What Comes After High-Def? 4K!

UAV readers have been flooded with so much news lately about the transition to HDTV- with respect to both the HD DVD vs. Blu-ray format war, and this country's transition to digital TV broadcast- that I almost feel bad bringing this one up. But it's true- in late October Warner Bros. began field trials of digital cinema presentations in Japan featuring so-called 4K resolution, which is, gulp, an image with a pixel count of 4096x2160.

Japan's Nippon Telegraph and Telephone and one of its subsidiaries will collaborate with Warner on the yearlong trial and will provide the fiber-optic links between Warner's facilities in the US and digital cinema distribution centers in Japan. The opening film was Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, and other high profile films such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are expected to be included in the trial as well.

Initial testing will use a JVC professional 4K D-ILA projector, and later demonstrations will use Sony's 10,000 lumen, 4096x2160 SXRD projector. The demonstrations will be branded to moviegoers as "4K Pure Cinema."

Movie studios are anxious to see digital cinema in the marketplace as it would slash their distribution costs dramatically, and offer more flexibility to multiplexes screening multiple copies of films. Theater owners have been slow to react due to the substantial cost in outfitting their theaters with digital projection systems.

Some momentum has been gathering for a rollout of 2K digital cinema systems, which is essentially 1920x1080 resolution, the same pixel count as the current 1080i HD format. My own experiences with 2K digital cinema presentations suggest that with the high light output and large screen sizes involved that 4K has a much better chance of offering superior image quality on a consistent basis. While convenience and consistency of presentation are advantages of digital cinema, I've not yet seen a 2K theatrical image that competes with a good film print in terms of pure image quality.

Obviously this is looking way, way ahead, but if 4K makes it into your local multiplex, that means movies are going be digitally mastered at that resolution. At some point it's possible that someone might bring those 4K masters into our home theaters somehow, some way. Then, HDTV might just stand for "higher definition TV."