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Blackmagic CEO: “low frame rate UHD is not good enough”

After a short delay caused by issues related to the sensor, Blackmagic Design says its £2500 4K Super 35mm digital camera will ship this quarter.

After a short delay caused by issues related to the sensor, Blackmagic Design says its £2500 4K Super 35mm digital camera will ship this quarter.

“The entire world will buy Ultra HD at some point,” predicts CEO and founder Grant Petty. “The increasing pixel density of screens make it logical. In Europe, Ultra HD is important because broadcasters have been hobbled by electing 1080i rather than 1080p HD, so the jump in resolution to 4K will be felt.

“However, the computer industry will send 4K to the home before broadcast does. Broadcasters have to figure out how to get UHD 60p down a conventional channel. UHD at low framerates is doable, but even so it will emerge pretty rough on transmission. The problem is that 4K is being driven by organisations pretending that low framerate UHD is good enough. That’s a press release, not a workflow.”

Petty reveals that he approached camera manufacturers in 2011 with the idea of producing a DSLR-style model with high dynamic range, but was beaten back: “They wanted to do their own thing. So we had to do it ourselves,” he said.

Expressing admiration for ARRI and Chyron, Petty has harsh words for other vendors. “They don’t care about the product. Their only goal is to extract as much from the business as they can. It’s incredibly short termist, and greedy.

“I’m stunned at what is wrong with companies when we acquire them and we can examine them internally. There are so many pressures on businesses just to be bland, never to take a risk. We’ve never taken any outside investment at Blackmagic and we have no debt. As soon as companies do that they are beholden to a new master.”

Instead, Petty describes his 350-employee company as having a “healthy work ethic” and claims not to be interested in building market share.

“What’s healthy is feeling you did something rather than just sat in meetings all day,” he said. “We are not psychotic about make money at all costs or hardcore sales. We are unashamedly geeky. We want to be friendly and be of service.”

Until recently, Petty was involved in every aspect of every single product, including writing all marketing copy. “My job is to bind it all together and set the culture,” he said. “I wish I could do more. I don’t have any grand vision and I’m surprised and delighted when it works.

“When we announce something that surprises the market at a trade show, it’s often because we ourselves have only made the decision to go for it a couple days earlier. You get really nervous when you do something creative because you can get it utterly wrong. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and I can’t sleep for weeks, wondering if it will work and if we can get it out the door before someone else does. I constantly feel we are not good enough, that there are so many things to fix, and not enough time. But I am overwhelmed and grateful that people like what we do.”

A longer version of this interview will be published in the New Year in TVBEurope.

By Adrian Pennington