In 2006, a video startup made a startling announcement that sent shockwaves through the professional video world: the production of a camera that would capture images at a 4k resolution direct to hard disk or flash based memory cards, with the ability to use prime cinematographic lenses, for only $17,000. The Red camera was heralded as a game-changer for professional video, and production companies around the world plunked down a $1,000 deposit for the mythical camera. Red involved themselves in several online forums, and involved their customers in the design of the camera, further promoting brand loyalty before they ever had a product.
In 2007, Red released the first 25 Red One cameras to great hype. 4,000 cameras have been ordered and Red has already announced their next product line, a 3k handheld camera called the Scarlet, and a 5k camera called the Epic.
So what does this all mean? In short, the U.S. standardization body (the National Television System Committee) decided in the 1940s on a video standard that called for a video picture that was drawn with 525 lines 30 times a second. For more than 50 years, that was what video was. In the early 1980’s, an international body developed a standard for High Definition video that called for a video picture to be drawn with 1080 lines 30 times a second. 20 years later, technology finally caught up with these goals and HD video became prevalent.
In digital terms, Standard definition images are 720 pixels wide by 480 pixels high, while HD video varies between 1280×720 pixels to 1920×1080 pixels depending on which mode you are shooting in. The Red One captures images at up to 4k – 4096×2304, more than twice the resolution of the highest HD standard – for only $17,000 (minus the lenses). This means you can shoot 35mm quality video at a fraction of the price. So why isn’t this splashed all across the news and why aren’t agencies bursting to deliver the highest quality video for their clients?
Because for many, these cameras are still vaporware. To date, Red has shipped, maybe, 2,000 units. It’s not uncommon to find posts online from disgruntled customers who were given a ship date, paid in full, and then told that their camera was on hold indefinitely. Apparently, Red is incapable of keeping up with the demand. Adding insult to injury, they are already trumpeting their next line of cameras while they still can’t fulfill the orders of their current line.
There are those that suggest that Red used the reservations for R&D money, rather than having to give up a portion of the company to a VC firm for startup funds. Still others suggest a kind of corporate shell game, where one is enticed to order the Red One, then encouraged to upgrade to the Epic before ever getting one’s hands on the first camera. While the first statement may be true, I think what we have here is the beginnings of another video revolution, mirroring what has happened over the last 10 years in the storage market. these cameras are real and are shipping.
And the game is starting to change. Already companies are working hard to compete with Red on price and quality. Although, there are some problems associated with the Red One, once this company matures, they, along with Apple’s Final Cut Pro, will have forced the high end video market downstream, giving the little fishes a chance at the big time. The real test will come when the Scarlet is released. A 3k video pocket professional camera for under $3,000 with no reservations will blow the prosumer market wide open, and all these premium HD camcorders will start collecting dust.