8K Changes Storytelling
Much of what we have written on the 8K Association website is about the way that 8K can be an extension of the trend from standard definition to high definition to 4K UltraHD and then on to 8K UltraHD. However, at the recent CES show, camera developer and cinematographer, Pawel Achtel, spoke to journalists in the Samsung Innovation room about the new opportunities that 8K can offer creatively. We interviewed him to dig more into this topic.
Achtel made the point that much of the value in higher resolutions (whether in the home or in large screen displays outside the home) is extending the field of view. If you simply squeeze more and more pixels into the same visual space, eventually the viewer cannot see the detail. However, if you have more resolution, the display can occupy a much wider field of view and that has impact in a number of ways. The wider field of view can come from being closer to the display or from a larger display.
More Resolution Changes Storytelling
This leads onto Achtel’s first main point which is that if you occupy more of the viewer’s field of view, you need to allow more time for the viewer to absorb the image. Human vision has high acuity (the ability to see high resolution) at the point of gaze, but not so much on the periphery. So to allow time for the gaze to move around and take in the whole screen, you need to allow more time. Hollywood typically works on a rhythm of around three second cuts and that is simply way too fast to absorb the detail in a wide image.
This is not news. Imax large format presentations based on 70mm film need the same kind of different capture and cutting and often have longer scenes, up to as long as 20 or 30 second for some takes, with the camera frequently locked down in a fixed position. If the camera is panned, it needs to be done very slowly in this kind of immersive environment to avoid making the viewer uncomfortable. (We heard the same comment from Tom Breen of the Sphere in Las Vegas which takes things to an even higher level of immersion).
Time to Look Around
When you have the longer takes, the viewer has time to look around the image and you don’t have to ‘guide the viewer with the camera lens’. The ‘language of the camera has to change’, Achtel told us. You need to give time for the viewer to explore the scene and that changes the way that you tell stories. The change also affects actors and designers who need to adapt to this new medium.
The main message of his talk at CES was that the opportunity to really exploit 8K as a new medium needs ‘the whole package’ to create an immersive experience.
Given the recent coverage of the Apple Vision Pro headset, we asked Achtel if he considered that the high quality of the displays and the potential immersion could be considered in the same class. However, he pointed out that the Vision Pro is very much a solo experience, but cinema and premium large format (PLF) displays are all about sharing. We are social animals and the sharing is a key part of the overall experience.
Achtel has a background in very large displays and domes – he’s very involved with the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) which coordinates technical standards and workflows and is supported by companies such as Imax and COSM. The discussion around the GSCA brought us to another of Achtel’s points of view, that we have reported on previously. He is very skeptical of the claims made for cameras (apart from his own, of course) that they support true 8K resolution.
As he has pointed out before, there is more to delivering true 8K than simply having that number of photosites on a sensor. He is working with the GSCA on new technical standards that better define the ‘true resolution’.
Looking at commercially available cameras, Achtel does not believe that any 8K cameras before the Sony Venice II or Venice III can really achieve 8K resolution (which he defines as having 20% contrast on an MTF pattern). He also said that to the best of his knowledge (and he works closely with Hollywood studios on the use of his high resolution camera for VFX applications) nobody has used those cameras in a major studio production, yet.
Other Aspects of UltraHD
We also spoke about other aspects of 8K UltraHD. HDR is a great opportunity for compelling content, but delivering it well requires a lot of capacity in the camera and workflow to capture and retain contrast and that is a challenge already.
On high frame rates, he believes that you really need 48 fps as a minimum for large screens, and believes that part of the great experience at the Sphere is because it uses 60fps to minimize flicker and judder when the camera does move. Above that level, the advantages of higher frame rates starts to see some ‘diminishing returns, in his view. However, if there were no storage and bandwidth challenges, higher than 60Hz could be an advantage.
Finally, Achtel said, “There is no question that audiences want the very highest quality”. As he pointed out, viewers are paying a very high price for just an hour of very high resolution content in the Sphere. The entertainment industry has to work out how to deliver that experience. The arrival of LED displays, he believes, will be a big factor because it gets around some of the visual challenges of projection in terms of dynamic range and brightness.