording this show and I checked my email…Dane McMaster said, “hey when are you going to have another Terence and Philip show.” So there’s my toss out to Dane. Here we are.

Philip: We didn’t make it for 63, but we made it for 64.

Terence:  There you go.  So, one of the things that just came up today is that Sony is saying they are not going to do OLED in 4K, which is quite a shock to me, because basically they’re saying, “we’re trading resolution for quality of pixels.” Rather irritating.

Philip: Well, yes. 4K is inevitable. It’s a tide that we can’t really stop and I don’t think I necessarily want to. But I would have much rather seen the effort go into better pixels before we got to more pixels. If the companies that are pushing 4K really cared about quality…

Terence: Well this is proof they don’t.

Philip: …then they would have been targeting 4:4:4, 10-bits per pixel… 

Terence: Or 12.

Philip: …or 12, or 14 even. At least 10-bits per pixels.  Full 4:4:4 throughout the production chain. With light compression.  Then we could start thinking about more resolution because those things will give us better image quality that people can see.

Terence:  Exactly.

Philip: And grading for HDR, as we talked about in the last show, will give you better pixels that people can se without having to go to more pixels. 

Terence: It is so beyond frustrating to me.

Philip: But in the same way that 1080 outsells 720 because it’s a bigger number despite the fact that at IBC every year they prove that 720p delivers you more quality to the home because of the less compression and better scaling at the delivery end. 1080 still is the one that sells. People are going to say, “why do I need 4K?” 4K in the home…only when people buy a 4K set.       

Terence: It’s going to be when their current HD set dies and they go into the store. If the 4K set is the same price as the HD sets are now, then they’ll buy one. If they’re 4x as much as a 1080 set that happens to be there, no, they won’t. And then when they replace it, they’re going to be doing the same thing they do now…they’re going to be watching standard def stuff upscaled.         

Philip: It’s 4K!      

Terence: Exactly. It’s just such a joke. And nobody can tell the difference in the home viewing so it’s like…arghhh. And it’s not like all of the sudden we’re going to get 4x the bandwidth to our houses. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got U-verse and they’re not going to go, “oh, you need 4x as much, sure, we’ll be glad to give that to you.”            

Philip: Part of that will be compensated by the high-efficiency video codec, HEVC, the H265 codec.

Terence: Well then why don’t we use that now for the 1080 input, the 10 or 12…

Philip: Well, we will. We ultimately will but without the 10 and 12 bits though. We’ll still be 4:2:0… 

Terence: Yeah, what’s the point? I’m so tired of seeing banding on this “amazing footage”. You know you can go on Netflix and see 4K now. Also on Youtube. There’s 4K. If you do a search for 4K there’s 4K stuff up there.  You see these beautiful shots, and the sky is banding. And I’m like, “what’s the point?”       

Philip: Quantization errors. And the problem is because the cameras are too clean.  A little bit of noise in there and it would clean it up beautifully.         

Terence:  It was interesting at the HPA Tech Retreat this year, there was a guy who had a whole 4K setup with the monitor, and he was showing he could play back off of his drives.  He was selling drives, but it was the whole thing that he was playing back.  It was just a shot of this woman dressed up in  1800’s garb, walking out from this ranch to a well and getting some water. And then she walks back. I’m looking at this, and obviously he spent time as the set, lighting and costumes are all done, right? And I’m looking at her face and I’m seeing all the little imperfections, you know?  The blemishes and stuff. And I’ think, this is why…the actors aren’t going to let you shoot them like that. You need to lower the resolution! So we will have softened shots, meaning lower resolution, and then compress the heck out of that, send it home and call it 4K.

Philip:  You need Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box.  

Terence:  Yeah, which will blur it, lowering the resolutions.

Philip: But only in the facials.    

Terence:  Okay, selective blurring.  It’s still blurring. We’re talking about lowering resolutions. 

