Before I leave on my ‘Quest for 4K’, it’s probably worth doing some research into both the cinema exhibition industry market at the moment in terms of number of (digital) screens and what resolution really is all about.
Not surprising I have just done a fairly thorough online search about 4K and Digital Cinema. I don’t know if it was a good sign or not that I found very little information and even less that was actually of any real use, other than perhaps via Wikipedia.
The speed at which the cinema industry is now converting from film to digital is immense. It’s always very difficult to get the exact figures for the number of screens across the world that are now digital, as this figure is changing on a daily basis. According to a 2010 report by Screen Digest (http://www.screendigest.com), it’s believed that of the 149,068 cinema screens worldwide 16,360 are digital (2K or above). The estimation is that this will have increased to 28,000 (roughly 18.8% of all screens), of which approximately 17,052 are 3D capable.
If I am really going to understand 4K and all of its secrets, I’m going to have to start at the beginning and understand resolution, both in terms of the differences between a 2K and 4K projector, but also in terms of what the human eye can see.
2K vs. 4K: what are the key things you should know?
Probably a lot more than I am ever going to in the next 12 days or so, but it’s worth being clear on some of the basics. 2K means that there are 2,000 pixels across the screen, and 4K of course means that there are 4,000 pixels across the screen. If you want to be correct about it, 2K is 2,048 x 1,080 pixels and 4K is 4,096 x 2,160 wide. This means that the image ends up being four times the resolution of 2K. If you want to see what the values for different formats are complete with the number of pixels involved, then have a look at this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_resolutions#Films.
However, just getting my head around all this resolution is making my head hurt. Instead of trying to write about it in huge amounts of detail here – especially when it is actually quite a complex topic – it’s probably worth pointing to some more useful resources on the Internet which will help explain it.
In the December 2009 (pages 14-18) edition of Cinema Technology Magazine, there was a very good story about the 4K DLP chip and some of the differences between 2K and 4K. Rather than try to rewrite the article here, it’s worth going to the CT website (http://www.cinematechnologymagazine.com) where you can access the archives for free.
How do our human eyes see?
I’m sure that we all remember sitting in the science lessons at school, where an explanation on how the human eye worked was given by the teacher. And like me, I suspect that you have forgotten most of it. Rather than trying to explain this myself, I have turned to the Internet and found this rather useful video, which helpfully explains how the human eye works in detail, have a look at it yourselves here: http://videos.howstuffworks.com/hsw/11962-light-how-our-eyes-work-video.htm.
What is the resolution of the human eye?
It’s apparently a very common question for people to want to try and work out what the resolution of the human eye is, although in reality it’s very difficult to accurately provide an answer. Of course because of the complexity of the human eye and the way in which it works, there isn’t a straightforward and simple answer. According to the presentation by the Joint Technical Meeting based at the University of Salford in March 2007 (http://opticonsultinguk.com/downloads/Hugh_Barton-Kerry_Byrne_20070330.pdf) it has been estimated that the human vision resolution is the equivalent to 576 megapixels (24,000 x 24,000 pixels) which is about 10 times the resolution of a 2K projected image and 5.85 of a 4K image. (see also http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/eye-resolution.html for a good explanation to it all). And of course the human eye sees more than ten million different colors and shades.
What does this mean for a cinema audience?
Hum, having been looking at this for a few hours now, I’m still not entirely sure that I know the answer to this. If it was just a numbers game, then the logic would be that the higher the resolution of the projector, the better the image that the audience would see on screen. But the eye doesn’t see in that simple way. There are more complexities to it. Or does it just mean that the closer to the screen that you sit, the better the quality of the image is? What about those that like to sit at the back of the theatres? I appear to have as many unanswered questions about resolution as I have answered. My brain hurts too much for this at the moment. I think I may try to come back to these later on, when I’ve met some more of the experts. Of course if you are reading this blog and know the answer, then please feel free to post a comment.
The next step
If I’m going to start anywhere then let’s start with where this all takes place: the cinema. And as I’m in Belgium now, I have been pointed in the direction of Kinepolis, who have been embracing digital cinema since the beginning…