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The Case for 8K Production and How to Manage That Monster Data

There’s no escaping the fact that 8K is four times as many pixels as 4K… but recording 8K is easier and less expensive than you think.

For many, the idea of recording 8K video understandably conjures up images of unmanageable files sizes, long transfer times, huge piles of hard drives, and slow proxy workflows… not to mention a black hole in the budget.

Leaving aside for one moment the fact that HDR and HFR are far more valuable than resolution to the consumer’s eye, there are benefits to an 8K production which an increasing number of projects are taking advantage of.

Mank, directed by David Fincher and lensed by Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, was acquired 8K using the RED Monstro in monochrome, while season 2 of Amazon’s Homecoming was also shot in 8K. Money Heist, the Netflix drama which in season 4 is shot at 7K to accommodate HDR in a 4K deliverable.

You can’t sell productions made in less than 4K to Netflix and other streaming services now. One day soon, some will mandate 8K to begin with and Netflix will have its fair share in the bank.

Even if the final output is only going to be 4K/UHD, shooting in 8K gives you many options in post that you do not have when starting in 4K. These include downscaling, cut/crop (pan/scan) or headroom for VFX.

“Before making the decision to capture a project in 8K, producers and cinematographers need to consider the project’s long-term goals,” says Bryce Button, director of product marketing, AJA Video Systems. For instance, capturing in 8K makes a lot of sense if there will be future use for the material.

“And even if not currently working in 8K nor planning to move to 8K in the future, 8K acquisition can also be hugely beneficial for capturing background plates for VFX and for virtual sets in live broadcast,” Button continues. “Having a larger raster for the background gives producers the confidence that as they zoom, pan and tilt around the background video plate or set, they’ll be delivering the cleanest possible imagery.”

Read more: Powering On to an 8K Future

When selling your shots, for example to stock footage outlets, 8K still manages to command considerably higher prices and is much rarer, so there is a chance to sell more and make more money at the same time. 8K is still a unique selling point and as Barry Bassett, the MD at London-based camera rental house VMI puts it, “That means bragging rights.”

Acquisition Options

“If you can acquire in 8K, there is no good reason not to do it,” urges Jan Weigner, Co-Founder & CTO at broadcast and post software developer Cinegy. “This is the same question that we were supposed to ponder when the switch to 4K happened. Currently camera rental cost for 8K can be higher, but in terms of total production costs, your budget would have to be seriously constrained or require many simultaneous cameras to not be able to shoot in 8K.”

Producing in 8K is no different to 4K: The availability of hardware to capture, edit and store 8K makes the high-resolution format unavoidable. There are also now tools to answer the demand from HD SDR to 8K HDR, and everything in between.

“All the necessary parts of the 8K puzzle are in place,” says Atomos CMO Dan Chung.

All current NLEs handle 8K, at least if you are using the latest version.

The main cost that will hit your pocket are camera rental/purchase and the proper lenses to go with it.

“At this moment, though, if you want to record 8K in cine-quality your main options are Red cameras or the Panavised version Millennium DXL,” I explained an article for IBC. “As good as they are, the filmmaking community is excited by the prospect of Canon’s EOS R5. Reckoned in some quarters to be as revolutionary a Canon product since the debut of the 5D Mark II over a decade ago, the EOS R5 promises to put 8K into the hands of the prosumer.

The R5 is a mirrorless full-frame sensor camera able to record 8K Raw at up to 30fps (in 4:2:2 10-bit C-Log and HDR PQ) and 4K at 120fps (ditto) to onboard CFexpress and SD cards. It can also output 4K at up to 60fps via HDMI.

“As others have pointed out, on raw specs alone, the camera seems to outperform even high-end cinema gear like the Euro35,500 full-frame Sony Venice, which maxes out at 6K/30p and 4K/60p, both externally recorded.” To read the full article, click here.

Other options, such as Sony, Ikegami and Sharp 8K TV cameras might use the latest 8K Canon lenses and that can be costly.

“Not so long ago if you wanted to shoot 8K anywhere near affordably you had to shoot RED,” Chung remarks. “Now you can do so on a prosumer camera. Canon has clearly laid down a marker that others are sure to follow.”

Read more: Hitachi Kokusai Introduces Dockable 8K Camera 

“There’s a misconception that 8K is vastly more expensive than it actually is,” says Button. “Generally, moving to 8K is an incremental cost, especially if you’re already working in 4K or have worked in stereo 3D. The biggest expense often comes with storage and moving large volumes of data, but the strides made by the industry to support 4K and S3D have provided a strong foundation to support the data needs that 8K workflows require.”

Recording and Monitoring Options

By nature, 8K is a massive format and is therefore inherently data-intensive. As such, in certain circumstances, it may be advantageous to avoid shooting a fully uncompressed 8K video and instead seek out codecs that keep data sizes manageable where the balance between data size and perceived quality is preserved.

