Sorry, Aristotle. When it comes to 4K video, the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts.

Alan Bullock
Apr 14, 2016

4K video is rapidly gaining traction throughout the photo and video ecosystems, in devices from capture to display. The capture side is relatively easy. A 4K video frame is approximately equivalent to an eight-megapixel photo, and eight-megapixel cameras have been around for well over a decade. At the risk of oversimplification, just add some processing power to capture, process, and store 30 of those frames per second, and you have 4K video recording, a feature that is now available on many interchangeable lens cameras, premium point & shoot cameras, action cameras, camcorders, and cinema cameras.

At the other end of the spectrum, 4K UltraHD television is dominating manufacturers’ marketing and electronics retailers’ advertising – and it’s working. About 60% of respondents to InfoTrends’ 2015 U.S. Connected Devices End-User Survey said that they were at least aware of 4K television, a considerable increase from 38% in 2014. Also compared to 2014, nearly twice as many had seen a 4K UltraHD TV, while four times as many reported that they owned one. Even so, penetration remains low (less than 10%), and a better picture may not be enough to convince most consumers to make the move. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said that they would purchase a new television if their current set broke, but fewer than 30% would do so to get better picture quality or new technology. Widespread conversion to another new standard will probably take longer than the last time, when the move to HD was aided by the 2009 mandated conversion of U.S. broadcast television to digital transmission.

201604 4K TV Awareness-Ownership Chart

So, what’s the use in capturing 4K content if 4K displays are not readily available? Beyond the higher prices of 4K cameras, the format comes with some additional baggage, including the costs of storing and moving larger files. Even so, 4K also comes with some benefits beyond the high resolution image itself. For one, grabbing a still frame from 4K video yields an 8 MP photo. While far less than the resolution of today’s digital cameras, 8 MP is generally more than enough for enlargements up to 11” x 14”. In contrast, an HD video frame is only about 2 MP, which will produce a pretty good 4” x 6” print, but is barely enough for a decent 5” x 7”. In addition, editing 4K video and converting it to HD can produce better results. Starting with four times as many pixels enables things like frame retouching or even post-capture stabilization.

One of the more intriguing possibilities is carving up the full 4K frame into smaller pieces, each with sufficient quality to serve a very useful purpose on its own. While there are likely many more examples, we’ve seen two recently that are worth mentioning here:

1-Movi_White_HandAt CES 2016, Livestream, a leading provider of streaming video services for businesses and individuals, entered the camera market with the introduction of the Mevo Live Event Camera (formerly known as Movi). Designed for live streaming (surprise!), the Mevo features a 3,840 x 2,160-pixel 4K sensor, but streams live video at 720p resolution. Its accompanying mobile app lets the user function as the “Director” of the live stream, defining up to nine custom “shots” from within the full 4K frame, and switching between them in the live program with the touch of a finger. While it’s true that one-ninth of a 3,840 x 2,160 frame is a 1,280 x 720-pixel frame (720p resolution), the custom shots can overlap – they do not need to be discrete areas of the original frame.

201604 Movi App for BlogLivestream Mevo App

Altia Systems PanaCast 2 Camera camera1-500Another example, in a completely different application, is Altia Systems’ PanaCast 2 collaborative video conferencing camera, which was also shown at CES 2016. This camera uses three sensors and real-time on-board dynamic stitching and blending to deliver a panoramic 4K field of view (3,840 x 1,088 pixels). Altia Systems also has an app that lets a user define multiple views cropped from within the full frame. Even more interesting, though, is the PanaCast Experience software that lets individual viewers customize their own view – zooming and panning without affecting what other see on their screens.

InfoTrends’ Opinion
Rarely, if ever, do all parts of an ecosystem develop at the same pace. In the 4K world, where displays are still catching up to cameras, these are but two examples of leveraging 4K capture for applications that do not need a 4K display. Eventually, 4K will become standard for most video capture and viewing applications. Until then, innovations that use part of a 4K image may be more valuable than those that use the whole thing.


InfoTrends’ Imaging Innovators Service follows livestreaming and other emerging trends, technologies, devices, and services in the photographic industry. For more information, please contact Matt O’Keefe (matthew.okeefe@infotrends.com or +1 781 616 2115).

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