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What's More Important, 4K or High Frame Rates?

At the 2012 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention last week, 4K was everywhere—in cameras, displays, and workflow devices—at rapidly falling prices. Many professionals contend that 4K approaches the inherent spatial resolution of film, and it can be displayed on very large screens with no visible pixel structure.

However, in a pre-recorded demo in the Christie booth (which I describe here), James Cameron made a compelling argument that increasing the frame rate at which movies are shot and displayed from 24 to 48 or even 60 frames per second does more to sharpen perceived detail—especially in moving objects—than increasing the spatial resolution. In fact, all the demo material was 1920x1080 on a 15-foot-wide screen.

As the demo clearly illustrated, shooting and displaying movies at higher frame rates dramatically sharpens motion detail—so much so that it no longer looks like film, but more like video, which many people object to. So my question to you is, what's more important, the higher spatial resolution of 4K at film's traditional 24fps or the greater temporal resolution of higher frame rates at 2K? (BTW, Peter Jackson is hedging all bets by shooting The Hobbit at 48fps, 4K, and 3D!)

Vote to see the results and leave a comment about your choice.

What's More Important, 4K or High Frame Rates?

Langood's picture

Why not just go to a standard 48fps at 4K. If it can be done. Scott. Have you seen anything at 48fps at 4K?????. And what did it look like.

Robert Zohn's picture

I believe a faster frame rate trumps higher resolution.

Hollywood came up with the 24fps because it's the slowest frame rate possible before the human eye begins to see much flicker. The slower the frame rate the less film used and therefore it saves money.

A faster frame rate gives us a more stable image for camera panning, long zoom shots and fast moving objects and greatly reduces smearing and other anomalies.

Faster frame rates gives us a larger video file size when we're transferring to a digital format, like Blu-ray.

Finally, unless your screen size is larger than 250" you could not see any image quality advantage from 2k to 4K at normal viewing distances, but everyone will easily see the advantage of more frames on any screen size.


Jarod's picture

Hello Robert. One comment about your last comment. Do you think that Apple Retina screen has better pq than the non Retina screen in same size of screen on the ipad or iphone? I see a big difference even on a puny screen personally. Im a videophile too. Im looking at both models right now even holding it 2 feet away or more I can see a better image. I believe this experiment holds a lil water. But Ive only seen 4K on Sony DCI projectors. Than I watched same movie in same venue in 2K. Problem there is that the 2K was a Barco I believe and not same screen size. Scott Wilkinson was in your camp as I was too about 4K only necessary for large screens. Watch the latest podcast and Leo Laporte and Scott drooled over a 20in 4K monitor and Leo had Scott admit that he is now a 4K small screen believer. Granted they did not have the same model in a 2K version to compare side by side. I think this is a fun topic to debate until theres more to come. Im really starting to lean towards the belief that theres improvements in resolution along with other unknows that I can't personally explain increases image depth and dimension, not to memtion detail. So little to compare on this topic for sure. Rebutal?

Robert Zohn's picture

Hi Jarod, your comments are very nicely stated.

I believe Apple's new Retina has other picture quality upgrades over last year's iPad. First, is increased contrast ratio. Some, but not all of the increased contrast ratio comes from the higher resolution so increased resolution helps deliver a more dynamic image. (sorry I left this out of my first post).

Another improvement on the new iPad Retina is greatly improved color accuracy and color saturation. These technology advances contribute the the improved image quality. Not sure home much is attributed to the higher resolution.

So in the end I'm not 100% sure that increased resolution is less important to the overall pq vs. more frames per second, but for the moment I'll stick to my original thoughts.


