4K Church

When I talk to tech-artist friends about 4K video for church productions I usually get one of the following responses:

[Me] “So what do you think about 4K?”
[Church Tech Friend #1] {No verbal response. Eyes roll upwards and backwards into the head}

[Me] “Do you see yourself ever upgrading your system to 4K in the future?”
[Church Tech Friend #2] “Sure, right after we go 3D!”

[Me] “Would a 4K work-flow help make your job easier and allow you to produce a substantially more cost-effective product?”
[Church Tech Friend #3] {Uncontrolled laughter}

Granted, some of the churches represented by these tech-artists are still shooting SD. Some are still using analog composite video or DV infrastructures. An upgrade to even HD may seem years away. So when I ask them what they think about 4K, they may feel I might as well be asking them what they think about human intergalactic deep space travel. Because in their view, 4K’s use in their church and intergalactic deep space travel will probably occur around the same time.

So why write a blog post about 4K in the Church?

First off, 4K production (image capture at approximately 4096×2160 regardless of whether the deliverable is 4096×2160, 3840×2160, 1998×1080 2K, 1920×1080 HD or SD),  and eventually Ultra HD distribution (when broadcasters, cable systems and internet content delivery networks start transmitting 3,840×2,160) is right around the corner.  NHK Japan has already announced that they will be producing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 8K! So whether we like it or not, 4K is coming.  I think we in the church can choose to ignore it, or we can learn now how to leverage it so when the prices fall to the point where it is cost-effective we are ready to fully implement 4K for the greatest Kingdom impact.

One of the neat things I get to do in my day-job is experiment with new technologies. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of research and testing of work-flows incorporating 4K acquisition and cameras into entertainment specials alongside standard 2/3” HD cameras where the end result will be a 1920×1080 HD deliverable.  This week I am working on a concert with ten standard 2/3” HD cameras, one 4K compressed and one 2K camera. I am also consulting on a fashion show shooting next week with ten 2/3” HD cameras, one 4K RAW camera and four Super35mm shallow DoF 1920×1080 HD cameras.

After preparing for these shoots and others and seeing what 4K technology can do now as well as what is on the horizon, I am convinced that 4K production could be biggest game-changer we’ve seen in many years! For those doing video production in the Church, once the new technology has been monetized and prices begin to fall I predict 4K, 8K, etc., will allow us to do things in the Church never dreamed of before, less expensively than before, with fewer distractions to our on-site audience.  What follows is a glimpse into that future…


Let’s set the foundation we’re working from.  For a few years now some feature films, shorts, commercials and narrative storytelling projects have shot 4K. Recently some churches have starting using 4K for things like interviews and announcements. The vast majority of these shoots, both in the church and in the secular marketplace are not shooting in 4K because they want a 4K deliverable, but instead they are acquiring in 4K for a 1920×1080 HD (or 1.85 aspect ratio 2K) deliverable final product.

Now let’s look at a typical church interview pre-tape. For this type of shoot it’s fairly normal to set-up a “A” camera on the talent and a “B” camera to simultaneously shoot cut-aways with a different field-of-view than the “A” camera is giving us. For these non-live applications the flexibility the additional field-of-view offers by shooting with the “B” camera can mean the difference between an easy edit or a difficult one, an esthetically pleasing cut or a fairly rough one. However from a cost, complexity and media management perspective, even if you only have one camera operator on-set operating both “A” and “B” cameras, you will still be doubling the amount of camera gear needed and acquisition files going to post if not shooting 4K.

With 4K acquisition however using only one camera you can frame a master-shot at your widest required field-of-view.  If you need that wide field-of-view in your edit you’ll simply down-rez the total image in post to 1920×1080 HD.  Need a secondary (tighter) field-of-view? Crop the 4K image to a field-of-view tighter than the original 4096×2160 (but equal to or greater than 1920×1080). Need a third field-of-view? Repeat the steps above. Here are some examples of how this works:

Full frame 4K acquisition image cropped to 1920x1080 HD
Full frame 4K acquisition image down-rezed to 1920×1080 HD

In the first image we see a 1920×1080 HD four-shot down-rezed from a 4K acquisition of the same field-of-view.  All we’ve done is change the resolution.  The field-of-view is (practically) unchanged.

50% zoom from 4K image resulting in a 1920x1080 HD crop
50% zoom from 4K image resulting in a 1920×1080 HD crop

In the second image we’ve decided to crop the original 4K four-shot to a tight two-shot of the girls on the left.  The edit system has performed a 50% zoom from the original 4K image resulting in a image which is still 1920×1080 HD.

2013-09-06-FCRetreat_TD 055 HD crop2
50% zoom from 4K image resulting in a 1920×1080 HD crop

In the third image we’ve decided to crop the original 4K four-shot to a tight two-shot of the man and the boy on the right.  The edit system has again performed a 50% zoom from the original 4K image resulting in a image which is still 1920×1080 HD.

