Why 8K isn’t the endpoint for resolution


I’ve been greatly enjoying following the progress of visual fidelity over the past 15 years.  For such a long time TVs were just TVs, and most people never really thought about them changing.  But, of course, ever since 720P/1080i HDTVs hit store showfloors in the late 90s advancements have been happening at a staggering rate.

For a while now it seemed that 8K would be the resolution endpoint for the popular television sizes (mainly due to the fact that NHK and others set 8K as the goal as far back as 2003).  And for tablet sized devices on down it seemed that 8K would be more than sufficient to reach “retina” status.

But when we’re talking about virtual reality, even an 8K-by-8K screen isn’t enough pixel density to create true verisimilitude.

Oculus VR founder and CEO Palmer Lucky recently explained why this is so in an interview with Ars Technica. In short, the reason is thin diagonal lines:

“There is a point where you can no longer distinguish individual pixels, but that does not mean that you cannot distinguish greater detail.  You can still see aliasing on lines on a retina display. You can’t pick out the pixels, but you can still see the aliasing. Let’s say you want to have an image of a piece of hair on the screen. You can’t make it real-size… it would still look jaggy and terrible. There’s a difference between where you can’t see pixels and where you can’t make improvements.”

Since 16K+ resolution would be necessary for perfect VR, it follows that a perfect “life wall” (a screen that doubles as a wall in a room that can display any desired scenery) would need to be made out of thousands of 16K-by16K head-mounted display sized screens tiled together. That’s an obscene amount of K’s.

Luckey also explains why 8K resolution in screens of the small size required for a head-mounted display will be possible 10 years from now:

“To get to the point where you can’t see pixels, I think some of the speculation is you need about 8K per eye in our current field of view [for the Rift],” he said. “And to get to the point where you couldn’t see any more improvements, you’d need several times that. It sounds ridiculous, but HDTVs have been out there for maybe a decade in the consumer space, and now we’re having phones and tablets that are past the resolution of those TVs. So if you go 10 years from now, 8K in a [head-mounted display] does not seem ridiculous at all.”

The article’s top comment calculates that “perfect” VR for someone with 20/10 eyesight would require a display with 108,000 horizontal pixels, or 108K per eye, which is significantly higher than most estimates I’ve read (most calculations fall somewhere between 8K and 32K).

There’s also an in-depth discussion about resolution over at the Oculus VR developer forums.  And, for a slightly more pessimistic take, Valve’s Michael Abrash has a blog entry arguing that 8K screens aren’t just around the corner.

You can read more about some of the various criteria that scientists/engineers have come up with to figure out the limits of the human eye at this page over at 100fps.com.

And it’s always good to get a reminder of how amazing “mere” 8K resolution is (and keep in mind that this video shows an 85-inch screen!):

Here’s some recent HFR Movies coverage of the march towards an 8K world:

• 8K, 60 fps, 3D documentary: To Space And Back

• NHK Shows Off Compact 8K Camera

• Major Transformers 4 sequences will shoot with new 8K+ 3D IMAX cameras

• Japan plans 8K broadcasts in 2016 – 2 years ahead of schedule

• 4K dubbed ‘Ultra HD’ by the CEA, but Sony sticks with 4K


8K, 60 fps, 3D documentary: To Space And Back


The world’s first 8K, 60 fps, 3D documentary, titled To Space And Back, is set for a September debut at the FullDome planetarium at the Macau Science Center in China.

A 4K, 60 fps, 3D version will play from Sept. 5 to 7 at the Imiloa Fulldome Film Festival in Hawaii.