Jarod's picture

Nice ya its so interesting in early stages of development. I figured there was some extra secret sauce goin on. Thanks for clearing that up. Sorry for not specifically stating I was actually in my cause specifically comparing iphone 4 to previous released iphone and as you informed me as with the iPad theres extra goodies. The old classic 720 vs 1080 comes to mind. Most difference is 720 must downconvert so you get artifacts but thats been beatin with a stick. Than with a 4K models that may appear more and more around, if your lucky enough to have a 4K loaded hard drive, as you said is it the resolution that bettering it or better drive system or processing, color accuracy etc.? Im at bout 50 50 so far on being convinced. I figure more res can't hurt; except in the pocket book. Whats convincing me are my trusted video reviewers, I trust yours very much too, are seeing more of a 3D effect with more naturalness I guess. Thats what intruiges me. I also believe that if resolution didn't help you would see a limit on resolution of say a still SLR camera. cause in such a case you can only go so high if there was a max. There mite be, Im not all familiar with DSLRs and enterworkings. All about the lens too there. I would put good money on 4K improving Passive 3D panel tech. 1080 per eye will hopefully get rid of the venetian blind effect that I just cant get over. Love the glasses but I see sawtooth edges at a normal viewing distance, which in my home theater with my current Panny 55ST30,at 8 feet from screen is pristine. At the stores same size at same distance with a passive and I just can't get over the venetian blind effect. Nice hearing from you Mr. Robert. Im KuroHD btw on HIdefjunkies and I miss you over there. All the equipment youve sold me has been working flawless.

Robert Zohn's picture

Jarod, very good points on both sides! You might be winning me over.

The reason for the almost 3D effect of 4k is mostly due to the fact that increased contrast ratio when paired with great content can look like a natural 3D image.

A large dynamic contrast ratio range with no clipping and not crushed contrast gives the image great depth and very finely graduated quality that can look naturally like 3D. Of course, high quality content is essential.

I miss the great membership at HDJ. I enjoy this kind of conversation. I was born with a serious interest in audio and video and spent most of my adult life as a professional TV Broadcast systems engineer before starting more than 15 years ago.

Hope you can join us at our 8th annual Flat Panel HDTV Shootout evaluation.


Jarod's picture

Ya your points are sound. Can't wait for 4k to progress so we all can dig into them and have some fun. I for sure also love audio and video and it's my daily passion. Wish I could have made a career out of it like yourself. That's just great you were able to start up and run a great store. Can't wait for the shoot-out as usual. Would love to be there in person but I live almost smack dab in the center of the US. But l will be viewing once posted or if you do a live view. It seems to get better every year. Thank you Robert.

Cheers, Jarod Reddig

Jarod's picture

First off I have only seen 4K at 24fps on a Sony 4K DCI projector And i have not seen 48fps or above on a DCI pj so this is just my somewhat subjective hypothesis. I think the simple answer is first a resolution of 4K. The extra resolution on its own seemed to keep motion in itself more intact and smooth. All the recent trade show demos of small(even small as the 20" 4K LCD not sure on the brand) that Mr. Laporte and Mr. Wilkinson had witnessed were astonishing to them. Scott your opinion is very important to me because ive found over the years we have similar taste in pq, with your liking to some motion enhancements being the exception, and also our audio taste to an extent as well. I also respect your opinions and theory as well as your logic. Ive heard explin accounts of small screen in 4K to add a depth and realism and of course resolution that I experienced on a 55ft screen. It makes sense to me. When I got an iPhone 4 with the Retina screen, even on that small of display it is a fantastic improvement over previous iphone screens. And previous generations where excellent as well. The added res improved the image. To me, and I have heard Leo Laporte theorize it could even threaten 3D! It adds a new level of depth and dimension to the image. No bouncy balls bounding out of the screen towards the audience of course although 3D tricks of the like are almost played out but some are still fun, but. If the 48fps can add the claimed improvements without it becoming too unnaturally smooth i think it would be a great setup. But Im getting ahead of myself. Lets start at the start. I say lets first get rid of this 24fps standard. Its one of if not the oldest method still used today from when standards where set that was designed to save money and use the least amount of framrate that the eye can still see motion without each frame of film breaking up to the eye. Also with film in the beginning they were thinking the less the frame-rate is, the more we can save on celluloid. From what I and others see, and what studios are backing, Digital is phasing out film. I say lets start with a new FR standard and go from there than work on advancing the tech that naturalizes the higher 48 frame rate to a result of balance and smoothness and naturalness. I like talking and comparing this kinda stuff with metaphors or whatever so here goes. With using an automotive reference, if all the sparkplugs arent firing in the correct timeing or proper order, or the transmission doesn't shift at the proper time, what good would a better or faster motor do? Your timing is still incorect and more power or not the the tranny is still shifting incorrectly. Fix first problem first. But, fix original framerate issue in a way that does not start another issue by trying to fix one. Anyway I think this is a very cool vote topic as there isn't much out there to trial and error as of now. Either way Im excited to watch this play out. I just dont want every movie to look like Im watchin a sitcom on broadcast.

notabadname's picture

Film is capturing life. Why do people care that high frame rates don't look like traditional "film". We also don't (normally) shoot in black & white, or watch TV on a little square black & white picture tube. All of life is seen by our eyes at far greater than 24 FPS.

