Jul 9, 2010

YouTube's Hitting Puberty With 4K- Or At Least Pretending So.

What's bigger than 1080p? 4K video comes to YouTube: "Today at the VidCon 2010 conference, we announced support for videos shot in 4K (a reference resolution of 4096 x 3072), meaning that now we support original video resolution from 360p all the way up to 4096p. To give some perspective on the size of 4K, the ideal screen size for a 4K video is 25 feet; IMAX movies are projected through two 2k resolution projectors.
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For those who didn't have to endure film school, the debate of resolution has been going on for years. However, some of the biggest film school centerfolds, David Fincher and James Cameron, have gone on record saying you don't even need 2K for theatrical projection. So other than an arms race Google is playing with itself, what's the point?

I believe that for the first four years, YouTube was the public's playground and too juvenile for the "big boys," like broadcast TV and motion pictures. For the last two years, YouTube's been trying to "legitimize" itself by collaborating with the big boys: record labels, TV syndicates, and putting on live shows. And as a result, you've got a very unusual vacuum happening in the media industry: film and television studios are cutting down their costs for production to make content more internet-friendly (social media being the key buzz), but are not putting that money into the internet (web-celebrities, integration with social networks). This is like handing your kids $100 but telling them they can't spend it or save it and taking the money back at the end of the day because they didn't do anything.

Unfortunately there's also still a stigma about online video being secondary to film and television. LisaNova, one of the biggest videomakers on YouTube, acted on MadTV for only four episodes. Lonelygirl15 stopped after it was revealed the character was fake (which seemed like as perfect a time as ever to expand the story). Gemini Division was a massive loss, and I can't even remember the name of the online show that was re-broadcasted on ABC for a single episode.

But on the other end, Fred Figglehorn is as popular as ever, and YouTube just announced a collaboration with Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald to make a UGC film for Sundance. They won their case against Viacom (showing evidence that they make an effort to take down infringing content), and their Rental store is stable (maybe not "A" list selection, but some were 2010 Oscar winners). They've hosted several live music concerts, and regularly perform interviews at the White House.

Finally, this was easily the most technologically biggest week for YouTube (at least in public announcements): 4K video streams that rival theatre projection (the big), YouTube Leanback to exercise their Google TV medium (the medium), and updated mobile streaming (the small), all announced this week (the last two on the same day).

But what is still confusing is why 4K? YouTube would argue, it's not for us to decide, give users the option and let them play with it. Makes sense. It was still this year I believed "there's no point in streaming 1080p unless you're getting into hardware." I still believe that, but I'm surprised how quickly I came to judge a YouTube video if it doesn't have a 1080p option (though I rarely even watch 720p because of slow playback). And that's the problem I have with streaming such a massive video: you can't even download the 4K file to ensure clean playback on your home devices. If the WebM camp thought they were facing a lot of fire with people noticing compression artifacts, they're in for a world of pain for service now.

Or maybe that's why Google's been wanting to lay fiber in cities: their feeding a number race no one else is bothering to compete with.