Ask a senior news executive when they plan to start shooting everything in 4K and the answer will likely be a firm “not anytime soon.”
Even the largest network and cable news operations face huge obstacles in adopting Ultra HD, given the extra time and cost needed to process much larger fi les, along with the difficulty of transmitting that content to viewers.
But as technologies drop in price and more streaming media companies embrace 4K, at least one company has made the leap. Founded in 2008, EnviroNews. TV bills itself as “the first… 4K news company in the world,” with an ambitious strategy of shooting everything in 4K even though its productions—which range from short news clips to longer documentaries—are streamed in HD.
EnviroNews founder and editor-in-chief Emerson Urry said the company can shoot 4K footage from smartphones, smaller Sony FDR AX100 Ultra HD camcorders and Sony’s NEX-FS700 Super35 Camcorders.
In the long run, making an early transition to Ultra HD will allow EnviroNews to build a valuable library of 4K footage, Urry explains. But even today, 4K shoots have a number of advantages. Down-converting Ultra HD to HD produces higher-quality images than those shot originally in HD. EnviroNews can also zoom into raw 4K fi les to recompose shots or highlight distant objects. “We can cut the fi lm in 4K on the [editing] time line and then we can back in and resize or reframe any of the clips a little before outputting to HD,” Urry says.
The extra storage and processing time for handling 4K raw fi les means, however, that “we have to be careful to balance the benefits and disadvantages of shooting in 4K,” Urry adds.
One big advantage of the FS700 is that the camera can simultaneously record in both 4K and HD. “It allows us to capture 4K footage of something we might want later for a longer documentary, but at the same time get HD clips out quickly to the Web,” he says. “[We can] be much faster trying to stay with breaking news.”
EnviroNews isn’t streaming any content in 4K, but the company is working with its tech partners to be able to do that. They are also experimenting with ways to stream HD footage live to viewers while simultaneously capturing 4K raw fi les for future use.
Mance Builds 4K Sales
While advanced 4K production techniques have opened up new businesses, they also pose some tech challenges for indie distributors that lack the huge capital budgets of the major studios.
Mance Media, for example, is now acquiring as many as five 4K titles per month and has cut deals with M-Go, Samsung, Dish, Sony, Vimeo, Amazon and the BitTorrent Bundle platform to offer their movies. By the end of the year, the company expects to have a 4K catalog of about 50 titles, says Matthew Mancinelli, the company’s CEO.
But these burgeoning 4K distribution efforts have also required some upgrades to Mance’s technical infrastructure for editing, storage and ingesting content.
Another issue has been compression and the quality of the audio feeds. Adoption of High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) has allowed them to dramatically reduce the massive 300 gigabit 4K movie fi les to under 8 gigabits for online distribution. But achieving that result wasn’t easy. “Reducing the fi les while maintaining the 4K quality and cranking out a 5.1 surround sound proved to be the biggest challenge we faced,” Mancinelli says.