Philip: Actually it looks good. I was surprised. The MediaMotion Ball video from 2013 was show as they were trying to stir up attendance for the 2014 MediaMotion Ball at NAB, and a couple quick interview sections come up and I’m in one of the interview sections and I thought, “wow, I know I’ve been swimming and looking pretty good, but I didn’t know I was looking THAT good.” And then I look at all of the other interview spots and I say, “wait a minute…we ALL look really good!”  And I checked and yes, Beauty Box had been used on the tight interview shots to make everybody not have pockmarks and such. And that was just in HD. So yes, it is a lowering of the resolution and showing actors.

Terence:  Yeah,  and it was funny seeing the 8K demonstration at NAB. They had the typical models up there in a super brightly lit set with lots of colors in it and we’re looking at the huge monitors and once again I’m looking at the faces of the models and I’m like, “oh my God.” Because traditionally they look great in those things but here they looked horrible because you could see every little fine defect in their face. Of course, that’s standing four feet from the 100 inch monitor they have there. When you get back to where that monitor would be in your house I couldn’t tell if it was 1080.  

Philip: You can’t at that distance. That’s another way of cleaning it up. Just step further back! And lose the perception of the resolution that you didn’t need in the first place.        

Terence:  Precisely. But OLED, which gave us black-black, which was really nice, we’re going to have to throw that away now and have washed out blacks on LCDs because Sony thinks we need 4K more than we need quality.  

Philip: Sony has been very committed to pushing 4K.

Terence: It’s not helping. They think it’s going to save their asses but, no, it’s not. It’s funny, the last time this happened was when they were trying to push HD, I don’t know if you remember, down at the Culver Studios they built their whole HD facility and anybody could come in, and they were trying to all these people from post to come in because they were really trying to promote it, and they had their HD cam decks, and people were coming in said they wanted D5. All the studios were mastering in D5 because it was less compressed than HDCAM. They finally just shut it down. I guess they got tired of…that. And then they came out with the HDCAM SR which ended up being better than the D5. But it was pretty interesting that it backfired on them. So now they’re trying to do it with the 4K so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.    

Philip: I think 4K for production is kind of inevitable. As much as I’d like to think that saner minds would say, “let’s focus on better pixels, not more pixels.” But I do think in production it’s going to get to the point where 4K is no more expensive than 2K, so you might as well shoot 4K.   

Terence: Yeah, as long as the costs are all the same. But it’s not ultimately unless the compression becomes 4x more efficient, but then does that really help you in post if you’ve already thrown out the resolution you were counting on anyways? 

Philip: Storage is getting cheaper and cheaper all the time.        

Terence: But then it’ll be 8K. Then 16K. You know…”what, you’re only shooting in 4K? How archaic.”

Philip: And 90% of production will still be done in HD.

Terence: Exactly. That’s the reality of it. And it’s fine. If they want to shoot in 4K or 8K or 16K, fine. But if we’re going to be delivering at 1080, or really even compressed 1080, which is what’s happening now, then the rest of the pipeline can stay in 1080. There’s no reason not to do that. But no, they want to sell us all the way down the line. I’m not going to go and spend $40,000 on a reference monitor for 4K right now. That’s just nuts.

Philip: That is nuts. It would be very hard to see a return on that.

Terence:  No, there is no return on that.  People go, “oh, 4K is cheap because the camera is cheap.”  No, there’s all the rest of the process in there.  You have to buy all new scopes for 4K. You have to buy new I/O cards for 4K. You have to buy a bigger bandwidth throughout your entire network.

Philip: I’ve got a 4K Blackmagic camera. I’ve got Final Cut Pro X that works in 4K. I’ve got Premiere Pro that works in 4K. What’s all this video talking about? (laughs)    

Terence: Yeah, exactly.  (both laugh)

Philip: Over lunch the other day you were complaining about how many shows show no signs of grading at all.  

Terence: Exactly. They look like crap now. If you flip cable channels you just see such a wide variance on bad quality. It’s amazing. In the past that never happened. I’m dating myself but back when there were just three networks, there was quality control.     

Philip: When the world was in black and white!   

Terence:  (laughs) I remember when they got a variance for the World’s Funniest Home Videos. They got the variance to allow them to use the VHS footage and all the crap they would get because that was not broadcast legal.  

