03/20/2023

Full HD in a 4K World

Have you not yet upgraded to the latest 8k camera? Don't be so hard on yourself - there's no shame in Full HD.

The Case for 1080p

It wasn’t long ago that 1080p, or “Full HD” was the absolute gold standard of video resolution. Fast forward to 2023, and it’s basically viewed as a half-step above watching a 1990’s CRT TV, but without the cool factor. In a world focused on 4k as a minimum while hurdling toward 6k, 8k and beyond, could there still be a place for 1080p? I say yes. 

Privacy, Please

Have you ever watched the news on a large screen in 4k? It can get downright disgusting when you catch a little too much detail on those talking heads. Lipstick on teeth, stray ear hair, the weird line between natural skin and caked on TV makeup – it can be all too easy to lose the little mysteries that help you escape your real life. 

1080p can mask unsettling details and still provide a really beautiful picture

On the other side of that 4k conundrum: if you’re the one on film, do you want people seeing all of what life has thrown your way? Not me. 

Full HD in a 4K World 1

1080p can mask a bit of that detail, while still providing a really beautiful picture. Sometimes you just want to take beauty as it is without subjecting it to a microscope. 

Comfort Over Clinical

This isn’t a totally unique take from the point above, but let me take you on a little detour to create some separation. 

I’ve always had an aversion to super clean digital audio – I just have a soft spot for the warmth, hisses, crackles and imperfections of analog and tube sound. While digital is technically “better” due to its incredible cleanliness (and convenience compared to the upkeep of old junk), It’s just so sterile sometimes. So what’s the answer to this clinical, lifeless perfection? Add in some digital simulated imperfections! 

A good example of what I’m talking about can be found in CDs vs vinyl records. There were so many benefits to CDs over vinyl, but there’s just something about that snap, crackle and pop of a record that keeps people coming back for more. In fact, vinyl is booming right now. But when’s the last time you bought a CD?

The same goes for video – sometimes that extra clinical detail from 4k and above just becomes too “clean.” Of course, you can digitally ding-up your 4k image to remove some of that detail, but why bother when you could just film in 1080p to begin with? 

File Flexibility

If you’ve ever worked with video files, you’ll know what a joy 1080p is to work with compared to 4k or 6k. Don’t even get me started on ProRes Raw…. too late.

1080p vs. ProRes 

I have a really interesting older cinema camera – a Sony FS700r. Internally, it can only record up to 1080p (but in my opinion, it’s a really nice 1080p), but slap on an external recorder like an Atomos Shogun, and it can simultaneously record in ProRes Raw. A few months ago, I used this camera to film a brand discovery workshop with a client. Over the course of several hours, my 1080p footage came out to about 64GB of files. The ProRes? 940GB. 

Yes, the ProRes footage looked better, with more detail and greater depth of color when viewed side-by-side, but definitely not 15 times better. I could 100% see the merit if you were filming closeups of exotic, colorful animals, but for normal stuff? No thnx.

Look, it’s hard to argue against 4k as being “better” than 1080p – there’s just more flexibility with 4k in terms of your ability to zoom in, pull from additional details, and even scale down to a higher-quality 1080p than native full-HD. But let’s not totally discount 1080p for now. As far as I’m concerned, it’s got a whole lot of life left. 

At the end of the day, story trumps resolution.

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