The Truth Behind A Star Is Born 6K Transfer
A few years ago, 4K dominated the digital cinema frontier. It raised the ante in cinematography quality, giving us some of the great films so far such as the Hancock. Then came the 6K which promises to raise the digital cinema standard to another level. And, why not. If 4k is good, 6K must be even better, right?
If you can still recall, Warner Brothers announced to transfer the 1954 Hollywood classic, A Star Is Born, to 6K digital video resolution with a plan to release it in DVD and Blu-ray Disc. A rather big leap from the 2K and 4K resolution standards, which begs the question: Why? What could be gained from the effort, which actually can take several months and a big budget to complete? Would it bring back the film to its original luster? Some experts had rather mixed opinions.
Film pundit Robert Harris who has worked on many restorations, including My Fair Lady and The Godfather, believed that the move could be horrific. “The higher the resolution, the higher the through-put, the more onerous to move data,” he was noted saying. Harris speculated that Warner Brothers may eventually down-convert the 6K scan to 4K.
Lowry Digital Image’s chief technical officer John Lowry, who has also done some 4K transfers including Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and some James Bond films, shared the same opinion. “Everything on film is captured at 4K, down to the film grain. In fact, if there is any motion, there’s even less resolution than 4K. If the camera pans, there’s less than 4K. The bottom line is this measurement of resolution is fragile.” Lowry believed that 4K is excellent enough and the 6K transfer was just an attempt at marketing position.
Why did Warner want the 6K transfer in the first place?
The fact of the matter is that 6K further pushed the ante up in digital cinematography by placing a whopping 6,144 pixels across the image horizontally giving films 100x better resolution. In fact, in the effort to make Godfather II’s image to be perfect and true to the original film as much as possible, Harris said he actually used the Northlight 6K scanner to scan the original rolls. That’s why while he was skeptical about Warner’s at first he admitted that scanning the Star at 6K is a great idea. “A Star is Born is an important film to do -- it’s one of the great films. The performances are extraordinary, and it’s something that needs to be preserved,” he says.
Meanwhile, to answer questions about Warner’s move, VP Mastering Ned Price responded that the 6K transfer is mainly for restoration and preservation reasons. “As a studio, our goal is to have a negative with the maximum amount of information to put back in the vault for archival purposes as well as to be ready for whatever new advances in optical media the future may bring,” he explained.
And the result of all those efforts? A classic film in a 1080p, 2.55:1 transfer boasting images with immense clarity and depth. Even the soundtrack was reconfigured from the original four-channel magnetic audio to 5.1 soundtrack—resulting to a truly wonderful audio that enhances viewing experience.