Philip: Although it’s always been a fairly loose definition. 

Terence: Well…not to them. They’d always just go…”nope, that’s not acceptable.” That was the whole thing.  

Philip: What networks accepted and what was actually legal is a different…      

Terence: Oh, well yeah. And you could blow something up to get rid of blanking issues and all that, but it got softer.    

Philip: I would never have advised a client to use that with DVCPRO 50 sort of uncompressed. 

Terence:  Yeah, neither would I.  

Philip: But since they were already blowing it up anyway to remove some crap anyway…well…6 lines didn’t matter. And save 12 hours of show in upresing from DVCPRO 50 to uncompressed.        

Terence: Ah yes, the good old days. But here we are now, and you’ve got to do it all in 4K. Or UHD  

Philip: 4K comes back to the difference that happens between the way people who work inside the industry view quality, and the people who sit at home wanting something to distract them from their dreary lives, perceive quality.  

Terence: Yes, I agree.

Philip: And that’s where we get this dissidence between people like you, who really care about the way something looks and people who simply care about who is going to be the next Bachelor or Bachelorette. Not picking that show because it’s particularly great or not, just a random selection folks. Don’t jump on it.          

Terence: It’s interesting because we’ve had the oversampling production for a long time in film. 35mm film. We shot that, it was much more than you could show at home. You could do it in theatrical which was great, there was a reason to go there if you wanted that extra detail or experience. But at home, it was coming in standard def, and now it comes in HD, but it has a specific look that people really like. That’s more high dynamic range and the lower frame rate than anything else, but the point I’m trying to make is that we had that all along. It’s not unusual to say, “we can shoot 4K, but let’s make it in 1080 because we’re shooting larger than what we need.” I’ve seen many calculators online that show you exactly where you can perceive the actual difference from “X” distance or whatever. Let’s just have a universal agreement, whatever it is. If it’s 4K, if it’s two million K, I don’t care. Find that number where the human eye can’t perceive the difference anymore and let’s make that the target and skip everything else. Personally, I think we’re already pretty much in the sweet spot for home viewing with 720 and 1080 if you deliver a decent signal. I’m sitting there watching House of Cards on Netflix, streaming into my house, and I don’t care that it was shot in 4K because it has the same quantization errors from being squeezed down small enough to feed over the internet that anything else on Netflix has that’s not done in 4K. So it’s going to be a sharper square when it breaks up? Whoopee. It’s so frustrating. Pick a point. Pick a resolution that we all agree on. I guess what really irritates me are the people who keep going, “no, we got to make it higher. Then we’ll go to 8K. Then we’ll go to 16K.” No, pick the target one. There’s a point where you’re just wasting bandwidth. There’s a point where you’re just wasting time and energy and money. Let’s determine where that is and we don’t need to go past that. We’re done.  If you want to come out with holographic images or something, then great, that’s a different experience and that’s good. From the point of resolution there’s a sweet spot, and there’s a maximum that people can perceive and anything beyond that is a waste of time and money. So there you go. That’s my rant.                             

Philip: I wish I could disagree with you because it would make a much more interesting show! But honestly I can’t. I don’t see a lot of point to 4K but it’s inevitable.          

Terence:  But why is it inevitable? If you think about it, is it really inevitable? I mean sure, cameras will get…

Philip:  4K in the home is not inevitable. 4K production is inevitable. I should clarify what I mean. 4K in the home is not inevitable, and in fact, I doubt that we’ll see really much beyond HD really delivered regularly to the home.

Terence: I agree. You can shoot 5K now with the RED camera.

Philip: Well, you shoot a 5K camera to get 4K resolution. (laughs). The pixel count is not the resolution. You need two pixels to make a line. If you don’t have a black and a white pixel next to each other, or two different shades, you don’t have a definable line. So you cannot define anything…         

Terence: You mean pre-debayer versus post-debayer?    

