What you should know about Ultra HD

by Scott Lanum, VP of Teleproduction Services

You think you’ve learned everything you need to know about HD, then you start hearing about this new television standard called 4K, or Ultra HD. Best Buy, Costco and Sam’s Club started showing off these new televisions with a higher resolution right next to the regular HD monitors last year, enticing consumers to purchase them despite today’s limited content choices for the displays.


Ultra HD is all about resolution — or the ability to distinguish detail in an image — which is typically defined by pixel count. An HD image has a pixel count of 1920 by 1080, meaning if you count the pixels from top to bottom you have 1080, and from left to right you count 1920. Ultra HD monitors, however, display 2160 pixels vertically and 3840 pixels horizontally. In an image twice as high and wide as regular HD, Ultra HD fits four images the size of regular HD within the frame.

There are three factors that define a television system: the display/monitor, the content and the content distribution. Let’s focus on the content…


In order for a viewer at home to experience the full beauty of Ultra HD, the images need to be captured with a 4K camera in studio or on location. In addition, the entire post production process needs to take place in a 4K workflow. This means graphics and animation included in the production need to be in a 4K resolution as well.

When the project is finished, a 4K master needs to be delivered to the content distributor. Today, programs are in a digital format stored on hard drives. HD as well as Ultra HD programs are huge in terms of file size, so master files are typically converted or compressed to a smaller format that can be distributed more easily.

As a producer of programming you might wonder why you would want to shoot, edit and distribute your next project in 4K. Here are two good reasons:

  • Since editors are able to reposition and zoom into a 4K image during the post production process, most directors like the fact that the DP does not have to frame the scene so precisely while shooting on location. Though there are limitations to how large an editor can blow up or “punch in” to the image before it degrades, this technique does give some additional means to adjust the shots if the creative changes after the shoot.


  • Most 4K cameras can also shoot at higher frame rates that, when played back at normal speed, give a smooth slow motion effect with great detail.

Another benefit of 4K production is realized in the business event world. Producers who create videos designed for large screen projection can increase the size of their screens without losing image quality. The image size, in addition to the clarity, can be very dramatic for the audience.

The digital signage industry is also taking advantage of Ultra HD. As digital signage displays get larger, there is a need for greater detail in the image. Point-of-purchase displays can show the detail of products under the close scrutiny of the customer, giving them the ability to get within inches of the display and still distinguish even the minutest detail. And while it is possible to display a standard definition image on a 4K screen, it will look something like your LinkedIn picture full-screen on your computer monitor — all pixelated and blurry.

What’s next after 4K? 6K cameras and post workflows are currently being utilized for special applications in the medical industry as well as the military. 8K systems are also around the corner, displaying four times the resolution of Ultra HD with over 32 million pixels per image.

With more 4K monitors being sold, the home viewer is hungry for any Ultra HD content to show their neighbors. Consequently, networks and content distributors are looking for Ultra HD content to deliver – DirecTV and Netflix are already distributing Ultra HD content to viewers — and as demand increases, producers and production companies will be busy creating Ultra HD content to satisfy consumers’ appetite for higher resolution and better image quality.