4K, Ultra HD, the next generation of resolution

Screen capture of  independent documentary 'TimeScapes'

Screen capture of independent documentary ‘TimeScapes’

Just when we have settled down after the transition from SD to HD, an even higher resolution is on its way of superseding the current norm, more familiar known as 4K, or as now becoming officially named: Ultra HD.

The image above is a screen capture from the New Zealand documentary TimeScapes,  shot in 4k, (4096 x 2304). It is in fact the first m0vie that you can download at its original resolution without it being filtered down to a 2k/HD. However, an important tech aspect to keep in mind is that to fully appreciate the high quality in its originality, you will need a large enough display, AKA a 4K screen. A 2 minutes preview is available here for anyone who is interested. Another friendly reminder, loading it would take a while, considering the huge pixel count.

4K what is it?

Having just gotten accustomed to the notion of Full HD equals 1080i/p, High definition being 720p, and very soon Standard definition of NTSC and PAL is soon obsolete, the name Ultra HD starts to float around. To clarify the difference between 4K and Ultra HD, the latter is the official name for displays with 4K (and above) resolution, announced in late 2012 by Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) in the attempt to suite the marketing for promoting  the new set of television and display when it hits the stores.

And 4K is the resolution running 4000 pixel horizontally. To put it into perspective on the scale of things, it is 4 times larger than full HD of 1080i/p.  As the charts below show, a huge leap in pixel count is installed for the next generation of image detail, production and display.

resolution chart


A lot of factors go into determining the image quality such as bit depth, color accuracy, high quality image-processing, compression and so on. Resolution, although important, is one among the many attributes. Equally important, shooting the film at certain resolution doesn’t guarantee we can view it at that resolution. A little diagram may make this easier to understand, as it certainly helped me out.


At any one of the stages, the resolution could change, down converting for all sorts of reasons. And even if the film reaches the cinema as 4K, it needs a 4K projector running for it to be seen in 4K.  So it is rather interesting that with a number of films shot in 4K since the technology has become available, it is not until 2010 that David Fincher’s The Social Newtwork being the first to be shot and projected in 4K (source slashfilm).

Why is this upgrade necessary? some might ask. With all else being equal, however, the resolution does make a considerable difference in image quality and clarity.

Jake Sully in 3 different resolutions.

Jake Sully in 3 different resolutions.

Currently, Youtube allows a maximum upload of 4096×3072, but the youtube player limits the streaming to 2048×1536. By choosing the ‘original’ option under video quality, what you are seeing is 2k resolution playing back. 4K is available under download.


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