Sky-Skan (the maker of the Definiti Fulldome system) comments:

“This new, ultra-immersive version of To Space & Back represents digital cinema at its absolute visual peak. There are a couple of 8K planetarium shows, but none at 60 fps. There have been high frame rate 3D movies, but not at 8K 60 fps. Storytellers and exhibitors will be inspired and empowered when they see what the medium is now capable of. Raising the bar for the industry is part of Sky- Skan’s mission – while continuing to support customers at all levels. All fulldome exhibitors can select and show the optimal version of To Space & Back for their system – ranging from 1K to 8K, 30 fps to 60 fps, 2D or 3D, from one fisheye projector to 12 edge-blended projectors or more.”

ToSpaceAndBack8K60fpsPromoThe 8K picture is created by stitching together 24 high-definition video streams into one continuous picture on the dome screen. Six Sony SXRD 4K projectors are attached to Definiti HD lenses and fed by DigitalSky 2 and Definiti graphics computers. The final system resolution after blending and masking calculates up to 38 million pixels (38 megapixels).

As for the documentary itself, it seems to be getting great reviews so far.  Geekadelphia saw the 4K 60 fps 3D version:

[To Space And Back] is a stunning experience, both conceptually and in design, as it beautifully visualizes how certain technologies, originally created for advancements in space exploration, have paved the way for dozens of everyday devices in our lives. Within minutes, the audience is seamlessly transported from the inner-workings of the human eye to outer space, through the (surprisingly many) layers of satellites currently orbiting earth.

Annette Sotheran-Barnett, producer/director/co-writer, speaks about 8K:

8K rendering is challenging, as the detail required in models and textures can significantly slow down the workflow. We learned to line up the power necessary to overcome the obstacles. The results are worth it and what we accomplished will be easier to do the next time and will enrich the format and move the industry forward.

FullDome is a growing market sector, over 1,000 systems having been installed worldwide since 1998..

To Space & Back is produced by Sky-Skan in association with the Franklin Institute.

Watch the trailer:

Download the press kit (press release/photos/video):


James Cameron to start Battle Angel pre-production in 2017

b_battle_angel_alitaSpeaking at the TagDF technology forum in Mexico City on July 3, James Cameron revealed his plan to start pre-production on Battle Angel in 2017, telling the forum that the transhuman themes of Battle Angel have haunted him for years.

A 2017 start for Battle Angel may indicate that Cameron will be finished with the Avatar trilogy by then, which would mean Avatar 2 in December 2015 and Avatar 3 in December 2016.  But I’m not so sure yet: Cameron had once planned on working on pre-production on Battle Angel while finishing post on Avatar, so there’s a chance he will start pre-production on Battle Angel in 2017 while also releasing Avatar 3 in 2017.

A 2017 start of preproduction points to a December 2020 release. If Battle Angel were to have been created before the Avatar Sequels it would likely have been shot as those films will be: in high frame rate 3D, 60 fps 3D in particular.

But because December 2020 is 7-and-a-half years away and cameras, screen resolutions, and processors are improving at an exponential pace, I would expect Cameron to push the technical boundaries of moviemaking to even more spectacular heights with Battle Angel. Will it be shot in 8K 120 fps 3D? Or maybe it will be released as a Virtual Reality cinematic experience?  I don’t expect answers to these questions soon, but be assured that Cameron will once again dazzle us with brand new technology used on a massive scale.

Battle Angel (or just ‘Alita’ as Jon Landau has proposed) has been my most anticipated movie since about 2003, which was when I first learned of Cameron’s interest in it.  ’Alita’ has the potential to be completely revolutionary by virtue of its characters, story/themes and world. Then add on top of that bar-smashing visual effects and technical wizardry and format possibilities like I mentioned above and you have a recipe for another Avatar-sized hit. If you haven’t read the original Battle Angel Alita manga series, buy it tonight.  It’s incredible.

