4K: What You Need To Know And Why It Matters


Content owners and producers have always been focused on creating and telling the best story possible. With this understanding, it is clear why the 4K evolution is appealing to producers. It allows them to create content in the very highest quality. It enables them to deliver a more engaging consumer experience thanks to the level of detail inherent in 4K content. Much like we saw with the evolution to HD, 4K is influencing consumer expectations for high-quality content. And, like HD, 4K requires upgrades within the media workflow.

What is 4K? Simply stated, it is shorthand for the pixel resolution of digital video, which delivers four times as much detail as 1080p Full HD video. It evolved from the digital cinema community that originally defined 4K as 4096 x 2160. The consumer electronics industry has adopted the term “4K” to define the pixel resolution of UHD TVs, which are usually specified as 3840 x 2160. Regardless of the specific 4K format, these higher resolutions result in a more detailed picture, greater texture, almost photographic quality image display and reduced motion blur for consumers.

As UHD TV prices drop, 4K content consumption becomes more consumer-friendly and feasible, driving further demand for 4K content. In turn, this will lead to an increasing amount of sports, films, and episodic television being created and distributed in 4K. The combination will put pressure on content producers and increase the amount of attention that must be paid to building out 4K-capable workflow environments.

Future-Proof Your Creative Investment

When shooting in 4K, there is increased flexibility, which results in the unique combination of increasing creativity while also saving time and money in both production and post-production. Another advantage of 4K video is that it addresses the long-standing archive conundrum of having a file format of sufficient archive quality. Digital file-based storage offered much more reliable preservation than fragile videotape or film, but up to now had sacrificed image quality. Archiving a 4K master provides assurance that a high-quality original is available when needed.

Following the production workflow, 4K content should then be archived for long-term preservation and future re-use. However, archiving directly within the shared workflow storage environment is not practical for both cost and capacity reasons. Consequently, most content owners must define an archive strategy that balances capacity demands, discovery and retrieval requirements, and cost.

Be Prepared

From ingest where raw video content is imported into a workstation and converted into video files; to editing where video clips are cut, enhanced, shared, processed, and manipulated into a final video program; to transcoding where files are transformed into formats for editing, distribution, and viewing; files need to move efficiently in and out of various applications and storage devices. These challenges become more magnified in a 4K workflow and put intense strain on storage infrastructure.

The right storage infrastructure provides:

• Predictable Performance: As discussed earlier, 4K resolution is almost 4X greater than today’s HD formats. Additionally, 4K footage is captured at 60fps today, with 100fps anticipated in the future versus the 25fps or 30fps common with HD. This increased resolution and additional frames provide the enhanced detail associated with 4K, while also reducing motion blur. The result is a 400% increase in bandwidth and storage capacity requirements for 4K content compared with HD. Even when compressed, this means storage network bandwidth of 200Mbps.

 • Interoperability: Collaborative workflows integrate a variety of applications that manage and manipulate content. Due to the improved quality of 4K content, there is more metadata, more editing inputs and outputs, and larger file sizes.

 • Flexible Storage: An effective storage infrastructure balances concerns for data access and durability with requirements for performance and cost. Not all content can be kept in fast online storage forever, as it would be cost-prohibitive.

 • Storage Network Infrastructure: 4K collaborative workflows require very fast and predictable access to content. Collaboration also requires connectivity to different types of clients over different network topologies and protocols. The storage network must provide the necessary bandwidth and be flexible enough to also support required network and storage protocols.

Flexibility Is The Key

The move to 4K is exciting, yet the deployment of a storage infrastructure that addresses the need for high performance, reliability, and scalability can be daunting. Even with storage costs declining,

4K content will push storage capacity requirements into petabytes and performance requirements to entirely new levels. It is only practical to consider a variety of storage alternatives that balance the need for performance and capacity with very real budget concerns.

An effective storage strategy allows all workflow users to readily find and access the assets they need. This does not mean that all these assets must be stored locally—only that they reside in a centralized repository, accessible to all users. The repository can include various types of storage needed to fulfill the varying workflow requirements for bandwidth, I/O, and capacity. This approach addresses demands for affordable and scalable storage capacity, seamless and simultaneous file access, and interoperability with a variety of applications and operating systems. A flexible storage infrastructure combines:

 • Online storage (to enable real-time ingest, playback, editing, and rendering demands);

• Extended online storage (to provide the high resiliency needed for large-scale content storage at a lower cost than online storage); and

• Archive storage (to securely store assets before delivery or for long-term preservation).

Solution Finding

The infrastructure to support 4K workflows and 4K content delivery is evolving. TV manufacturers are creating relationships with content producers and OTT content providers (e.g., Netflix, Amazon), embedding decoders for HEVC and VP9, and adopting HDMI 2.0—all in anticipation of a broader range of available 4K content in 2015.

4K is here to stay, with 8K and 16K on the horizon. It is an inevitable progression as consumers constantly crave a more immersive entertainment experience, surpassing the quality of high definition content, regardless of consumption channel or device.