YouTube and the new indie distribution world


YouTube took a huge step forward recently in a move that could have implications for indie filmmakers. [“What’s bigger than 1080p? 4K video comes to YouTube”

YouTube now handles video resolution all the way up to 4K, which is currently the high-end projection resolution for theatrical display. In fact, most theaters have digital projection of 2K.

This isn’t something you’ll use soon. 4K is the largest leap made in video projection history.

4K, which is slang to refer to the horizontal resolution of 4,096 pixels across the screen, is 4,096 x 2,160…a resolution of 8,847,360 pixels (the dots on your screen that form to make the picture).

Compare this to “High Definition,” which is 1,920 x 1,080. (Yes, now the slang “1080p” refers to the VERTICAL resolution. Go figure.) It’s resolution is 2,073,600. HD is currently enjoying a moment as “the standard” resolution. You could literally have FOUR full-resolution displays of HD on a single full-resolution display of 4K.

2K, the current standard for most theatrical digital projectors, is 2,048 pixels by 1,080 pixels–a little bit heftier than HD. 2K provides a slightly wider aspect ratio than HD does.

The 640×480 VGA pictures that you have most often seen on the Internet have a resolution of 307,200 pixels.

As YouTube notes, 4K resolution is designed for movie screens 25’ in length, using projectors that theater chains have to fund with massive infusions of debt.

4K is making inroads, but is definitely above the levels most indie filmmakers can work at. This is the realm of RED cameras and their competitors, cameras that can cost more than your house.

4K has been the goal for digital cinematography because the resolution of 8,847,360 pixels approximates the silver grain structure of 35mm film. In theory, 4K digital resolution cinematography now stands eye-to-eye with 35mm resolution cinematography. There has been “play” between the movie people and the video people whenever creating standards. For instance, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences defines 3656×2664, which is an aspect ration of 1.37:1, as the standard for movies in theaters, while the new YouTube offering of 4K is 4096x3072, an aspect ratio of 16:9. Cinematographers and digital techies have been battling back and forth about aspect ratios since 1996.

Comparison of resolutions and aspect ratios

Comparison of resolutions and aspect ratios

YouTube is setting itself up for the future. If you want to watch 4K at home right now, you’re SOL. Even the largest, finest plasma screen TV at Best Buy is “only” 1080p, although announcements are being made by manufacturers that 4K displays are coming quickly.

The size of the display does not relate directly to the resolution; it’s the size of the pixels that matter. The important thing about high resolution, such as HD, is you can make large displays without the pixels becoming so large that the image falls apart in that horrid “posterization” look we are all familiar with from enlarging photos on our computer screen.

And the amount of bandwidth necessary to deliver a 4K stream is beyond what’s available in most homes in the U.S. It seems Europe is more aggressive with bandwidth, and probably will beat us to the ability to send smooth, uninterrupted 4K via the Internet. Also, Japan is already introducing 8K digital cinematography, but it is extremely impractical for the near future.

For indie filmmakers, however, using YouTube as a pipeline to movie theater projectors is a very exciting and promising opportunity.

Infrastructure will need to grow to handle this, just as TV broadcasting, cell phone, telephone, and most other technologies had to grow to accommodate the use of their evolving technologies. Fiber optics will probably play the most important part in this evolution of infrastructure.

But somewhere in our near future, we will begin to see the true promise of digital theatrical projection that many of us anticipated many years ago. We are fast approaching a democratic one-on-one distribution system where one filmmaker can upload one film to one theater (even, dare to say, to one home), and the logistics and costs would be insignificant.

Yes, the economy of scale is fast dropping to ONE.

Maybe I’ll be one.

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About Michael R. Barnard

Michael R. Barnard Writer | Producer | Director Independent. Film, TV and Digital. Development and Production. View all posts by Michael R. Barnard

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