4K. It’s a video term you've most likely heard thrown around over the past year or two. You can find it advertised in televisions, streaming services, and even the cameras in new smartphones. And - your video production company might be talking to you about filming in 4K. So what is 4K, what does it mean for your videos, and most importantly, do you need it?
What is 4K?
First, before we dive in, a note: 4K is all about resolution, and resolution can be confusing. So stick with me.
4K refers to the horizontal resolution, or the width of your video measured in pixels. 4K video is approximately 4,000 pixels wide – which is why it’s called 4K.
Current high definition video is 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels high, and it’s commonly known as 1080.
Yes, I know – there seems to be a consistency problem here. 4K refers to pixels along the width, and 1080 refers to pixels along the height. Crazy, right? So don’t think about width and height – think about total pixels. As in, 4K gives you a LOT more pixels than high def video.
Here’s an image that’ll give you a sense of how the two formats relate – and how many more pixels you get with 4K.
The Benefits of Shooting 4K
Filming at 4K provides you with wonderful editing possibilities. For example, you have the freedom to zoom into your image significantly, while you retain its sharpness.
Take a look at the logo on one of our coffee cups, filmed at 4K and 1080. You can zoom into 1080 video a little bit without noticing it – say, 10 to 15 percent. But more than that and you start to see the image quality decline. Zooming in by a factor of 3 lets you see the actual pixels, and renders your video totally unusable.
Zooming into 4K video by a factor of 3, on the other hand, does not cause pixilation. The video still looks great.
What does this mean for your video? Simply that you can film your material in 4K and then zoom in during the edit. You can film an interview with one camera, framing the subject from the torso up. Then, during the edit, you can zoom in to create multiple shots.
Take a look at these images of actor Viola Davis, taken from this YouTube video. The interview was filmed with one camera, and the second shot was created in post-production by zooming in. She looks great in both shots, and the video looks like it was filmed with two cameras. But it’s better than two cameras, because there’s only one camera angle, which makes the cuts between ‘angles’ very smooth.
Another benefit to 4k is the ability to create artifical movement, by zooming in on an otherwise static shot to create a slow pan across the frame.
Yet another advantage of having the amount of detail found in 4K footage is the ability to digitally stabilize shaky video, which can be accomplished much more cleanly with 4K material. Image stabilization is a valuable tool in your editor’s toolbox, as it can fix problems with some video shots.
The Downside of 4K Filming
Every coin has two sides, and the other side of filming in 4K is file size. 4K files are huge, and require much more storage space. They also require computers with the horsepower to manipulate 4K files in post-production quickly and seamlessly.
For example, 20 minutes of video filmed at 1080, using the Apple ProRes 422 HQ codec, will take about 20 GB of storage space. Using the same codec, 20 minutes of 4K video will take about 200 GB of space.
If you’re filming several interviews plus lots of B-roll, you’ll be generating terabytes of raw video files.
This means that your video production company will need up-to-date computers and large hard drives in order to store, work with, and archive your 4K footage.
4K also presents a challenge regarding focus. If your production company is planning to take advantage of 4K’s zoom options, they will need to make very, very sure that the image they’re filming is in complete focus. Just a little bit of softness on the focus will make the zoom impossible, because that softness will be magnified along with the image, and the zoom will be unusable.
What About 4K Video Delivery?
Even though it’s technically possible to upload a video at 4K, at this time it’s completely impractical. While some video hosting services (like YouTube) let you upload 4K videos, almost nobody can watch 4K videos in 4K.
Why not? Because streaming videos at 4K requires a display device that can play 4K video. Most of today's computer displays are only capable of showing standard widescreen 1920x1080. This means that while your computer may be powerful enough to play 4K video, your monitor will probably not playback at the 4K resolution.
Can anyone actually enjoy a full 4K image? Yes – if you have a 4K television or monitor (currently a bit of a niche market), or if you go to a movie theater. But for most viewers, viewing video at 4K is, at this time, impossible.
Which means that there’s no point in asking your production company to deliver your video at 4K if your goal is web delivery.
This is not to say that 4K won’t become the standard for online video in the future. But for the time being, high definition video is the current standard - and a solid choice - for online video.
So for right now, even if you film in 4K, you’ll be outputting a regular 1080 (high def) file for uploading to the web.
What Does All This Mean For Marketers?
Yes, we know this information is pretty geeky. So a summary is definitely in order.
Reasons to film in 4K
- Greater edit options for zoom, pan and cropping. Examples: creating the illusion of a two camera shoot with just one 4K camera, and creating the illusion of a panning shot by zooming and adding motion across the frame.
- Better camera stabilization in post production
Reasons NOT to film in 4K
- 4K video files are large and require more hard drive space and faster computers
- For online video, delivery in 4K is currently irrelevant for most viewers
If you’re interested in the possibility of filming your next project in 4K, definitely discuss it with your video production. They will help you understand the benefits it’ll bring to your project, along with any additional costs. Then you can decide whether filming in 4K makes sense.