If ever you needed proof that 4K has moved from an experimental technology to the mainstream, it arrived this September in the form of two announcements from Apple.
Firstly, Apple began rolling out 4K HDR content on iTunes mid-month, in the United States and other countries. Then a week later, it announced a major update to Apple TV, introducing 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) support for the first time.
Along with 4K-capable apps from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, consumers now have a number of affordable options for streaming 4K content to their smart TVs. But 4K isn’t just about films and broadcast shows.
With the latest laptops, tablets and even smartphones now featuring 4K screens and higher, consumers will increasingly be expecting all their multimedia content to be available at super-high resolution.
In this post, we look at what this means for designers and creative agencies going into 2018 and beyond...
01. 4K will become the norm for video
Even though it seems we’ve only just got used to HD, 4K is going to become the norm for video in 2018, whether we’re talking about movies, TV shows, commercials or social media campaigns. With the younger generation increasingly able to film their own 4K footage on the latest smartphones and sports cameras, they’re certainly not going to accept anything less from the professionals.
And there are no exceptions, it seems. For example, when Shynola was asked to produce a credit sequence for Netflix’s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) – a drama inspired by a 1980s TV show – it was asked to make a title sequence “that looks like it’s in 4K but other than that could have come straight from the original show”, it told Creative Review.
When even something that sets out to look purposely old-fashioned has to be in 4K, it’s a clear sign that it’s become the industry standard.
02. Larger screens will provide more opportunities for innovation
There was once a time when, if you showed video on a very large screen, it looked blurry and unprofessional. But the rise of 4K means it’s possible to show pin-sharp images on larger and larger screens, and the industry is quickly taking advantage.
One example is Samsung’s gallery at the recent IFA Berlin trade show, featuring some of the world’s best works of art displayed on 4K HDR screens.
As you can see in the video above, they did this by creating scenes from the Red Planet in Unreal Engine 4, across a ‘driveable area’ of 250 square miles. They then rendered that in real-time on the bus using a combination of a GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer and laser surface velocimeter.
Finally, they used specially 84-inch, 4K resolution screens backed by a layer of switchable film, allowing them to broadcast VR footage on to the glass.
03. Billboards will become more like Blade Runner
If you think 84-inch screens sound big, wait until the forthcoming revamp of Piccadilly Lights – the iconic advertising space in central London – is revealed this autumn.
The new 790sq m screen will be the largest in Europe, and will be linked to a high-speed fibre Wi-Fi network, giving brands an easy way to display 4K content, including live video streaming and real time social media feeds.
We’ll have to wait and see what that looks like, but it all sounds very Blade Runner.
And it’s not just Londoners who will benefit from 4K big-screen advertising. Outdoor advertising company JCDecaux, for example, has announced it is updating its digital billboards across the UK to 4K.
04. Social media will push 4K forward
The last couple of years have seen Twitter and Facebook make a big play for the future of video viewing.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has tried to reinvent the social network as a video platform, including high-profile deals to stream Thursday night NFL games. Meanwhile, Facebook has doubled down on its Facebook Live strategy, funding its own shows and exclusives from media partners.
4K is becoming an increasingly important weapon in this battle, most notably shown in Facebook’s announcement in July that you can now live-stream 360-degree video on Facebook in up to 4K resolution. That's along with The Live 360 Ready Program, a list of third-party 360-degree cameras and software solutions verified by Facebook.
With these two companies continuing to wrest market dominance from the likes of Amazon and Netflix, expect much more technical and creative innovation to come in 2018.
05. Websites will need to be 4K ready too
As more and more people start viewing websites on 4K screens, from smartphones to laptops to smart TVs, web designers will need to make sure their designs will responsively adapt to such devices.
That’s partly about adherence to general responsible web design principles, such as using vector images wherever possible, but there are also other concerns relating to things like larger screen widths. Learn more by following our 4 tips for designing a 4K-ready website.
06. 4K will take over gaming
4K gaming has been a reality on the PC for some time now, albeit for those with a 4K monitor and a powerful enough desktop computer, equipped with the latest Nvidia GeForce GTX 10-series and AMD Radeon RX Vega graphics cards.
But in 2018, 4K will extend its takeover of the gaming world by colonising the console.
Sony has been in the forefront of this revolution with the PS4 Pro, launched last November. This, although not offering ‘native 4K’, uses a clever form of upscaling to create 4K images.
But all that will soon be eclipsed by the release of the Xbox One X, unveiled this July and slated for a November release, which will enable games to be rendered at true 4K resolution.
07. Marketing 4K will require creative solutions
4K video may now be the norm, but how do you market it to a public who have only just got used to 1080p? While the jump from VHS to DVD, for example, was pretty revolutionary, the move from HD to 4K is a little more evolutionary, so to visually sell the benefits of expensive 4K tech demands a huge amount of creativity and imagination.
One interesting approach can be seen in the explosive ad for the Xbox One X, which had gamers drooling at E3 this year. Created by Ayzenberg Group, it begins by focusing on the actual tech inside the console, then we see these components morph into luminous pixel threads that gradually combine to immerse the player in a virtual world. Pretty stirring stuff, in short, whatever type of screen it’s viewed on.
08. We’ll need to start thinking about 8K
While 4K has now entered the mainstream, things won’t stop there. The next stage of the resolution revolution lies in 8K, the current highest definition standard.
8K UHD has two times the horizontal and vertical resolution of the 4K UHD, with four times as many pixels overall, or 16 times as many pixels as Full HD.
Right now, 8K resolution is mainly used as a way of creating 4K footage through cropping techniques and/or downsampling techniques. And while 8K cameras have been pretty rare until now, they’re likely to become increasingly available, with Sony unveiling its first 8K camera, the UHC-8300, at IBC 2017. Watch this space...