Over the past few years, thanks to the huge number of 4K displays, mobile phones, standalone devices like 4K cameras, and YouTube adding 4K support, the popularity of 4K resolution has grown into something that can no longer be ignored.
Yet, while some VideoHive authors have chosen to start making 4K After Effects templates, it remains to be seen whether or not it’s worth it to do so.
Is it worth upgrading my current workstation?
Most buyers of After Effects templates use them to produce content for broadcast TV, YouTube and other platforms. Then there are some buyers who simply use them to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries.
Knowing this we can assume most of our After Effects themes will end up being displayed on a TV set, PC monitor, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Can you really tell the difference?
Depending on the size of the display, viewing distance and a person’s visual acuity, everyone will have a different answer to this.
Let’s take someone who has a 25” PC monitor that supports 4K resolution, and sits 30” away from it. Are they going to notice the difference between a 4K and Full HD video? Well, we can actually figure that out using this equation:
<distance> * 2 * tan((1 / (<eyes-acuity>)) / 120) = <pixel-size>
At a distance of 30”, human eyes with 20/20 vision can barely – if at all – see a pixel that is smaller than 0.221 millimetres or 0.0087”.
30 * 2 * tan((1 / (20 / 20)) / 120) = 0.0087
Dividing each inch by the size of 1 pixel gives us the pixel per inch (ppi), (1 / 0.0087 = 115 ppi), which means 20/20 eyes require 115 ppi to see a smooth image that’s 30” away. A higher ppi will most likely make no difference as 20/20 eyes won’t be able to resolve or see more than 115 ppi on a screen that’s 30” away.
Let’s think about that logic in the context of sand on a beach. When you lay down quite close to it, you’re most likely able to see the individual particles of sand next to your chest, but it gets harder to see them at 5 or 7 feet away, and even harder or almost impossible to see them at 10 feet away.
It’s obvious that particles of sand don’t have the same size – they vary between 0.064mm and 2mm. But, we can use that previous equation (with some re-arrangements) to calculate at what distance 20/20 eyes can see a 0.4mm particle (for example), and see if this result makes sense.
<particle-size> / (2 * tan((1 / (<eyes-acuity>)) / 120)) = <distance>
0.4 / (2 * tan((1 / (20 / 20)) / 120)) ≈ 1375 mm
By looking at this equation we can estimate that to see a 0.4mm particle, your eyes must be 1375 mm or 4.5 feet or less away, assuming they are 20/20. Makes sense doesn’t it?
Now, let’s go back to our example from before; a 25” monitor supporting 4K resolution (3840×2160). Using this information we can calculate that the pixel density or ppi is 176 ppi for 4K videos, 117 ppi for WQHD videos and 88 ppi for Full HD videos.
Now, as we’ve just established, 20/20 eyes require no more than 115 ppi at 30” away, which means a normal person will detect no additional quality between 4K and WQHD videos, but they will definitely detect higher quality between Full HD and 4K/WQHD videos if they decrease the viewing distance by 5” or so, because their eyes will be able to decipher 137 ppi at 25” away from the monitor, and that is higher than the ppi of WQHD videos (117 ppi).
4K on laptops
On laptops 4K is not always as noticeable. At short viewing distances like 20” away, the viewer will be able to detect higher quality between 4K and Full HD on laptops that are bigger than, or equal to 15”. But as I’ve said, sitting 20” away from a laptop is quite close. I probably sit closer to 30” or 35” away, which means – assuming I have 20/20 vision – I would then be able to notice a reasonable difference between 4K and Full HD on laptops with at least a 20” screen. But I’m not sure how many laptops are that size these days.
4K on TVs
TVs these days are typically between 40” and 70”, and we can assume that the bigger they are the further away you should be sitting from them. Manufacturers recommend you sit at a distance of 2.5 times the diagonal of the display. So for 40” TVs, it’s recommend you sit at a distance of 8.33 feet (2.53 meters) and for 70” TVs they recommend a viewing distance of 14.5 feet (4.5 meters).
Normal eyes require no more than 34 ppi at the recommended viewing distance (8.33 feet or 100”) for 40” TVs, whereas the ppi of that TV displaying Full HD (1920×1080) videos is equal to 55.
