Get set: 4K UHD is coming fast to a TV set near you

John McGrath of Rethink Studios, who’s always been giant steps ahead of the digital curve, has seen the future and it’s Ultra High Definition, aka 4K technology.

“It’s coming and it’s coming fast,” he predicts.

At 3840 x 2160, 4K Ultra HD is four times the total number of pixels on a full 1080p HD screen. 

“All the technology is here, so we’re just waiting for affordable 4K TVs for the home and the cable boxes to deliver the content,” says 4K proponent McGrath. “It’s going to be what 3D never achieved.”

In fact, Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG 4K TV sets fueled the excitement at the recent Consumers Electrics Show.  Netflix amplified the buzz by announcing it is partnering with TV manufacturers to produce 4K content.   

Knox McCormick, Optimus director of operations, is cautiously approaching the new resolution. Although he’s been carefully watching 4K over the past year-and-a-half, “I’m not rushing to buy 4K monitors because I remember how many years it took to get 3D monitors in place,” a familiar refrain.


Although 4K monitors are becoming a market reality and 4K content is around the corner, Chicago has some catching up to do.

Many 4K camera choices available

There’s no shortage of 4K cameras, however.  Craig Maltby’s Magnanimous Media offers plenty of 4K capture options: The Red Scarlett and Red Epic; Canon’s new C500 and the new Sony F55 Cine Alta 4K,  which was recently rented to shoot content for a huge video wall in Walgreen’s corporate headquarters, Maltby says. 

More than half the content that Magnanimous’ in-house DP, Jonah Rubash, shoots is in 4K: Fox sports shows, music videos, corporate videos, interviews and shorts.  “The decision is usually based on the higher resolution quality issue,” he says.

No immediate 4K market for commercials so far

As for commercials, 4F is currently a format-in-waiting for commercials.

Optimus, for one, has the ability to edit and color correct in 4K, but lacks the demand for the higher resolution.  “When clients come in and ask for 4K is when we will take it seriously,” McCormick says.

Neither The Whitehouse nor The Mill have seen any agency-shot 4K commercials. “It won’t happen overnight,” comments The Mill’s EP Jared Yeater, “but it’s coming and we have to be ready for it.”

“It will start major big advertisers and corporations with big venues to showcase it. It’s like what happened when we shifted from SD to HD. The transition will happen when equipment catches up and TV sets are affordable,” he says.

When Nolan Collaboration Jeff Nolan’s commercial clients do shoot in 4K, they always finish in HD, he notes.  To prepare his clients for what’s ahead, he always suggests they make a future-proof version of their 4K work for the day when resolution becomes standard.

But don’t wait, McGrath urges content decision-makers. “Shoot everything in 4K. It provides you far greater creative flexibility in design, effects and post.”  

Rethink beta testing 4F rendering solutions

McGrath’s company, Rethink, is on the 4K fast track.  Designers are currently beta testing what McGrath calls “blindingly-fast” modeling and rendering solutions with Nvidia and Autodesk.

“We’ll have our clients in real-time CGI modeling, animation and lighting sessions in the very near future, at 4K.”  

Rethink has always set its own screen sizes and resolutions, he says, “so 4K is just a broadcast standard that is going to make the images from our virtual cameras look all the more real.”

And those images are heading for the consumer market.

Entertainment content in 4F is being readied for the big splash. Streaming 4K video from Netflix is due out Feb. 14, with “House of Cards: Season 2” set to be its first 4K streaming content. AMC’s “Breaking Bad” will be upconverted to the new format. 

M-Go, a joint venture of DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor will launch its UHD service on Samsung next spring.