NHK Shows Off Compact 8K Camera

NHK has taken another step towards ultra-crisp 8K resolution, partnering with ASTRODESIGN to create a compact 8K camera head.  Here are its basics specs:


[Image sensor] : 2.5inch 33million pixels single plate CMOS
(SENSOR Developed by NHK Engineering System,Inc.)
[Active resolution] : 7680×4320
[Lens mount] : PL mount
[Output] : 12-channel parallel optical-fiber
[Dimensions] : 125(W) x 125(H) x 150(D)mm
[Weight] : 2kg

NHK has created 8K sensors and displays for its prototype 8K ecosystem.  Although the current ecosystem encodes/decodes 8K content at 60Hz, a 120Hz version, which would allow stereoscopic TV at 60 fps per eye, is under active development and is the target for their forthcoming Super Hi-Vision broadcast standard.

The prominence of 4K TV sets at CES 2013 indicate that the days of 1080P will soon be over.  But 4K won’t be the standard for long, if it becomes a standard at all: NHK and others have been pushing for an 8K+ future for years, with many believing that 4K is merely a stopgap on the road to true “retina” levels of resolution.

I’m always happy to see the fidelity bar raised. Rapidly increasing display/sensor resolution, computing power and signal processing will soon enable graphics that surpass the limits of what the human eye can perceive. And the ultra-high-quality virtual and augmented reality that so many of us want will require this.

introducing FutureLeap.com – a news / database site tracking transformational technologies

Over the past months I’ve been working on another website project!

The site – futureleap.com – tracks the latest news regarding the game-changing projects, technologies and scientific research we read about every day on the internet by maintaining a database of these projects. It went live about a week ago.  I really hope you find it interesting, informative, and useful.

Here’s a short excerpt from Future Leap’s mission statement:

“Future Leap follows projects that have the potential to change the world in a significant way.

The projects tracked by Future Leap aren’t incremental upgrades: they represent entirely new product categories, major new efforts, and bleeding-edge science. The fulfillment of one of these projects would represent a leap forward in the technological development of humanity. They will be the next major breakthroughs and first-in-class products in the fields of AI, Interfaces, Energy, Biology, Entertainment/Gaming/Movies, Space, Computing and Nanotechnology.”

There are currently about 36 projects in the Project Database, and I’m aiming for hundreds. The site’s still in a very early form. Please let me know if you have any comments/suggestions!

There’s a bit of an overlap in what I cover here at HFR Movies vs Future Leap, since Future Leap also covers significant technological developments in gaming, movies, interfaces and associated technologies.  But I am for now planning on keeping both sites going as best I can…HFR Movies will remain as it is.  If there’s a relevant Future Leap article pertaining to high frame rates, 8k technology, etc, then I’ll post about it here too. And vice versa.

I’ll also likely be looking for writers soon for both this site and www.futureleap.com.  If you or anyone you know is passionate about this stuff, can write well, and may have an interest, please send me a message.

FL_squareThanks for reading – I really appreciate the intelligent interaction I have with readers here and the passion you all have for pushing cinema technology forward.

I hope you like Future Leap!

Major Transformers 4 sequences will shoot with new 8K+ 3D IMAX cameras

michael-bay-directing-transformers-4-as-reboot-to-franchis-01Collider has a video interview with Michael Bay (at CinemaCon) where he reveals that Transformers 4 will be the first movie to make use of IMAX’s new 3D digital cameras. Major sequences will be shot with these cameras, which Bay says have a resolution topping 8K:

Collider: What kind of resolution can the IMAX 3D cameras achieve? Is it 4K, 8K?

Bay: It’s like…I think it’s higher than that. It’s actually going to break the….you know, my finishing company said it takes, it’s some zigabyte, whatever the hell it is- it’s some name that I don’t even know what that name is. They just go, “we are screwed with the amount of computing power we’re going to need here.”

Collider: Are you going to use that camera for the whole shoot, or for specific scenes?

Bay: We’re going to do several big showcase scenes. [The screen aspect ratio] is going to open up. Because it’s too expensive to finish IMAX quality FX.

Bay also tells Collider that one of these new IMAX cameras costs more than the entire budget of his most recent film, Pain and Gain.

