RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Don’t look now, but a production technology known as 4K is emerging that puts high definition television, Blue Ray DVDs and even IMAX to shame is emerging.
An “amazing viewing experience” with “wow factor” is how Neal Page, chief executive officer of Inlet Technologies, describes it. And just when you thought that 60-inch HDTV in the den was the ultimate in video entertainment outside of a 10-story IMAX.
Called super high definition (SHD) 4K, the technology is capturing a growing amount of attention in digital cinema production. Microspace, a Raleigh-based company owned by WRAL Local Tech Wire parent Capitol Broadcasting, recently reported an industry first: satellite transmission of a 4K production. Just last month in the Netherlands, SARA Computing and Networking Services unveiled technology for showing a 4K movie.
While 4K is several years away from broad adoption, Page is among those who is excited about what it has to offer. In fact, Page, a pioneer in technology related to digital media from the development of streaming to the complex compression applications Inlet has developed to make HDTV production much more affordable, calls 4K a “quantum leap” over HDTV.
“4K is a technology used in an emerging niche market – digital cinema – and describes a high resolution quality video,” Page explained in a recent e-mail discussion. “Digital cinema allows theaters to show fantastic digital video and receive that content in digital form rather than with traditional film. The advantages of D-cinema are substantially reduced distribution time and cost, and quality for the consumer that does not suffer with wear and tear on the film.
“With 4K, video output delivers better quality pictures since it has a resolution many times larger than HD, which is 6-10 times larger than Standard Definition video (found on traditional TV sets.) This quality comes at a price – it requires gigantic file sizes to deliver a full-length feature movie, and as a result, there is an industry that is emerging to deliver, store and playback this format to consumers in theaters. JPEG 2000 is an encoding or compression technology commonly used for this application to help reduce this file size problem.”
LTW asked Page to compare the quality of 4K to IMAX, given the latter’s intricate detail and massive scale.
“To some degree, the 4K format provides a ‘wow experience’ that is analogous to what most users experience with IMAX,” he said. “However, the consumer of video will not see the benefits of 4K in the home for at least a decade, if ever.
“They are more likely to see ‘IMAX like’ video in theaters as digital cinema is deployed. What makes 4K technology interesting is the enhanced video quality which is compelling, and will present consumers with an amazing viewing experience.”
Inlet is not focused on 4K as a priority at this point, but Page also said the company is not ignoring it, either.
“Inlet is all about enabling new media for new networks,” he explained. “We are leaders in providing advanced video encoding solutions that enhance the consumer experience and extend the reach of content. We empower content providers and distributors with the ability to deliver media to consumers where they want it, when they want it, on whatever device they have.
“Today, 4K is a technology very early in its development cycle,” he added. “It is only deployed in a limited way to the video production and digital cinema markets. As it becomes commercially viable for the mass market, Inlet will incorporate this and other formats into solutions for delivery of new media to enhance the consumer’s experience.”
There is little doubt in Page’s mind, however, that 4K is going to assume greater importance in movie and entertainment production. But given that consumers and production companies are still integrating HDTV, we shouldn’t expect wide adoption of 4K just yet.
The “format is so new and the commercial infrastructure is simply not in place to realize widespread commercial deployment in the foreseeable future,” Page said.
“Keep in mind that only one-third of households in the U.S. now have HD sets, and HD programming is still a minority of the offerings consumers can enjoy. Because the commercial infrastructure is just now being built out to deliver HD as digital video, analog NTSC [television] will be obsolete in the next three years.”
In the meantime, 4K will continue to receive attention and development because the quality is so pristine. But Page sees limited adoption. IMAX, for example, is increasingly popular but movie choices and theaters are limited.
“4K is a quantum leap beyond HD, and because of this, I believe will be limited in deployment with the exception of premium theaters,” Page said. “The movie production industry is just now moving away from film to a ‘tapeless’ process, meaning digital video, due to their relative slow adoption rate of new technologies. They too must consider the efficiencies of a production workflow and will depend on a commercial infrastructure to be in place.
“At their core, filmmakers are artists, purists, who are slow adopters, not willing to change from film to digital formats,” he added. “Because 4K is film-like in its resolution, it will gain mindshare and market share in the entertainment market in time. But the bottom line for the production industry is that they are a business that must to create fantastic quality content in a cost effective manner. 4K is a format that will be there, but not widely deployed in the foreseeable future due to technology and cost barriers for the next technology cycle or two.”
In the meantime, if you get a chance to see 4K, take advantage of the opportunity. You will be wowed.
(Editor’s note: Capitol Broadcasting is an investor in Inlet Technologies.)