LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sony Corp. is taking a deeper dive into ultrahigh-definition video as it comes out Friday with "After Earth," the first of Sony's three movies this year both shot and presented in the emerging 4K digital format. At a screening for journalists, I got a close-up look at even the pores on Will Smith's face as details were rendered with greater clarity on the big screen.
Sony and other consumer electronics makers are betting that 4K images will become the new standard, prompting consumers to buy fancier TVs just as they did when high definition, or HD, rolled out over the past decade. It could also entice more people to buy movie tickets to see for themselves what the super-clear format is like.
But the more detailed images present a host of problems. They use four times the number of pixels as the current HD standard, which results in larger data files. Budget-strapped digital effects companies are having trouble handling all that data. The cost and time to deal with the extra visual information means the majority of the special effects shots in "After Earth" — comprising about a third of all the shots in the movie — were actually worked on in lower-resolution HD.
At the screening I attended, I could see details I've never noticed before — the actors' tiny skin imperfections, or Smith's salt-and-pepper whiskers. In a distant shot of Smith's son Jaden running down a riverbed, I was struck by how many small rocks were defined clearly from such a distance. Yet other shots that included computer-generated cityscapes or otherworldly creatures looked less sharp. I was sitting in the seventh row — close enough to tell the difference. If you sit at the back of a theater, you might not be able to tell the difference between 4K and HD.