24 frames per second was a practical and essentially physical limit for projection and capture of an image when it evolved. It was the fastest you could move the medium in front of the film plane, essentially stop it to capture or project its image, then move to the next frame. It is nothing like the smoothness with which we observe the world with the human eye. The biggest problem with "film" is how it stands as a impedance to our visual system. Motion blur in particular is such a nuance to me, and far more apparent on a big screen. Cinematographers always have to be intentionally "smooth" in pans to mitigate the blur that always exist.

I want the screen to disappear. I want the image on the screen to seem like I am looking through a window into the film-maker's world, with out the reminder of film grain and image blur reminding me that I am observing a very dated medium. Video captures images far more closely to how our eye sees them in the observable world. So yes, it is easy to "see" the difference in film and video. But it should not be seen as a compliment to film or an insult to high frame rates that the difference exists. It should stand as a highlight to how that dated technology for image capture is so easily discerned. Let 24 FPS go, please. It causes me far more eyestrain at the theater than 3D.

Robert Zohn's picture

I like film and so does Hollywood. If video was truly better the very high budget Hollywood movies would be shot in video, but they still mostly use film. Video would greatly reduce the production costs.

Film is a continuous tone medium, whereas video is broken into lines and grids, which is why higher resolution (essentially smaller pixels) vs. frame rate is a good subject for us to discuss.

I only see film grain when the director intended to put film grain in the scene. And when the 24fps film is converted to digital video it is scanned at a much high frame rate.

BTW, how do I get an avatar?


Jarod's picture

Hey Robert go into the "My Account" tab and you should be able to add an avatar there.

notabadname's picture

Like Avatar? (Or it's two sequels) Star Wars Prequels and the coming Hobbit?

Film will certainly pass into the annals of history. 4K cameras finally get the resolution to the point of film, but greatly exceed film's fps due to simple physics. Film was the best that technology could provide at the time. But, had it premiered beside 4K at 48 fps, it would not have prevailed. Very analogous to film in cameras. 15 years ago, digital SLR's were mocked and stated to never be able to replace film. Now Eastman Kodak wallows in bankruptcy. And the sensitivity of Digital cameras absolutely destroys the capabilities of of traditional film now. Yes, there are hold-outs, but digital SLRs and medium formats are here to stay, and film cameras are collectables for hobbyists now.

And as with photoshop and photography, the director will always be able to create a "film look" if he finds a desire to put the "artistic scrim or membrane" between the audience and the subject. Digital in no way inhibits the look of old film. The same way movies now create fake historical footage as used in war movies to look like it was filmed 60 years ago. And any film could use frame doubling to easily create a 24 fps experience.

Fare thee well film and 24 fps.

abentrod's picture

As I was in the Theater business in 1986 I had the good fortune of seeing a demo of Douglas Trumbull's Showscan at "ShowWest" convention and the high frame rate plus the use of 65mm film stock was amazing to put it mildly. if Peter Jackson can come close to that experience he will have hit a home run in my book.

aleksandr's picture

I agree with Robert. Also Geoffrey Morrison make a good point in ''why 4K TVs are stupid''

Thick Shaddy's picture

With new advancements in technology will come new problems that will have to be overcome by adapting new techniques to shooting.

Take for example shooting with IMAX vs. 35mm or even digital in 4K with the RED cameras. You have to know their limitations as well as what will look good, in what light with what lens.

Also advancements in post production will prove to be even more valuable with higher resolutions and frame rates, endless corrections are possible if the studio and producers feel the film is worth the effort and expense, like LOTR was.

