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4K and 3D Are 1 and 2 at NAB

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LAS VEGAS--While 3D seems to be the unofficial theme of the National Association of Broadcaster’s convention, there’s another buzzword on people’s lips: 4K.

4K represents another leap toward higher-resolution digital imaging and denotes four times the amount of picture information than 2K. which is itself twice the resolution of HD. Some observers believe 4K even exceeds the level of detail contained in 35mm film.

Existing digital cinematography cameras, as well as post-production processes, more commonly use 2K resolution, but the consumer demand for larger screens and therefore greater picture detail is driving the industry toward 4K tools.

Sony made most noise around this Sunday by unveiling a prototype digital cinematography camera capable of handling 4K and even higher resolutions.

In the background of development at the Japanese electronics company for at least four years, the F65 is considered a breakthrough in digital imaging.

To date, there has been one true 4K digital camera on the market for cinematographers, from a company called Dalsa that abandoned development a few years ago.

Sony wants to make 4K the new standard in digital production and it has the muscle and end to end product portfolio to make it happen.

Its 4K projection system, launched in 2005 and installed in an increasing number of cinemas, remains the only one of its kind and Sony is also developing a recording and postproduction infrastructure to fill in the gaps between shooting and exhibition.

While 4K post is steadily being used more frequently, today 2K post is more common than 4K, which requires four times as much data and can therefore be more expensive.

While projecting a 4K picture is, in most people’s opinion, a far richer, more nuanced and detailed experience than 2K and perhaps even film, the business case is not as clear as for 3D.

U.S. National Association of Theater Owners president John Fithian said: “It is much clearer what 3D does. Obviously 4K provides higher resolution, but whether that is something that the consumer values and appreciates remains to be seen.”

The heart of the camera uses a newly developed 8K 20 megapixel CMOS sensor, which could be upgraded to go as high as 8K resolution to meet any future needs of filmmakers.

It is capable of recording 50 minutes of uncompressed 16-bit 4K raw footage at 24fps to a 1TB memory card. The finished camera is expected to be light enough in weight for use on 3D rigs, Steadicams and other portable configurations.

There are however competing systems coming to market. The Meduza, from UK start up Meduza Systems, will be shown for the first time in Las Vegas on Monday and will be released in September. It’s a single-bodied dual lens 3D camera features a single set of electronics and a single set of controls powering two sensors capable, it is claimed, of generating higher frame rates than Sony’s prototype 4K camera.

The CEO of Meduza Systems’ parent company 3D Visual Enterprises (3DVE), Chris Cary, explained the startling concept behind the system - not the least of which is that it does not contain a specific sensor.

 “4K is everywhere, it’s almost old hat at this point,” he says. “There are even 4K sensors in cell phones. The entertainment industry is not a leader, it is in fact a laggard.  To imagine that you see cutting-edge tech in the entertainment industry would be inaccurate. What we are trying to do at Meduza is to accept that component technology is moving forward much faster than product development and to integrate emerging technologies within six months of their release, rather than the ‘normal’ 18 to 36 months of the industry.

“With Meduza you get a one-year jump on everyone else, in a professional package that is never obsolete. Keeping pace with technology is the greater message behind the camera system. It is no longer important who makes the sensor. We don't make the sensor, we never will. The day of building a camera around a sensor has past.  We believe that capability, flexibility and expandability are now the critical criteria in this field.”

The product however remains at an early stage of development with input from cinematographers the next step forward. Interestingly the camera’s R&D is based on defense technology from the U.S.

“You wouldn't be able to shoot down a plane with a heat seeking missile, watch a 100G crash happen without the lens cracking, see a particle beam weapon fire, or see through a periscope without the contributions of our development team,” claimed Cary.

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