RED, the company whose 4K-capable ‘RED One’ camera — that’s 4,096 by 2,160 pixels — became one of the most lusted after cameras of recent memory last year, has announced the ‘Scarlet,’ a hand-held Flash-memory based camcorder capable of a remarkable 3K resolution at 120 frames per second. They’ve stated they intend for it to sell for under $3,000. That means the relatively small Scarlet — pictured above both naked and with lots of accessories bolted on — will be capable of shoot video worthy of projection in digital cinemas, which mostly top out at around 4K these days (although typically only at 24FPS).
RED also announced the “Epic,” a new camera that will be capable of 5K resolution. Both cameras will be available in 2009.
Resolution isn’t the end-all, be-all of digital cinema, though. Variety recently ran a fascinating interview with James Cameron in which the director detailed the technology behind his upcoming 3D movie ‘Avatar,’ and why resolution isn’t as important for providing lifelike cinema experiences as frame rate can be.
But 4K doesn’t solve the curse of 24 frames per second. In fact it tends to stand in the way of the solutions to that more fundamental problem. The NBA execs made a bold decision to do the All Star Game 3-D simulcast at 60 frames per second, because they didn’t like the judder. The effect of the high-frame-rate 3-D was visually astonishing, a huge crowdpleaser.
I would vastly prefer to see 2K/48 frames per second as a new display standard, than 4K/24 frames per second. This would mean shooting movies at 48 fps, which the digital cameras can easily accommodate. Film cameras can run that fast, but stock costs would go up. However, that could be offset by shooting 3-perf, or even 2-perf, because you’d get the resolution back through the higher display rate. The 48 fps negative or digital master can be skip-printed to generate a 24 fps 35mm DI negative for making release prints, so 48 is the magic number because it remains compatible with the film-based platform which will still be with us for some time, especially internationally. 30 and 60 fps are out for that reason. Anyway the benefit of 30 is not great enough to be worth the effort, especially when 48 is so easy to achieve. SMPTE tests done about 15 years ago showed that above 48 frames the returns diminish dramatically, and 60 fps is overkill. So 48 is the magic number.
I was still having a hard time visualizing all these resolutions, so I decided just to make myself a reference chart all the way from the highest resolution standards down to some of the lowest of yore. I left out most the common 4:3 resolutions because they were just cluttering stuff up. I also suspect that the “5K/4K/3K” used in my chart are not the exact same ones that RED is claiming to support, as there are different formats of digital cinema. I pulled most of my numbers from Wikipedia‘s list of common resolutions.
If you’d like to look at the graphic in a 1:1 pixel version, there is a full-sized 316KB PNG available for download. Just remember: it’s 7,000+ pixels wide, so your browser might choke on it if it’s a creaky old ship.