RED Scarlet 3K camcorder, James Cameron on the future of digital cinema, and trying to grok all these pixels

red-scarlet.jpg

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.

resolutions_bbg_small.png

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.

[via Uncrate]

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18 Responses to RED Scarlet 3K camcorder, James Cameron on the future of digital cinema, and trying to grok all these pixels

  1. Regis says:

    “Many people don’t realize that this is exactly what causes a lot of old newsreels and silent footage to have that speeded up look: it was filmed at 16 fps. The equipment used to show it now usually can’t do 16, so it plays at 24 fps,”

    48fps is evenly divisible by 16fps, so those old newsreels would again be viewable at normal speed, without the jerkiness caused by a 16fps->24fps conversion.

  2. neildp says:

    NTSC DVD resolution should be 720×480 not 768×480, though I suppose that once we all have OLED WHUXGA displays DVDs will be woefully inadequate

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this chart; I’d been looking for this for a while now.

  4. Anonymous says:

    How does this table relate to a frame created by transferring 35mm, super 16 or standard 16mm film? The judder problem hardly exists with film at 24 fps

  5. Lonin says:

    So when do we get our WHUXGA Super-Ultra-ReallyTru-HD displays? I bet American Idol will look amazing.

  6. El Mariachi says:

    Is there any good reason resolution standards are still this ridiculous alphabet soup? I remember people getting confused when it was just CGA/VGA/XGA. What’s the advantage to calling it WQSXGA instead of simply “3200 x 2048,” particularly when 95% of the time it’s referenced it has to be suffixed with the numerical resolution anyway?

  7. bully says:

    I have an idea the frame rate was originally determined by our brains.i.e. We cannot register individual images that occur more quickly than somewhere around 18 per second.
    Thats why 16FPS was borderline and appeared jerky to some brains.

    Building equipment that worked at 24fps etc was probably the most convenient compromise

  8. bully says:

    By the Bye,
    Frame rates now depend on calculating and processing power.
    The release of the new FULL frame DSLRs will prove the next revolutionary step in Video making. The Artistic possibilities introduced by full frame chips , approximately 10 times the surface area of conventional video chips employed in the industry, the huge inventory of lenses already available for this format and all the science going into image processing is going to change our world. Look to this innovation to impact on our whole world; leisure, pleasure and the economy.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I imagine 48fps skip-printed to 24fps will look pretty choppy, too, since the shutter speeds will have to be much higher than if you were shooting 24fps… this essentially leads to a stroboscopic effect, kind of like you might see in some of the first zombie-attack scenes in 28 days later.

    Personally, I think the 24fps look is one of the defining aspect of cinema. No, it’s not as smooth as TV, but the motion blur that slow shutter-speeds afford give film (and 24p video) a very distinctive look. Sure, 24fps isn’t very good for sports and things like that, but that’s not cinema is really designed for. I don’t know if there have been a lot of complaints over the past century about how choppy films look in theaters, and I suspect many people would be a lot happier if we had 24p video monitors as opposed to 48 or 120fps cameras. Even 25p PAL and its 4% speedup would be visually preferable to our 3/2 pulldown.

  10. John Brownlee says:

    “Many people don’t realize that this is exactly what causes a lot of old newsreels and silent footage to have that speeded up look: it was filmed at 16 fps. The equipment used to show it now usually can’t do 16, so it plays at 24 fps, and is thus sped up — people walking funny, waving their arms erratically, and so on. Quite funny, and no, that’s not how people would have seen it back in the day.”

    Additionally, most projectors up until the sound era weren’t motorized, they were hand-cranked. It was the need to sync sound with film that made them standardize.

  11. Anonymous says:

    #11:

    48fps is the camera capture rate, not the projection rate. Cameron is advocating 48fps because it would be backwards compatible with current 24fps projectors by simply projecting every other frame (though this would lead to a noticeable stroboscopic effect, which would be very problematic).

    Old movies filmed at frame rates other than 24fps (16fps was never a real standard, as many films were captured at speeds like 18fps [Nosferatu], 26fps [The General], or whatever they felt like, with accompanying notes for the projectionist regarding the best speed to run the projector at), can be projected at their correct speeds; the real problem is when you are combining filmstrips that have been captured at differing frame rates. You can set the projector up for 24fps or for 16fps, but you can’t switch between the two frame rates in the middle.

    Of course, the advent of 48fps projectors will make it possible to combine 48fps film with 16fps and 24fps material by simply step-printing the 16 and 24fps film. Currently, if you’re producing something on NTSC video, it is easy to to incorporate 16fps material and have it run at approximately the correct speed by simply capturing each frame with 4 interlaced fields, which essentially means the 16fps material will be televised at 15fps, which is close enough.

  12. toxonix says:

    So if a camera can only flip frames at 24 fps, what happens when you want to do time based effects in post? Its gonna look pretty choppy.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Video format comparison from standard definition to RED 4k

    http://www.mammothhd.com/MHD_compformat2.html

    For whoever needs more info.

  14. Anonymous says:

    actually, given that a typical scene will use at least 1/60th or faster for the shutter speed of the exposure, downsizing 48fps to 24fps wouldn’t make any difference in the look of the film in terms of choppiness, it’ll still b identical exposure, just different frame rate.

  15. Anonymous says:

    They are really pushing the pre-release of the Scarlet camera. Viral videos disguised as a mini tv series have hit the web. The series is called “Scarlet”.

  16. Belarius says:

    I took the liberty of converting the graph above into one with no overlap (albeit losing the aspect ratio in the process)

  17. Joel Johnson says:

    @Belarius: Cool!

  18. Fnarf says:

    Many people don’t realize that this is exactly what causes a lot of old newsreels and silent footage to have that speeded up look: it was filmed at 16 fps. The equipment used to show it now usually can’t do 16, so it plays at 24 fps, and is thus sped up — people walking funny, waving their arms erratically, and so on. Quite funny, and no, that’s not how people would have seen it back in the day.

    I foresee some similar (but even worse) problems with old movies and DVDs and so forth after a new 48 fps standard gets established, and crappy players lose the ability to set the playback rate.

    In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big push by the media companies to make it ILLEGAL to play back at 24 fps after a while, requiring you to buy all new media. That’s been their modus operandi for the past 100 years or so.

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