The same thing applies to 70” TVs. The ppi of these TVs displaying the same videos is 31 whereas normal eyes can decipher no more than 20 ppi at the recommended viewing distance of 70” TVs.
To give you an idea about how close you should be to 40” and 70” TVs in order to detect higher quality between Full HD and 4K videos, for 40” TVs, you should sit at a distance of 4 feet (1.21 meters) or less, and 8 feet 2.43 meters) away or less for a 70” TV.
Replacing the particle size in the equation above with the multiplicative inverse of the ppi (or the size of one pixel) of the given TV displaying Full HD videos, gives you the maximum distance where normal eyes can see the objects that are the same size of a pixel on that given TV. So when you get closer, you’ll be able to see pixels that are smaller than the pixels of Full HD videos on that TV, and thus you’ll be able to detect higher resolution between 4K and Full HD.
To put it in another way, if you take a 70” TV displaying a Full HD video, the ppi of the TV will be 31.4. Dividing the ppi by 1 gives us the size of each pixel of that video playing on the 70” TV:
1 / 31.4 = 0.0318 inch
At this distance (110” or 9 feet), the size of the smallest pixel that normal eyes can see is the same as that of a pixel on a Full HD video playing on a 70” TV, which is 0.0318”. So, at that distance, normal eyes will most likely notice no higher quality between 4K and Full HD videos.
But, if the distance is decreased by, let’s say, 1 foot, then the size of the pixels that normal eyes could be able to see from 8 feet away would be smaller than the pixels of Full HD video on that 70” TV. Yet, the pixels of a 4K video on the same TV would still be smaller than the minimum size of what normal eyes could see at 8 feet, and thus normal eyes would be able to detect higher quality between 4K and Full HD on that 70” TV.
While sitting at such a distance from a TV could be considered ridiculously close, there are many who may well find it comfortable and more immersive. In fact, THX recommends viewing distances of 1.2 times the diagonal measurement. So, for 40” TVs, they recommend you sit 4 feet away.
The difference between Full HD and 4K at that far from a TV is not crazily impressive. Viewers would probably watch a Full HD video at that far from a TV without noticing the resolution was any better or worse. It’s really only noticeable when it comes to comparing 4K and Full HD videos.
4K on smartphones
4K on smartphones is absolutely worthless. Let’s assume there is a smartphone that supports 4K resolution (3840 x 2160) that has a 6” screen, meaning for 4K, pixels per inch would be 734 versus 367 for Full HD.
In order for someone with 20/20 vision to be able to decipher 367 ppi and notice the difference between Full HD and 4K, one would have to hold the phone 8 or 9 inches (20-23 centimeters) from their eyes; a distance so small the human eye would struggle to focus on the object at hand. If someone actually tried using a mobile phone from that distance for an extended period of time, their eyes would be exhausted.
For a mobile user to truly benefit from 4K resolution, they would need to have a device with a screen size of 10 to 11 inches, which is less of a phone and more of a tablet.
4K on tablets
4K resolution is only slightly more noticeable on tablets, but a lot of tablets don’t even support Full HD resolution let alone 4K. If your user base is viewing videos on a screen this size, producing 4K templates may be something to consider, but it will be a while before that high of a resolution is standard or even widely adopted in this market.
Despite it all, I think 4K will eventually take the place of Full HD, potentially in a couple of years.
Recently Sony have released the Xperia Z5 Premium, which comes with a 4K screen. And, surely Apple, Samsung, LG and other manufacturers will eventually follow-suit. But it looks like that’s still quite awhile away.
So while it’s good to look to the future, right now all I can say is that deciding whether or not you should go 4K or not with your After Effects templates comes down to what your audience uses them for.
If your customers are simply planning to upload their content to YouTube, where more than 50% of views are from mobile devices, then you should probably go Full HD. Whereas, if your audience uses your templates for TV shows and things viewed on a big screen, it probably can’t hurt to offer them in 4K, as long as you’re still offering a Full HD version for those who aren’t as far ahead.
There you’ll have one foot in the future for those who are geared up and ready to go 4K, while maintaining your presence in the current, more popular Full HD market, meaning you won’t lose out on potential buyers who can’t run 4K on their machines.
The decision is yours!