The Truth About Your Video Resolution

Many years ago, in Hollywood, there was a study done to develop a standard for cinema exhibition. At the time, movie theaters were getting ready to make the switch from film projection to digital projection and there was a question as to whether 2k projectors were good enough or if theaters should spend the extra money for 4k projectors.

A test was devised to help make a decision. A 4k projector was set up in a theater full of viewers, and the a large white and black square was projected onto the screen. Slowly, the boxes were doubled. First 2 white boxes and 4 black boxes, then 8×8, then 16×16 in a checkerboard fashion. Eventually, they had 1920×1080 (HD resolution) boxes alternating black and white. They continued until they got to 3840×2160 (UHD, or 4k resolution). The results were interesting. The overwhelming majority of viewers claimed the screen became completely flat grey somewhere around 2k resolution.

What this means is that, while sitting at a “safe” distance from the screen, the average person can not tell the difference between 2k and 4k resolution.

I have been arguing this point for about a decade now, and most people tell me that I am stupid, or I don’t know what I am talking about. Well now, I am not alone in this claim. Award winning DP Steve Yedlin (Brick, San Andreas, Carrie, The Last Jedi) has released a new video claiming the same basic premise: that we have already reached “Peak Resolution”

video resolutionUnlike me, who only had the original study to reference, Steve did his own test to prove his point. He shot the same scene using 6 cameras at different resolutions. Those cameras were:

  • Alexa 65 (3K)
  • Sony F55 (4K)
  • RED Weapon (6K)
  • ARRI 435; 4-perf super-35mm film (Scanned at ~6K)
  • MSM by IMAX; 15-perf 65mm film (Scanned at ~11K)

Then, to take the test one step further, he took the original 6k images, and made a 4k and 2k copy of it. He then blew the 2k image up to 4k and compared it with the 4k image. There is no perceivable difference. Interestingly enough, he also shows that scaling algorithms can actually make 2k look sharper to the average viewer then 6k.

You can watch Steve Yedlin’s tests and explanations here:

Watch Part 1 of Yedlin’s Resolution Demo (Production)

Watch Part 2 of Yedlin’s Resolution Demo (Post-Production)

What This Means

What needs to be learned from this is that higher resolution should no longer be a concern. Instead, we should be concerned with things like compression. Higher resolutions have their place, like in vfx work, vr, or extremely large projections, but for general shooting, there is no need.

What we need, is to work on better quality compression, faster processing of images, better low light processing, more latitude, and more frame rates. The pixel war is over.