Philip: Well, resolving stuff on the screen is what resolution is actually about. Pixel count is a very different thing.  And we frequently confuse pixel count in the camera with actual 4K resolution. I believe the original RED ONE at 4K was really resolving at 2.7 or 2.8 in actual chart tests.  Which is not shabby.  Not at all shabby. You’ll probably find that 1080 is not resolving 1080 pixels.

Terence:  It depends on the camera and the lens and everything else.  And the sensor in the camera.

Philip: But it’s probably resolving true horizontal pixels, if you actually had one of those charts that get finer and finer and finer, at somewhere around 980-1,200. Somewhere in that range, you’re going to find that you’re no longer resolving. Because, resolution isn’t the most important thing to perceive sharpness. Harking back to the Dolby screen at the last show. I guarantee that the Dolby high-dynamic range screen will look sharper than a 4K screen of the same content beside it. Not just 1080. Because sharpness is mostly about the dynamic range. And contrast. Not about the actual pixel count.     

Terence: That’s why film, shot at  35mm, with a higher resolution, could look softer than a standard def video. Because it’s not technically softer, but it looks softer.      

Philip: It’s just not over-sharpened. Oh yes…technology has moved on. And it keeps moving on. As we said earlier, the number of things that have changed in the last decade is just incredible.        

Terence: It is. It’s just frustrating to me that we focus on the wrong things for the improved quality. If they really gave a crap about what people are seeing at home, we would be getting that 12-bit, 4:4:4, down the line, to the home. And the resolution wouldn’t matter as much maintaining all the color integrity.  And now, with HDR,  if Dolby has their way. That’s really going to be sweet.    

Philip: That sounds more exciting.      

Terence: It is. It absolutely is.  When you see the monitor you’ll agree.    

Philip: But gear is fleeting. We touched on this earlier. You can buy all this incredible gear for next to no money, but if you don’t have some sort of talent, or some sort of skill…there are many, many talented people who never had access to the gear who never produced. And we’ve all met many, many, many untalented people who have had that access and had long and successful, “careers”, particularly in this town.   

Terence: We won’t mention names.

Philip: We won’t mention any specific names, but I’m sure you all know one. So now we have this situation where you can get the gear for next to nothing, but if you don’t have some sort of talent, which is an innate ability to visualize, or you haven’t learned that and you’ve learned a certain level of basic tech that you need to know…nowhere near the level that you used to need to know.             

Terence: Well, it depends on what you mean by “tech”. I think of what a DP does as tech, but it’s a combination of art and technique.  It’s the art of tech.    

Philip: It’s not opening up the side of the camera and tweaking the alignment of the three tubes so that they actually overlaid after you’ve let it warm up for half an hour everyday.    

Terence: But it is knowing things like, don’t pan past the picket fence at 24p.  Things like that which are kind of important.

Philip: Yes, there are certain things that people don’t learn about 24p because they don’t realize that this is something quite specific. There are pan rates that work and pan rates that don’t work. 

Terence: Which brings me to another point about 4K. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but it was interesting. The HPA Tech Retreat has all these different panels, so it’s kind of the TED Talks of our industry is the best way I can describe it. You go, you never know what you’re going to see. At one of the presentations they had figured out…well, jutter. If you’re familiar with jutter, and if you aren’t jutter is what I just talked about. If you pan a 24 frame camera past a picket fence too fast, it looks like the frames are actually repeating themselves or even going backwards in some cases.

Philip: The reverse wagon-wheel effect.

Terence: Exactly. That’s called jutter, and they found that as you go to higher resolutions, jutter becomes more apparent.  So you have to go to higher frame rates. With testing, what they’ve discovered is that you have to go to 60 frames at 4K before jutter is not obvious. So now we’re not talking about just 4x the bandwidth of 24 frames. Or 4x the bandwidth of 30 frames. Now we’re talking 4x the bandwidth at 60 frames. So we’re talking 8x your 30 frame bandwidth of right now, to get down into the home to have something that’s equivalent to 1080 at 30. Which is what you see now. So, this is crazy.                

