Every now and then a technology comes along that changes everything. On these rare occasions, we see the industry shift in a direction where the standards in how we support live events are altered, and the bar is raised in our perception of quality. This type of change is upon us once again, in the form of 4K Ultra HD.
Les Goldberg, LMGIn the last decade, we have been fortunate to have gained a much greater appreciation for video quality with the transformation from SD to HD in the marketplace. Going from an image with an SD resolution of 300,000 pixels to an HD quality of over 2 million pixels, delivered an incredible impact that mesmerized people. Suddenly, we were able to visualize using video content in ways we never dreamed could happen. The shift to HD was not an overnight occurrence, but once content providers began producing high quality HD material, everyone had to have HD, and the ongoing HD adoption became the new de facto standard.
The standard in high quality video is about to take another quantum leap, as it did with the advent of HD, with the introduction of 4K Ultra HD, resolution. Suddenly, a new palette of over 8 million pixels (3840 x 2160) is available for content producers and designers, and we can expect to see a new level of engaging content with super fine detail, similar to film. When watching 4K Ultra HD content on a flat panel or TV, the viewer is treated to beautiful, crisp imagery that is four times greater in detail from HD, and the difference is apparent.
4K Ultra HD not only looks spectacular on a flat panel, but the possibilities for presentations on the big screen are endless, and the impact on the live event industry will be substantial over the next several years. With 4K Ultra HD, the pixel density is so intense event stagers can create these enormous video displays, on 60’ or 80’ wide screens or beyond and maintain a high pixel density per square inch, to convey life-like imagery for audiences. The content is such high quality that one concern is the need to hire a person to hide the imperfections that aren’t so obvious in an HD or SD environment. Nevertheless, the potential for this technology in the live event space, through the use of ultra-bright projectors, will be seen in bigger and wider screens and unprecedented projection mapping applications. The next level of image quality will take center stage.
Event stagers can also expect 4K technology to simplify the process on how we execute live events. Currently, to create a super widescreen event, event stagers must blend together stacks of HD projectors to create one large image, and there are limitations on light and dark imagery on the blend. The latest 4K projectors (conventional Xenon lamps offer brightest levels of up to 45,000 lumens, and allow stagers to produce stunning large and edgeless widescreen setups, without the blend or content limitations. In addition, the 4K Ultra HD switching technology, such as the Snell Kahuna 360, allows event stagers to ability to incorporate HD and SD content, and play back in 4K Ultra HD.
Similar to the adoption of HD in the live event industry, 4K Ultra HD will take time to evolve into the future standard. While 4K Ultra HD televisions are available for sale, the development and availability of 4K content is very much in its infancy. When cable providers are able to establish a formal content delivery system of 4K Ultra HD for consumers it will then jumpstart the adoption of 4K in the marketplace.
Given the limited content availability, we expect to see “hybrid” versions of 4K Ultra HD events during the early adoption period. At LMG, when we rolled out our first HD truck-in-a-box system in 2004, HD simply wasn’t utilized in live event environments, and from a production standpoint, HD content wasn’t readily available. In the early transition phase, content producers provided us with SD content, with a mix of HD content, and our system was able to output HD quality to the screen, to produce these hybrid HD types of events. Of course, today, the majority of content in the live event environment is HD, after mass adoption of the resolution.
LMG’s 4K Ultra HD truck-in-a-box system, set to roll-out this September, will be able to offer content producers the same flexibility as our first HD package, to produce 4K Ultra HD events. We expect to see a similar transition period to 4K Ultra HD to develop over many years, with limited 4K content in production, so we designed our system around the Snell Kahuna 360 switcher, to accommodate multiple file formats (HD, 4K, SD) and output shows in 4K Ultra HD. We anticipate this file format flexibility to be a critical factor in producing shows in 4K Ultra HD, until the 4K content becomes de facto standard in the marketplace.
We have been carefully designing our system to ensure successful performance in the field, and producers will be simply amazed by the quality of native 4K Ultra HD content. The difference in detail is visible, and audiences will be amazed at the realistic, immersive experience when viewing the content. Industry adoption will take some time, but once technically savvy producers get a taste of the imagery, it will become a must-have. When the show is about the image on the screen, 4K Ultra HD will be the only choice.
Les Goldberg is CEO of LMG, one of the world’s top AV staging companies.