Light Iron Founder Spells Out Why 8K is Coming and That's OK
Founder of color and post house Light Iron, Michael Cioni, claims that 8K and beyond will be survivable—and even beneficial—formats.
For many, the transition from SD to HD was meant to be the last big switch for a while. After working with standard definition for decades, and a very slow transition from analog to digital video, the long, expensive, and years-delayed transition from SD to HD felt like a major technical moment after which we could rest. However, in the last decade, we've seen 4K go from a niche product (many didn't believe RED could make the camera work at all when it was announced) to a somewhat standard feature that most of us have on our phones.
Post house Light Iron has been heavily involved in that process, supporting high-end filmmakers (David Fincher is a regular client) and currently owned by Panavision. The company's founder and current Senior VP of Innovation at Panavision and Light Iron, Michael Cioni, spoke recently at the "Faster Together" conference put on by LumaForge as part of NAB about the reasons that this has happened so quickly, and how much further we're going to be going in the near future. Beyond 8K is definitely happening.
The video is worth a look for anyone struggling with the constant rhythm of resolution upgrades and for some insight into the hurdles that have been jumped over to get us there. Particularly interesting is the 4K monitor they were using during the era of early 4K projects, which was actually four 1080 monitors, rigged together with gaf tape used to cover the bezel and create a cohesive image
Cioni's argument is built around an extension of Moore's Law, while asserting that it's not necessarily a law and it only talks about transistors, but he sees it as a useful guide for computing speed. Basically, processing 8K footage right now "feels" like processing SD did back in 2002. SD to HD took about four cycles, and SD to 8K took about eight cycles of Moore's Law, to get to a similar amount of processing power.
Cioni shares several reasons why, even though it seems too soon to think about it, 8K is not only worth considering, but inevitable and necessary, not just as a capture format but also as a release format. In addition to some self-explanatory reasons (lower noise from less pattern noise interfering with sensor noise, less DoF due to higher resolution and thus smaller circle of confusion), one of the most interesting to us is the possibility of reframing after deliver. While we tend to think of reframing mostly as a tool in the post suite, when a director doesn't like the way a shot was framed, or wants to get a close-up out of a medium shot, there is the possibility of allowing some reframing for the end user without significantly noticeable degradation. The ability as an audience member to zoom into areas of the frame in a sporting event, or your favorite horror or thriller, and still see 4K resolution at 200% zoom could be fascinating in how it changes the relationship between the viewer and the content.
It's an especially interesting argument since many of us in the tech industry tend to think the other direction about why this is all happening. Cioni is pointing out that, in the wider computer industry, technology like affordable SSD, Thunderbolt 3, and faster CPU and GPU processors make 8K doable, so of course we should bump the resolution up in the camera. Most of us working in the field tend to feel it's driven the other way: that the folks on set keep bumping up the camera resolution so we have to buy faster hard drives, computers and cables to keep up. But in some ways Cioni is right; even if cameras stayed comfortable at 4K, computers would keep getting faster (if only to play cooler games), and if we have the power to handle it, in some ways it does seem worth capturing more resolution.
Our personal take is mixed on 8K; currently, the primary innovation that seems to be creating a noticeable increase in quality is larger sensors, with the images from VENICE, RED Monstro, and Alexa LF being truly impressive. Even the Hasselblad H6C gave beautiful footage at 4K resolution, though it did have rolling shutter issues. Cioni is arguing, and is almost definitely correct, that 8K is coming for us whether we want it to or not, and the sooner we start thinking of creating ways to use it and embrace it the easier the transition will be. Conventiently, it's hard to see the difference between HD and 4K on a 24" monitor, so it's really only big monitors where it's going to be worth the trouble.
Give the whole video a watch and let us know what you think down in the comments.