Philip: But it’s inevitable. Not in the home but in…      

Terence: Don’t! Stop that “inevitable”! Not if I have anything to do with it! (laughs) 

Philip: But see, I ganged up with you on 3D. 3D not only had no future in the home, but 3D had no future just in general production. We were never going to go to ubiquitous 3D production, and there were people who were trying to say that we were and the 3D was the next big thing.  It was the next big thing 30 years ago, and 30 years before that, and it’ll be the next big thing in 2045.              

Terence: Yes. The beauty of it is that history repeats itself. Though, at one point it’ll be holographic 3D but and then maybe it’ll stick. I don’t know. If you don’t have to wear glasses.

Philip: If you don’t have to wear glasses it’s a whole different thing.

Terence: I’m sorry, this is a segue now…Dolby had their 3D TV, the glassless 3D TV at NAB and oh, that was painful.  It like…you know those lenticular postcards? That’s essentially what they’re doing. If you sit perfectly still it’s like, “okay, that looks sort of 3D.” But if you move your head half an inch, it’s, “whoa! What just happened?”  The whole screen goes wonky.  It actually looks like you’re on drugs. Some really bad hallucinogens.  I don’t know why they keep putting money into this. Why would you show that?  

Philip: But, because oversampling at the source is good even if you’re only producing 1080, which I think is going to be the distribution technology for the foreseeable future…having that oversampling at the source is not a bad thing. Being able to reframe is not a bad thing. I just wish, and hope, and pray, that people don’t use this as a substitute for actually doing the DOP/director’s job.           

Terence: Now it’s my turn: it’s inevitable.    

Philip: (laughs) I fear you are right. I fear you are right. I’m not happy about it.

Terence: It is the “business” of show business.  When they go, “oh wait, we can shoot the shot once with two 8K cameras we’re done? We can do the rest in post? Yeah.” Every producer is going to sign up for that.    

Philip: I can see that working on an interview. I’m no sure about a feature film.

Terence: It’s going to happen.   

Philip: I’m not arguing with that. 

Terence: When you go to the producer and go, “look, I can reduce your shooting schedule by two weeks but it’ll expand your post schedule by 4 weeks.” They go, “wow, I can save all that?” Because production costs a fortune compared to post.  

Philip: Post is an editor or two editors and two assistants, or not much more than that on any job, really. Whereas you’ve got a bunch of cast and a bunch of crew…

Terence:  And locations and fees and police and permits… 

Philip: Craft services! And accommodations! And per diems! Yeah, I can see that. I find it hard to argue with the inevitable.   

Terence: Yes, exactly. That is the inevitable, and it’s not going to make the DP happy.   

Philip: No, no.  When I questioned the Avid Frame Flex demo at the Digital Cinema Society last year, saying I’m sorry Michael, the DOP/ director has one job, and that’s to get the shot right. Of course the Digital Society group liked that. They agreed with that. I do think it’s the director’s job to visualize the finished movie. Now, whether they can visualize that in a way that they can get what they want out of two 8K shots, then that’s that directors vision.  But I find it hard to have a very creative vision…               

Terence: The thing is that if you punch in on a shot, it’s not the same as using a different lens. It’s entirely different. It’s not the same as lighting for the close-up.     

Philip: It’s the same way that a zoom lens is not the same as moving the camera. They’re very different effects. Very different visually. That’s why directors who care about the way their movie is shot won’t do this. I guess that’s what I’m saying. So we all know, from this point forth, that any director who proposes doing that is not doing their job.           

Terence: Well said! You just threw down the gauntlet. 

Philip: I did! I didn’t realize I was doing it. So that’s it. If somebody proposes that, we know they’re a director not worth employing.  But we’re not going to stop people from employing them.          

Terence: I heartily recommend that statement.    

Philip: And that might be where we wrap this up.        

Terence: If you are looking for tools to make your life easier in post, make sure you go to Intelligent Assistance.com and check out all the stuff that Philip’s provided to simplify your life.     

Philip: And if you want to get the right finish by people who care, come over to Alpha Dogs for finishing your sound and vision on your project.         

Terence: Thank you so much for listening.    

Philip: And between now and the next show, do something creative.       









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