In my perfect dream world all movies are IMAX 8K at 120htz. Sure there is going to far, like say past what Apple has coined as "retina" level of pixel density. But then we can improve on contrast next, and saturation of unlimited colors and grey scale. I will stop at really...please stop with the 3-D!

LordoftheRings's picture

High Frame Rates, definitively.

Do that first, and 4K is just cheap whiskey.


MatthewWeflen's picture

What I don't get is choosing some totally whack-a-doodle number like 48hz. Why not go with 60, which is currently displayable by practically every HDTV out there (most of which are 60hz, 120hz, or 240hz, an easily divisible/multipliable frame rate) at those specs), and is the standard for broadcast HD?

I realize there are competing standards abroad, but 48hz doesn't fit any of them, either.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
And there is a good answer...some theaters are still film-based, and some older digital projectors can't support higher frame rates. So shooting at 48fps makes it easy to downsample to 24fps for backward compatibility. Downsampling 60 to 24fps is more difficult. On the flip side, I agree that 60fps is much better for home displays, though many modern flat panels and projectors can display at 48fps.
MatthewWeflen's picture

I figured that 48 was chosen because it is a round multiple of 24. What I question is whether that constitutes looking at the wrong end of the horse monetarily. Home video is a much bigger market (roughly twice the size at ~$20bn. vs. ~$10bn.) than the first run theater market.

I suppose we'll just get half the movie on our Blu-Ray discs.

Kris Deering's picture
Also, 48 Hz shouldn't be a big deal for displays. Considering that most Blu-ray discs are 24p and playback fine shows you this. Most displays now use higher refresh rates. For instance my JVC projector refreshes at 96Hz for a 24p input. It shouldn't be a big deal at all to support 48p once this type of material starts making it out there. But as of right now the Blu-ray will be 24p since the Blu-ray spec doesn't support 1080p48, only 1080i30 and 1080p24.
Kris Deering's picture
While it sounds like simple math to convert native 48fps material to 24fps it is anything but. You have to take other things into account such as shutter. There is quite a bit of debate out there on this right now and how its all going to play out. But it isn't nearly as simple as omitting frames to cut down to 24fps.
e39mofo's picture

I studied film making and made few low budget films. I also love to watch movies on a regular basis in my theater. The one thing I appreciate as well and others might agree is the "film like" feel of the movie, which I know Scott mentioned in his article. When display companies started introducing 120hz and 240hz with there anti-ghosting technologies to help remove it, I personally didn't not like the feel of the movie. It seemed more like a TV show or a low budget movie. I lost all attraction and connection to the movies I was watching because we aren't used to watching film that way.

I am all for high-def and try to get the best clarity possible. 4K is great, but a higher frame rate, regardless of the sharper and cleaner action sequences, will need some adapting to for all those searching for that "film like" feel in a movie.

MatthewWeflen's picture

I am sympathetic to your position, and I watch all my film-based Blu-Rays with frame interpolation turned off on my 120hz display for precisely this reason.

On the other hand, if the source material were native 48hz or 60hz, would I want it to be displayed at 24hz? I don't think so. I want to see what the director intended, nothing more or less.

I think it's hard to argue that 24 frames per second is somehow *inherently* better, more involving, etc., than any other frame rate. At the very least, it's hard to argue for it without any examples of movies shot natively at a higher (or lower) frame rate to compare the experience to.

e39mofo's picture

I agree with your point and as a movie lover, I would watch the movie as you mentioned, the way the director intended it to view the movie. So I guess my answer is whichever aspect, resolution the director intended for the audience to see the movie, I think is the best and most important way to watch a film.

KeithBaer's picture

More to sharpen perceived detail—especially in moving objects—than increasing the spatial resolution. In fact, all the demo material was 1920x1080 on a 15-foot-wide screen.

RufusHMiller's picture

Interested topic i like it most thanks for your posting keep it in future.

alston lindley's picture

No doubt high frame rates.

penegra's picture

This method is really awesome to express ideas in the open. Glad you chose it.
It is a meaningful post, I m really glad you could share it with all.


Jacobt's picture

Simply awesome!!! The article you have mentioned here is truly amazing… hope you keep up the great work…

kevinjones23's picture

4K is over-rated. High frame rate hands down!