“As with any project, it’s crucial to always start with the end in mind,” advises Button. “If uncompressed footage is a necessity for everything from video effects needs to deep color work, uncompressed will always offer a range of advantages.

However, he notes, many projects—whether for broadcast or other delivery methods—may be better served using codecs specially designed for editing and grading, where media and workload savings on workstations can be incredibly advantageous.

“Apple ProRes, for example, has been tuned to specifically provide resolution details and color depth that are more than acceptable while providing the appropriate media bandwidth storage and minimizing CPU strain.”

In terms of monitoring, 8K displays are just beginning to surface, but are still scarce but as Weigner points out so are inexpensive, cinema quality, reference grade HDR 4K screens.

“You could use UHD/4K monitors or TVs and just zoom in when necessary,” he says. “Brand name 8K TVs sized 65” or even 75” can be bought well below U$3000 and they usually have a decent enough image that can be tuned manually to meet certain TV production demands.”

AJA offers audio and video I/O solutions like the KONA 5 to facilitate downconversion and monitoring of 8K content on 4K displays in real-time, whether for editing or other tasks. AJA says it is working very closely with major NLE and color grading companies to ensure that its Desktop Software and KONA I/O cards provide a seamless 8K creative experience whether working on macOS, Windows, or Linux workstations.

For many projects, the codec will be defined by what the camera produces, unless one uses an external recorder.

The Atomos Neon line of cinema monitors and recorders come with a 4K master control unit but the firm has additionally announced an 8K master control unit, which can upgrade every Neon to an 8K recorder. The unit allows for recording and monitoring 8K video at 60 fps. Both, ProRes and ProRes RAW are supported straight from the camera sensor.

“If you go 8K you need ProRes RAW since this allows you to get a manageable file size and all the benefits of working with raw data,” says Chung.

Shooting RED

Users of RED camera will be familiar with Redcode RAW, the proprietary recording format. Redcode is always compressed – there is no uncompressed version, claimed by Red to be visually lossless, and there’s no chroma subsampling or color space attached to the R3D RAW files. Visually lossless is usually good enough for any type of post-production including green screen work.

For example, using a Weapon Helium or Monstro at 8K 24fps to a 240GB Red Mini-Mag would record on average 259Mb/s and just 16 minutes record time (per mag). Upping the compression to 10:1 would double the record time and halve the bitrate. At the highest compression of 22:1, the figures would be 59Mb/s and 69 minutes. You can calculate your own figures from the Red website.

Netflix recommend a Redcode value of between 5:1 and 8:1. UK rental house Proactive has done some useful groundwork on recording 8K with newer Red cameras like the Monstro, Helium and Gemini.

It concludes that the majority of productions shooting Red use 8:1 as it offers “a fantastic balance between quality at the highest level, and practical data rates for the production to handle.”

The big surprise though, finds Proactive, is that if you use the Monstro in 8K at 8:1 as your standard compression level, it actually becomes much more manageable than the raw formats from Red’s competition, even some Prores formats. This becomes even more obvious when you go down to the 5K Gemini sensor. It found that at 8:1, the Gemini actually has smaller file sizes in 5K 16-bit RAW than the Sony Venice does in 4K XAVC-I which isn’t a RAW format.

The Codecs

Cinegy’s codec, Daniel2, specifically targets 8K and higher resolution production. Weigner claims it is up 20x faster than Apple ProRes or AVID DNxHR.

“With Daniel2, 8K production is as fast and easy as HD production, albeit requiring considerably more storage,” he asserts. “But since the days of HD we also have seen storage costs decrease massively while storage speed, thanks to the advent of SSDs, has increased dramatically. Put these factors together allows 8K production on inexpensive laptops or computers costing well below $2000 with standard NLE software such as Adobe Premiere.”

Weigner says that he edits 8K on a three-year-old Dell laptop without any issues or speed problems. This, of course, uses the Daniel2 codec accelerated by GPU inside Adobe Premiere and exported using H.264 or HEVC for distribution using Cinegy’s GPU accelerated export plugin.

“This may not satisfy high-end workflows, but will be sufficient for the average news, sports, even documentary production,” he says. “Editing these long GOP formats is much tougher. But depending on the NLE, the use of on-the-fly proxies or render caches and hardware acceleration by using graphics cards this does not need to be the case.”

Arguably, making a production in 8K will futureproof it to mitigate any risk and make it more attractive for sale in the long term.

“In the end this all depends on the type of production and how many cameras are needed and how much you will shoot using which codec and so on,” Weigner says. “Making clever decisions to begin with will reduce a lot of pain, headaches and ultimately cost.”

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