We Ponder: How Will The Hobbit’s 48fps Cinematography Be Handled for Blu-ray?

Sections: 3D

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The Hobbit‘s 48fps cinematography is causing a lot of brouhaha on the interwebs, as you’ve probably already noticed. Reactions are decidedly mixed. Quickbeam at seems mostly hopeful: “For a breathless moment I felt rather like someone in an audience seeing their first color film after endless years of only Black & White photography.  Someone had lifted the glass off the windshield and you were looking at something *real* and in three dimensions.” Jim Vejvoda of IGN? Not so much: “It looked like an old Doctor Who episode, or a videotaped BBC TV production. It was as shocking as when The Twilight Zone made the boneheaded decision to switch from film to tape one season, and where perfectly good stories were ruined by that aesthetic.”

Love it or hate it, though (and there seems to be no real Middle-ground), the one thing fans seem to be most anxious about is how the high-frame-rate cinematography of The Hobbit (not to mention Avatar 2) will be handled when Blu-ray release time rolls around. Because, as a quick peek at the Blu-ray 3D spec reveals (screen capped below for the PDF-phobic), the maximum frame rate for 1080 3D video on the format is 23.976 per eye. What’s worth noting, though, is that at 720p, Blu-ray 3D operates at 59.64fps per eye.

As best I can tell, this isn’t an “up to” situation. It’s either frame packed 1080p at 24fps or 720p at 60fps. So, assuming that Jackson and New Line want to preserve the high frame rate of The Hobbit on Blu-ray, it’s theoretically possible that they could do a frame rate conversion for 48 to 60fps and present the film at 720p.

I know, I know. Yuck. Again, though, keep in mind that this is all mere speculation, based on what’s possible with current Blu-ray technology. I’m simply trying to figure out the feasible solutions, since the likelihood of a new Blu-ray format capable of 48fps 1080p 3D seems slim anytime in the year or so between now and The Hobbit‘s first home video release.

What seems far likelier to me is that we’ll see The Hobbit released to Blu-ray in 1080/24 3D, which sounds like a compromise, but as this video demonstration of Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan Digital reveals, there exist all sorts of sophisticated methods for extracting 24fps out of footage shot at much higher frame rates, while still maintaining many of the advantages (if you see them as such) of shooting at 48, 60, or even 120fps.

So that’s where I’m placing my bets at the moment. Especially considering the fact that The Hobbit will have to be converted to 24fps for a good number of cinema screens, anyway. Am I saying we’ll never see The Hobbit released in full-resolution 48fps for the home market? Of course I’m not. Every time Hollywood cooks up a new leap forward to entice viewers into cinemas, the home video market eventually catches up. But again, the odds of it happening in the next year or so aren’t great.

So, which would you rather see: The Hobbit Blu-ray 3D in 720p/60, or 1080p/24?

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  • Gumpert

    Unless I am watching on a 70″ or bigger screen from 6′ away I vote for 720p/60:

    I would anticipate that the added clarity and retained detail associated with the higher frame rate should more than compensate for the decreased resolution (esp. with 3D in mind) while adding to the potential sense of immersion if used optimally.