Academy blog

Going 4K – Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

By 2020, online video will take up more than 80% of online traffic. That means for every person reading an article, there will be 4 people viewing video through platforms like Youtube, Netflix and OTT services. Making your video content stand out above the rest is already an incredibly difficult task that requires a mix of great content and fantastic delivery, but soon it’s going to be even harder.

Delivering Content

In terms of creating content, following user trends and creating dynamic and engaging content is a challenge, a challenge that involves taking risks, spending money to make money and predicting user demand. Delivering content, however, depends solely on how that content goes from your servers to your end-users. This means making efforts to keep you buffer ratio and play failures as low as possible while also maintaining a great image quality.

For years, 1080p (1920 x 1080 resolution) has been the broadcast standard and what is expected from audiences. It is how we understand the difference between amateur and professional footage and how we have come to know all video both online and offline. But over the past decade, things have changed and you can now make feature films and stream live on a mobile phone or tablet. This has put pressure on the video industry to push things up a level to 4K (3840 x 2160 resolution).

What is 4K?

By now, it’s a term we’ve all come to know, but what does it really mean?

Resolution 720p 1080p 4K
Pixel ratio 1280 x 720 1920 x 1080 3840 x 2160
Total Pixels 921,600 2.1 million pixels 8.3 million

Put simply, 4K is the biggest image available that is widely used on both streaming and satellite video platforms, and the bigger the image, the better the quality.

The market is saturated with 1080p HD video and 4K is what is helping some businesses make their content stand out. The technology garners attention and can be used as a Unique Selling Point (USP) to help your marketing team sell your content. 4K is what adds that extra color and boost in detail that keeps customers attention.

So, why isn’t 4K used by everyone and why should you start making the most of the technology? Well, for starters, it’s expensive. Not only to film but to edit, keep on servers and deliver to end-users. This, in addition to some speculation about whether 4K makes a difference, is what makes going 4K a businesses-specific option.

Resolution options with NPAW

4K Alignment

The most important thing to know about 4K is that for the end-user to fully benefit from the technology, every component of the process must be able to process 4K footage.

For example, if a user wants to watch a show in 4K, they must first have access to a screen that is capable of processing 4K image quality. Next, they must be have access to a service either online or through their television that filmed their content in 4K. Lastly, that service must have their content stored, processed and delivered through servers and CDNs which are capable of producing the image without tampering with the quality.

If, for example, someone tries to watch 4K footage on a screen which is only capable of showing 1080P, this content is then going to be compressed automatically and displayed in a lower quality.

Can you handle it?

So, if you’re deciding whether or not to move up to 4K, it’d be best to check how many of your users are capable of making the most out of this technology. One way to do this would be to use a video analytics solution like YOUBORA which is capable of showing you the bitrate of your users and whether they’re running content on internet powerful enough to handle high-quality footage without buffer or play failures. If you already have a 4K option and want to see how it’s performing, this is also a great way to check this.

What about Bitrate

While resolution is the size of the video, bitrate is the amount of data required to encode a single second of video. From a streaming perspective, the higher the bitrate, the higher the quality, and the more bandwidth it will require. This ties in with what was mentioned above when looking into implementing 4K technology.

While many people suggest using 4Mbps to 8Mbps for 1080p HD video, it would be more like 35 – 48Mbps for 4K footage. This is a huge jump in required bandwidth and could be the decider for you when contemplating implementing a 4K content strategy.

Bitrate, however, isn’t such a linear concept. there are two different kinds of bitrate for you to consider:

Constant Bitrate (CBR)

Constant bitrate means that no matter what point in the video the user is at, the amount of bandwidth it requires will remain the same. The issue with this is that it cannot compensate for more detailed scenes, so users will likely be experiencing buffer or play failure. In addition, when there’s a very still scene with minimal detail it is consuming bandwidth that it isn’t using, therefore wasting it.

Variable Bitrate (VBR)

The much more popular choice for broadcasters and OTT services, this method of encoding data adapts to the situation and uses its versatility to push and pull the bandwidth as is necessary to make sure it only requires the bandwidth necessary to show the content in the best quality.

Is it worth it?

Resolution vs user experience

Using a great image from Carlton Bale, we can see a great illustration of how we can measure the effect of 4K outside of data we can control – how distance from the screen inhibits the power of 4K footage.

what this image tells us is that if your viewers are watching gigantic screens or high powered laptops, then yes, 4K is certainly a way to let your users know they’re getting the best quality content delivery available. However, if your users are mainly accessing your content on small screens, then 4K isn’t going to make as much of a difference.

As with most optional technology, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it entirely depends on your company’s user-base to dictate whether it’s worth implementing 4K technology.

The video team at NPAW have developed a highly innovative renditions dashboard, capable of answering questions like – how can I know if my investment in 4K resolution is a worthwhile investment? Renditions dashboard allows you to track and optimize your renditions strategy (with impact on costs) to find a balance between quality and audience engagement.

Max Gayler on June 14th 2018

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