Here’s all that IMAX’s site currently has to say about their new digital cameras:

Even better for filmmakers, IMAX is expanding its repertoire of capturing tools by perfecting a next-generation 2D and 3D Digital camera. It will be small and nimble enough to go anywhere. It will also be hand-held, take longer shots. Directors will be able to work without interruptions, because there’s no film to change, yet still deliver quality that’s a match for the beauty of film. And as the technology develops, we expect it will ultimately go far beyond what film can do.

16K+ resolution would be amazing.  I suspect that their statement that they expect their digital tech to “ultimately go far beyond what film can do” is a hint regarding the potential of ultra-high resolutions and/or computational photography.  Hopefully we’ll get some more details from IMAX soon.

320 gigapixel image of London shows potential of ultra high resolutions

panoramalondonThis 320 gigapixel “photo” of London is billed as the world’s largest panorama:


from http://btlondon2012.co.uk:

The 320 gigapixel image – taken by expert photography firm 360Cities – comprises 48,640 individual frames which have been collated into a single panorama by a supercomputer.

If printed at normal photographic resolution, it would be almost as tall and as wide as Buckingham Palace.

Playing with the zoom makes me feel like I have Superman’s telescopic vision. Although it’s not a perfect image (there are some seams in the stitching and people/objects are sometimes duplicated) it nonetheless give an idea of the power and versatility that super high resolutions offer.  Future filmmakers will be able to capture 16K+ video of an entire set or scene without worrying about framing since they would be able to view the footage in post production, zoom in, and extract whatever particular piece of the scene they want.

If you then combine this ultra high resolution with computational photography technology such as that found in the Lytro camera, all sorts of possibilities open up, including the ability to adjust focus after the fact and mimick camera moves without actually moving the camera.

Although it is far below the gigapixel resolution level and doesn’t incorporate computational photography, RED has been working on a 28K camera. Hopefully we’ll get an update on this camera soon, as RED hasn’t said much about it since announcing it in 2008.

PS4 will offer Sony 4K movie service via 100 GB+ digital movie files

sony-ps4The Verge reports that Sony’s 4K content delivery service will be available via the PS4, citing Sony Electronics President and COO Phil Molyneux, who said “I promise you will not be disappointed” when asked if the 4K service would support his company’s new console.

Sony is apparently aiming for a summer launch for the service, which would offer 4K movies as files of “100 gigabytes and plus” depending on length. Molyneux admits that the large file sizes as well as limited broadband speeds are a hindrance but asserts that Sony has ideas that will mitigate these issues. While not discounting a 4K compatible blu-ray drive (there have been reports that Sony has been working with Panasonic to explore the possiblity of higher capacity blu-ray discs ad players), Sony has indicated that digital distribution of 4K content is the most likely outcome even if downloads initially take many hours or even days to complete.

The primary conclusion I draw from the forthcoming arrival of 4K content (and 8K soon after) is that internet bandwidth (in the United States at least) needs to increase drastically. Google Fiber, which offers a 1 gigabit per second connection (about 100 times faster than the connection most Americans have) would enable 4K delivery in a timely fashion, but the current cable company monopolies are willfully holding back technological progress. I hope Google’s rollout of Fiber continues to be successful and that the cable companies change their anti-consumer outlook.  For evidence of the cable companies’ complete lack of respect for their customers, see Time Warner Cable’s recent statement that they “don’t see the need of delivering [gigabit internet] to consumers.”

By the beginning of the 2020′s 8K content delivered at frame rates of 60 fps or higher (and in 3D) will be the norm.  I can’t wait to walk right up to a huge 8K TV or “life wall” and feel as if I’m gazing into an another reality.  But to get to this point some major changes to the status quo need to happen…the cable companies must adapt, or deservedly perish.