Now, your edit system capability with these cropped 1920×1080 HD images may allow more than simple cuts and dissolves between the various fields-of-view.  We’ve tested Avid’s Frameflex with very cool results! Want the camera to (virtually) pan from the two-shot of the two girls to the two shot of the guys? Frameflex can do that (exactly when you want, more accurately than a cameraman can live)!  Want to have the camera virtually push (zoom) in from the four-shot of the entire group to a two shot? Frameflex can do that too!

Yes, but what about live video?

Shown at the BIRTV 2013 trade show in Beijing and to be shipping by 2014, Sony demonstrated a fiber optic CCU system for their PMW-F55 4K camera. Although that in and of itself is very cool (single SMPTE cable 2000m connectivity, return video, tally, comms, timecode, paint control), they also demonstrated a technology whereby their BPU-4000 processor can manipulate and crop a 4K image to 1920×1080 HD “live” on air. That’s right, not in post! Live!

This essential means that the camera operator could frame one field-of-view (typically a wider field-of-view) and a technician in the control room can simultaneously crop a second field-of-view in 1920×1080 HD. Once available, we’ll be able to achieve TWO fields-of-view, live, all from one camera, from just one camera position and with just one camera operator (in the house). In applications where there is sensitivity regarding how much gear, technology and crew is visible to the audience, or sensitivity to seat kills, we can now achieve multiple simultaneous fields-of-view with minimal equipment and staff visible.

The next step will be to allow the camera operator himself to frame the two 1920×1080 HD fields-of-view at the camera itself. I anticipate the cameraman will use his pan/tilt head to frame the tight 1920×1080 HD crop, and the 4K full frame will fall wherever the camera operator chooses via a joystick on the pan-handle placing the “loose follow” shot field-of-view. In this application we may also see two viewfinders on a (studio configuration) camera. One showing the camera operators’ tight 1920×1080 HD crop, the second showing his (pan-handle joystick controlled) loose follow.


Stitching is a technology on the horizon allowing producers to set-up multiple locked-off 4K cameras, framing the entire stage or sports field with slightly over-lapping 4K images. A processing unit then “stitches” the multiple 4K images into one super high resolution video image (at 8192×2160 if two 4K images horizontal, 12,288×2160 if three 4K images horizontal, 12,288×4320 if three 4K images horizontal by two vertical, etc.).  The processing unit then allows an operator in the control room to create a cropped 1920×1080 HD image (or multiple simultaneous images) out of any part of the whole stitched super high resolution frame. Live!

An application for churches might be to set-up two or three unmanned locked-off 4K cameras in the back of the house whose fields-of-view cover your entire stage. Super telephoto lenses will not be as required for close-up fields-of-view as the crop from the stitched cameras do not require them. Now, as everything on the stage is already being captured in a super high resolution image, an operator in the control room can simply choose what part of the total frame he wants to send out as 1920×1080 HD to I-mag screens or a web stream, all in a very similar fashion to how churches currently use PTZ cameras, but without the need for actual PTZ cameras and heads, without the need to physically pan or zoom the actual cameras, without camera operators in the house (at this position) and without the need for longer lenses.  A recording of the super high resolution stitched image will allow you to re-edit in post (if you wish) as if you had individual camera isos, all originating from the one data file.

In the words of Arthur C. Clarke, British science fiction and science writer, undersea explorer, television host and inventor, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Yes, maybe 4K in your church seems like science fiction however when I was a staff Media Director at a church, video cameras had pick-up tubes, all audio systems were analog and editing a radio show required a china pencil and a razor blade. If someone had told me that video cameras would now have chips, digital audio consoles would allow scene recalls and have built-in effects processing and radio show edits would be done on a laptop computer; I would have rolled my eyes, said, “sure, right after we go 3D” and laughed uncontrollably.


Photo Attribution: Steve Kelly

  • Abi León

    I read this article and here we are two years later. Still the church has not adopted 4K. Fear of irrelevance is the primary reason for the church not adopting technologies. I always state that when Walmart starts offering some new-ish tech to the masses you can believe it is now a standard technology. Great job on the article. I appreciate your forethought. I’d like to know what one would be using in the control room to capture the multiple shots? Is the signal split a few ways?

    • Abi, thank you for your comment.

      For many churches, the primary use of their video technology is switching multi-camera live for I-mag, or webcast (including VOD) or both. Unlike single camera narrative, commercial and feature film work; multi-camera is an area where 4K’s roll-out has been slow; not just in the church but in the secular marketplace as well. It is coming however.

      “I’d like to know what one would be using in the control room to capture the multiple shots? Is the signal split a few ways?”

      In regard to live-crop? Yes, I would envision one input/monitor-wall-monitor/etc. for the full frame image; and one simultaneous input/monitor-wall-monitor/etc. for the live-cropped image; for each physical camera in the house.