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Does film offer more or less resolution than HDTV?

With HDTV becoming more popular, a lot of talk has been going around about the things you see that were never visible before. Stars that were thought to have perfect looks now show various imperfections. In other words, they look like people. To make matters worse, a poor makeup job can compound the problem.

The question is, if film offers more resolution than HDTV, why haven't we seen this before? The answer is simple: it's all about knowing your medium.

Film does offer more resolution, and the people who work on movies know this. Techniques for makeup, set design, lighting and special effects are different than what have always been used for TV. With film, attention to detail is very important. However, for years, it was accepted that the low image quality of TV hid a lot of things. If someone had a large blemish, add more makeup. Small skin imperfections often hid themselves with little touch up work. Small details (like a "dead" person breathing) were never a problem. This allowed a lot of cost-saving shortcuts movies didn't need to take. Now these shortcuts are revealing themselves in HD. This has led to TV shows using more techniques from movie production, including airbrushing makeup onto actors instead of the old sponge and brush methods.

One thing to consider about film resolution is how much of it is used. Most dramatic TV shows are shot on film, then edited in a computer. Movies are edited the same way. One difference comes with the scanning of the film into the computer.

In order to get the frames of film into a computer, you have to use a scanner to digitize them. Film scanners offer many different resolutions. Film has a potential resolution of about 6K (around 6000 pixels wide) when scanned at full resolution. However, most films use 2K scans (roughly 2000 pixels wide), with many switching to 4K (roughly 4000 pixels wide) for better quality as technology gets cheaper and faster. Many TV shows are upgrading to 2K scans for HDTV. Films are scanned in at a higher resolution because they are projected so large. TV screens are much smaller, so the extra resolution isn't necessary. The reason film isn't always scanned at the highest resolution possible is because of time and money. It takes many times longer to create a higher quality scan. Because scanning services charge by the time it takes to do the job, it costs a lot more to take the time required for a better scan. In addition, higher resolution scanners cost much more to purchase, so companies that own them charge more for their services. Finally, lower budget products often use lower resolution special effects in order to meet deadlines and save costs. This means the extra scanning resolution on recorded images would actually make lower resolution effects look worse. Even on the big screen, anything above 4K would be a waste of time and money since it gets to the point where our eyes start to be unable to resolve so much detail. The quality of the screen, age of a projector bulb and other environmental factors start to play a bigger role in the quality of the projection than any increased resolution.

Sometimes events or shows shot with HD video cameras can appear clearer than dramatic shows shot on film. This can often be due to filtering and other post production techniques used to create a certain "look" on dramatic series. For example, the three "CSI" series on CBS each have a certain color tint to them. In addition, some film productions enhance the natural grain that is a part of film. These techniques, while providing continuity to a series, can actually lower the resolution of images. Finally, when an image is essentially digital from camera to TV, it can appear to look better since it exists entirely in the appropriate format.

Film does offer more resolution than HD video, but it's a matter of how you use it.

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