Japan plans 8K broadcasts in 2016 – 2 years ahead of schedule

Both frame rate and resolution are in need of improvement, and this week we’ve got some good news on the resolution side of things: NHK and Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will be bringing us 8K broadcasts by 2016, 2 years ahead of schedule.  Their first 4K broadcast be in July 2014, the date of the final match of the 2014 World Cup.

Despite the large presence of 4K TVs and monitors at this year’s CES there are many who consider 4K to be a stopgap on the way to 8k (7680 × 4320, or 33.2 megapixels), which is comparable to 70mm IMAX (some say 8k is better).  8K is also the point where pixel density truly approaches “retina” levels of detail at all but the very closest distances for normal consumer display sizes.

For many years already there have been signs that 8K is the target for consumer flat panel TV screens (some say 16K is the endpoint for applications such as virtual reality headsets). Most films scanned for archival purposes are scanned in 8K, as are some digital intermediates. And NHK has been working on its 8K Super-Hi Vision standard for years. Check out this video below (from 2011) of an 8K LCD display from Sharp and NHK:

Watch it on YouTube and choose the 1080P version to get the full effect.

Although I do think we’ll see the first 8K screens by 2016, whether as many manufacturers get on board with 8K at that time as are supporting 4K this year remains to be seen. 1080P has been commonplace for about 6 years now, and available for even longer. A 3 year or so gap between the introduction of 4K screens and the arrival of the first 8K displays seems a bit short (which is another argument for why 4K should’ve been skipped).  And then there’s the issue of branding: when 8K sets arrive, will the CEA stick with the “Ultra HD” moniker, or go for something new?

NHK's three-chip 120hz experimental color camera

NHK’s three-chip 120hz experimental color camera

The development of an 8K ecosystem is progressing: last year in a collaboration with Shizuoka UniversityNHK showed off an 8K sensor capable of shooting at 120 fps. So things are progressing steadily on the capture side.

But for now, however, the necessary pieces for even a 4K ecosystem are still not in place: we need 4K blu-ray players, 4K game consoles, and, perhaps most importantly, internet bandwidth capable of quick downloads of reasonably compressed 4K content.

I’m very interested to see where all of this is heading.

4K dubbed ‘Ultra HD’ by the CEA, but Sony sticks with 4K

The Consumer Electronics Association has decided on a name for the successor to 1080P: Ultra High Definition, or Ultra HD.  This refers to an image that is 3840 by 2160, or 4 times the pixel count of 1080P.  This resolution has been commonly referred to as 4K by imaging professionals and enthusiasts , although technically the 4K found in digital cinemas is a bit longer at 4096 by 2160.

Sony, however, is having none if it: they’ve decided to continue referring to 3840 by 2160 as well as 4096 by 2160 content as 4K. Here’s what a Sony spokesperson had to say:

Sony lauds the CEA’s efforts to come up with a common language to describe the next generation high-definition technology.  However, to ensure clarity for consumers and delineate between today’s and tomorrow’s technology, Sony will continue to use the 4K moniker for its products and will market its future products as 4K ultra high-definition (4K UHD).

I think this approach makes sense for Sony, which has put a lot of capital into the 4K designation through the marketing of its 4K projectors and, more recently, 4K cameras.  It would be regressive to do away with the 4K moniker for the vagueness of “Ultra HD.”  After all, what will 8K be called? Super Ultra HD?  You can see the potential for an infinite accumulation of superlatives. Therefore I think it’s likely that other companies will follow Sony’s lead and keep the “4K” alongside the “Ultra HD.”

Sony has a 4K TV (the $25,000 XBR-84X900) coming out in about a month.  Expect many more 4K, or “Ultra High Definition” TVs to be shown at CES 2013.  Likewise, stay tuned for what I foresee to be a minor format war between 4K and 8K, as many enthusiasts and  certain companies (NHK, for example) see 8K as the endgame, and 4K as a stopgap.  Given the existence of 8K TV screens and the inevitability of 8K cameras, I predict we’ll be seeing a push for 8K within the next 4 years.