4K, UHD, HD, SD and more. The world of video resolution is an increasingly complex alphabet soup, so which resolution is the best for your video production?

Resolution is the width of a video frame by the height of a video frame in pixels generally expressed as “width” x “height”. It’s commonly abbreviated by the “height” and a description of how each frame is displayed “i” for interlaced and “p” for progressive. So a common resolution, 1080p, is a 1920×1080 size with a progressive frame.

Why does video resolution matter? To some degree the answer is simple, the higher the resolution, the better the image. While that rule holds true to some extent, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a high quality video production requires high resolution video cameras. Like most things when it comes to video marketing, it really depends on your delivery platform and how you’re going to reach your target audience. So for any VP of marketing out there wondering if this entire 4K thing is worth the up-charge your video production company is charging you, I present a brief history of video resolutions.

Interlaced vs Progressive

  • Back in the world of SD this was a huge issue, especially for me, as I personally hate interlaced video. Where a progressive frame would display an entire image every time the frame refreshed, an interlaced frame would display the frame in two fields, one with the odd number lines, the other with the even number lines. This resulted in some seriously nasty looking banding whenever something moved left to right in the frame.
This is why I hate interlace, video is inherently in motion, and that's not the sort of motion I want to capture.

This is why I hate interlace, video is inherently in motion, and that’s not the sort of motion I want to capture.

  • Now that we’ve transitioned into the HD world, interlaced has been marginalized, but it still exists in some broadcast video formats. It’s also useful for videographers looking to shoot slow motion as they can effectively shoot twice as many images without increasing the amount of data they generate and in post they can convert that to a half speed shot. I will say there are better ways to get a slow motion effect, but this is a serviceable method and an acceptable reason for someone to choose an interlaced format.

SD Video / PAL Video / DV

  • Back in the day when video looked like it had all the quality of a used car salesman’s casual suit, SD was the only option for broadcast video. When I started out this was the standard, and it was a bit confusing, mostly because the size of the video was a technical limitation of the platform, as was the framerate. For example, if you shot 720×480 from your mini-dv camera and went to broadcast, you couldn’t guarantee that all 480 lines of resolution would be seen on an SD TV. Add to that you had NTSC (an American standard) and PAL (a European standard) that were not compatible. Essentially the entire system was a mess, which is really all I want to say about it because it’s a dead standard and you really shouldn’t ever be exposed to it unless you’re visiting a museum in this day and age.
Amazingly, this is now part of your history museum.

Amazingly, this is now part of your history museum.

HD Video Revolution

  • 720p vs 1080p

    • When broadcast video transitioned to digital starting in 2009 the HD revolution also began. This gave us standard resolutions of 1280x720p, 1920x1080i, and 1920x1080p. In this context, 720p was often the resolution of choice as CRT (read SD) tvs were still in circulation, and many HDTVs were adopting a 720 resolution. In fact, until you reached the upper 40” in tv size many people found it hard to tell a difference between 720p and 1080p images.
After the digital revolution, instead of snow slightly obscuring our tv's image, we got this.

After the digital revolution, instead of snow slightly obscuring our tv’s image, we got this.

  • Online Video / Web Video / YouTube Video

    • Another factor giving strength to the 720p resolution is that at first HD online video was limited by bandwidth. A 1080p YouTube video would take too long to buffer in order for most consumers to have a good experience streaming the video. As such it was common for video producers to either shoot in 720 (to save hard drive space) or to shoot in 1080 and deliver in 720 in order to have the option of re-framing the subject, without reducing quality. This was a functional way of creating two angles from a single shot (a method that became much more effective with the introduction of 4K) or fixing framing mistakes. Now 1080p is the delivery method of choice for many video producers as it is widely supported by online video streaming platforms (such as YouTube and Vimeo) and is much more acceptable in today’s world of Retina displays and 4K TVs.
  • Broadcast HD (HDTV)

    • While there are a few channels currently delivering 4K content the vast majority of networks are broadcasting in 1080i and many are still broadcasting in 720p. As 4K televisions become more prominent I suspect the 720p resolution will go the same direction SD went and we’ll see more and more stations offering content in 1080p. Currently 4K isn’t really an option for anything destined for broadcast, and as such originating content in 4K remains somewhat of a luxury for any business producing broadcast video.
  • 2K video/ UHD video / 4K video

    • While broadcast in the US is not taking advantage of the new video resolutions, the film world is thriving on them. While some independent filmmakers are still making good use of 1080p resolutions (we shot 12th Night in 1080p last year), there are many advantages to shooting in higher resolutions. The big screen really makes good use of the extra detail you get even at 2K (2048×1080 as opposed to 1920×1080).
    • UHD is exactly 1080p squared (3840×2160), which means if you shoot UHD and then scale it down to 1080p you will have to scale the image to 50% in post-production. Conversely you can scale a UHD image by 200% if you’re delivering in 1080p without losing any resolution.
    • 4K video resolution (4096×2160) is 2K squared and comes from more of film standards. While the terms 4K and UHD are often interchangeable (and we frequently use them interchangeably at Other Vision), there is a slight technical difference. For example, our main video camera is the Black Magic Production Camera which is advertised to shoot 4K, which it comes very close to when shooting RAW (4000×2160), but when shooting in ProRes (which we do for most of our clients) the highest resolution is 3840×2160, UHD. Is this a problem? Not really as most of our clients are only asking us to deliver in HD anyway.
  • 4K+ Video and The future

    • While 4K is hardly used outside of Cinema, it’s already being outstripped by acquisition resolutions such as 6K, and 8K and surely it will only keep going. This is going to introduce a new set of issues to be overcome, specifically data storage. For example, a 480GB SSD will only give your about 12minutes of recording time for RAW video at 4K. So as images get bigger and bigger storage needs will continue to increase. While I was shooting 1080p, I could expect a 5TB hard drive may last me up to a year. Now that I’m shooting 4K, and on occasion RAW I find that 5TBs may only last a month or two.
Basic comparison of resolutions.

Basic comparison of resolutions.

So what’s the best resolution for your next marketing video production. Well when we’re talking about video productions for business we’re usually talking about web video or broadcast video, as such we’re probably not going to need to deliver in any more than HD. Still I would recommend a 4K video production for two main reasons.

  1. Future proof your video. If you’re wanting your video to have a long life, then you’ll benefit from having it shot in 4K. It’s only a matter of time before web video and broadcast video is 4K, and when 4K video arrives you’ll want your video production to look just as good as it did the day you shot it.
  2. Reframing. I can’t tell you how beneficial it is to shoot interviews in 4K when you know you’re going to deliver in 1080p. You can get two shots with one camera, which gives you increased flexibility when it comes to hiding cuts or building emotions from editing. There are technical reasons this might not be a good solution for every production, but the majority of corporate videos can take advantage of the reframing options inherit with shooting 4K video.

Other Vision Studios is a film and video production company working out of Greenville, South Carolina and serving businesses across the South East region by partnering with them to tell compelling stories through video. If you would like to find out how Other Visions Studios can help you produce great video content, visit our Contact Page and let us know how we can help.

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