Since January 4k (or UHD) has been in the press and many have celebrated the apparent “Death of 3D” *. An increasing number of producers, media executives and consumers have asked me about my opinion, so let me list what I think are the most interesting aspects of 4k and let me elaborate on what 4k means for the 3D industry. (I have linked to many related articles in this blogpost and we have included some stills from our 4k films).
Supply Push rather than Demand Pull
Just as 3DTV a few years ago, 4k televisions are not in high demand from consumers. Again it is a technology that is being pushed into the market by the TV makers. Anybody disagreeing? I didn’t think so.
Unlike 3DTVs (that everyone loves to hate*), it seems like 4k has a mainly positive echo among tech journalists, bloggers and early adopters. Yes, there are the usual voices that complain about the lack of 4k content (this is not entirely true) or the high price of 4k TVs (prices will drop sharply so this is not a real worry). And some more nuanced writers also point out that there really is ‘no point’ in having 4k televisions because the human eye cannot detect the difference at standard screen sizes for the home. So, yes, there are critics, but overall I am surprised how many voices are mainly enthusiastic about the first 4k sets. This is an interesting angle that oftentimes gets overlooked by 3D folks, who constantly have to battle against the 3D backlash from the public and the press: there is no denying the fact that UHD is off to a ‘popular’ start. * Here is me trying to tackle the journalist’s question “Is 3D dead?”
Evolution versus Revolution
Let’s remember that the transition from SD to HD to 2k to 4k and to 8k are evolutionary steps. And indeed we have seen very similar (the same?) articles a few years ago about 3D trials haven’t we? 4k is about (even) higher resolution. About clearer and crisper images. 4k is not a ‘revolutionary technology’. This obviously does not mean that 4k can be ignored (after all, in 2013 you don’t want to be the last one producing at standard definition with virtually no market left as HD is the new norm). But let’s be honest: Ultra-HD is a relatively small step from a technology point of view.
While it is certainly true that 3D has not seen widespread consumer adoption (some blame the glasses, others the content or lack thereof) there are millions of devices in homes, making them ‘3D-ready’. In many countries more than 50% of all medium or high priced TV sets sold are now 3D Televisions, even though this feature may not be advertised anymore. There is also an entire 3D ecosystem with BluRay players, Playstations, 3D BluRay players, some 3D broadcasters or VOD offerings popping up, etc. 4k consumer adoption, on the other hand, is at zero. Let’s not forget this. (Obviously this also leads to impressive sounding growth figures).
This leads us to the market size. For the average content producer the 2D market is still 100 times larger than the 3D market. That’s a wild guess but judging from actual 3D usage, all global territories, and the licensing deals that are public, I think it’s a fair statement. Now, I think 3D is 100 times larger than 4k. Yes, there is a content demand, yes there is a lot of buzz, but how many 4k content buyers are really out there? Let’s keep everybody honest, here: there are fewer than a dozen.
Availability and Competitiveness of Content
The myth that there is no 3D content is ingrained in peoples’ heads. So much so, that the lack of content rather than the quality, or the user experience, or 3D glasses is blamed for the current crisis of 3D. In this blog, in our licensing activities, and on many conferences I have often battled against this myth so that I won’t waste any more time now. But it is easy to understand why people are also saying ‘there is no 4k content’. Well, wait a minute. There are plenty of cameras around that are capable of producing 4k. Many theatrical films are native in 4k. And hasn’t IMAX produced at 8-10k since the 1980s? Ok, it’s not a massive content offering, but what’s out there is pretty good. Sorry to break it to you: There is 4k content and the quality is high.
Unlike 3D, virtually anybody can produce 4k. It ‘just’ requires different equipment and more powerful data storage, processing, rendering facilities. Shooting in stereo 3D, however, requires skill and practice and many things can go wrong in the process. I feel that some producers are happy that 3D hasn’t caught on because they don’t want to bother with it, hence the big support for 4k. In the last decade they have successfully upgraded from SD to HD, so 4k doesn’t seem so daunting. But ultimately the filmmaker’s skillset should include both stereoscopic 3D AND ultra high-definition.
Putting it all together
Now, here is what I think it all means for our industry. Let’s not mince words: Glasses free 3D is the endgame. This will require ultra-high resolution displays (4k, 8k ?) because of the different angles one display needs to show (up to 30!). So surely a lot more R&D work by the TV makers is necessary and we will see many mediocre products until then. There are many developments in this direction already, see a few recent ones that I picked up (Dimenco, Amazon, Bitrates, Microsoft XBox, Cameron Pace Group)
So eventually, this is my firm belief, we will all have glasses-free 3D displays, big and small, and we will all chuckle at flat content. This is why both 3D and 4k are steps into the right direction. Those with a skillset in producing in stereo 3D are building a very valuable expertise. Those with a 4k focus are just as right because filmmaking and displays will of course require higher resolution (and higher framerates) in the future. The former group may have an edge over the latter group, but both are fundamentally right. Only those who are saying 3D is dead will be proven wrong.
Here is an excerpt from the New EU Market conference where the German 3D Innovationscenter lead by the Fraunhofer Institute, leading Satellite company Eutelsat and I talk about how 3D, 4k and Autostereo play together.
The crucial questions are about time. When will 3D be mainstream? When will 4k televisions be affordable? When will we have glasses-free 3D TVs? When should I start producing in 3D or 4k or both? The answers to that will depend on your particular project, your genre, the available funds and many more parameters. We are launching 4kContentHub soon and would be happy to speak to you in detail. We might all be a bit early in this game but I think that it is important to already think about the next step.