4K Ultra HD: Your Questions Answered
With the recent announcement that Fox is to become the first studio to begin releasing new film titles in 4K Ultra HD and other studios now following suit, there have been plenty of questions about some of the more technical aspects of the new format discs, the first of which arrive in stores today (April 11th), so we thought we'd better call in the experts.
We spoke to Joe McCrossan, Vice President of Advanced Technology & Engineering at Fox, who has been overseeing the development of the new 4K Ultra HD products arriving in stores today. We asked Joe some of the questions that have emerged in the last few weeks about the technical capabilities of the new format, the titles we can expect to see released in 4K, and why the new releases are a very different product to what has been available to buy up until now...
So the first new releases in 4K Ultra HD are arriving in stores today - how do these new releases differ from some of the titles already released, described as 'mastered in 4K' or 'optimised for 4K'?
“The phrase 'mastered in 4K ' refers to the master that was used to generate the distribution product, but in those cases the distribution product is still just a standard Blu-ray disc, so while the original is at 4K resolution, it's still encoded as standard HD or 1080p resolution on the actual disc. These new titles are not only mastered in 4K but then also distributed in 4K, so there's an end-to-end improvement in the resolution and all of that is passed on to the consumer.
“The other things that we're changing with this new product are the colour range, so we're going from 709 colours to 2020, and also the level of dynamic range that can be supported – that's basically how dark or how bright a picture can be.”
4K televisions have been on the market for quite a while now – why do you think it has taken longer for studios to be able to release titles on a physical 4K format?
“Well, at least for Fox, it wasn't just about resolution, it was also about improving colour space and the dynamic range as well. So yes, there have been televisions that support 4K resolution on the market for a while, but television sets that can support the new colour space and dynamic range improvements as well as 4K resolution actually only started to come onto the market last year.
“We actually had some of the 4K products at CES last year, we worked very closely with our partner Samsung in developing them and actually released some of the new 4K products digitally in the U.S. last year, with physical products now coming this year.”
What does the 4K format mean for things like frame rates and aspect ratios?
“With regards to aspect ratio, we preserve the original aspect ratio for the theatrical release used in cinemas, so I don't think you'll see much change there as the aspect ratios on the 4K products will be the same as they would be on Blu-ray. But the new products do support a much higher frame rate, up to 60fps (frames per second). Currently most films are released at 24fps in cinemas but if we start to release more and more films theatrically at 60fps then the we'll be able to take advantage of that and replicate that on the new products.”
What does all this mean for filmmakers?
“We're working closely with the creative community to actually try to bring them up to speed on ultra high definition formats and that's an ongoing process, to expose them to the creative palette that's available as a result of the improving technology. That was the case when HD formats first started to appear too, so it's an ongoing process of raising awareness so they can take advantage of it.”
How did you select the first eight titles and what are Fox's plans for rollout of the format? Will it eventually include all new titles?
“Well, we've taken the stance that we're going to master all of our new products in 4K, so going forward I think you should expect to see the majority of our new release products being available in 4K Ultra HD."
Do you expect there to be much 4K remastering going on for older films?
“Yeah I do, we're actually working on the release of one catalogue film at the moment, but we're also looking at other catalogue titles with a view to releasing them later in the year. The exciting thing is that film has much more dynamic range than the older digital formats would allow us to extract and express, so by doing a new scan to create a 4K master we'll be able to bring that across in home entertainment products for the first time.”
The new 4K Ultra HD discs begin arriving in stores today – click here for a full list of available titles