What Resolution Should I Master My DCP In?

DCP Resolution Chart - 2K vs 4K

The DCP specification has two official resolutions: “2K” and “4K”. Most projectors in theatres wordlwide currently are 2K projectors.

In most cases you should create your DCP to match the resolution of the master version of your film. 2K will be your likely best bet if the file (or videotape) source image is 2048 x 1080 (or less). 4K will be a better option for any native size higher than that.

A Quick Note on 1080p

1080p (the resolution and aspect ratio of most modern television material) isn’t an official DCP format – but it is a valid option on most cinema equipment. We generally suggest filmmakers avoid 1080p, as some theatre screens weren’t built to accomodate that aspect ratio in mind. This often ends with small parts of the picture cut off, projected off the screen, or having to manually shrink the picture slightly to fit. A filmmaker has more control over the presentation of their film by mastering 1080p source material as a “Flat” DCP (1.85:1 vs 1.78:1). This requires either a minimal blow-up or small pillarbox, but ensures the film will always look the same in every theatre. We will write more on this in a future article.

Benefits of 4K Resolution

4K projectors are still rare, but the number of 4K cinemas is growing as 4K laser projectors become more available and affordable. The difference between the two resolutions can be quite subtle for most audiences. Projector difference, and light reflection from the screen make the increased image quality less distinct than on a LCD screen. 4K projection does allow audiences to see a sharper image when sitting close to the screen – and an improvement would be obvious comparing 2K and 4K projection side-by-side. Beyond that, “quality” greatly depends on the theatre equipment, DCP mastering, and source material.

Do I Need to Make Two Versions of My DCP?

All DCI-compliant projectors can play both resolutions of DCP. A 2K projector can “downsize” a 4K DCP, just as a 4K projector can “upscale” a 2K package.

There is no advantage to “blowing up” 2K source material to make a 4K DCP. Making images bigger cannot “create quality” and will generally look no different than just playing a 2K package on a 4K projector.

However because of how resizing works, 4K DCP’s play on 2K projectors at a much lower bitrate than 2K DCP’s playing on a 2K projector. Because of this, playing a 4K package on a 2K projector may result in as much as a 75% drop in image quality when compared with a native 2K package.

The full article about this goes into details of why this is, and why many filmmakers with 4K masters choose to make both 4K and 2K native DCPs.

Are There Benefits to 2K Resolution?

Even 4K+ source material will sometimes only be mastered in 2K. The vast majority of cinema screens are only 2K and it is usually faster and cheaper to create 2K DCPs. Depending on the specific film, and exhibition plans for a movie, only creating a 2K DCP may make the most sense.

Do you have questions about the confusing world of Digital Cinema? Don’t worry Ask The DCP Master is here to help. Check out our most common questions, or ask your own.

Are you an independent filmmaker, distributor, or festival looking for professional, inexpensive, DCP services? Visit TheDCPMaster.com to see what we can do for you!