You Probably Can't Watch NASA's New 8K Video So Watch This Version Instead
Last week, NASA released an ultra high definition video of the International Space Station, but many people may have trouble experiencing it as it was filmed. It’s not because of space radiation or mystery holes, but because of something far more Earthly.
The video, which was created in partnership with the European Space Agency, shows the crew of the ISS conducting a range of scientific experiments, all in unprecedented 8K. But the video’s uniqueness is also its downfall: Most computer monitors, even the very largest of desktop monitors, aren’t big enough to show 8K video in all its splendor. To put it another way, that’s a resolution of 7,680 pixels wide x 4,320 pixels tall, whereas the typical high-def YouTube video is 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.
When I watched this 3-minute and 9-second video on YouTube — selecting the 8K option, of course — the frequent buffering made it last a six minutes and 36 seconds, more than twice as long. The full-resolution video clocks in at a whopping 3,127 megabytes — though it’s embedded at the top of this article in a much more sensible 1920 x 960 resolution. This begs the question: Why did NASA and the ESA make a video in a format that most people can’t watch?
“NASA has been an early adopter of state-of-the-art technologies to advance our capabilities,” Stephanie Schierholz, a spokesperson for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, tells Inverse. “We regularly replace and upgrade systems on station, including cameras, and capturing imagery now on new technologies allows us to provide future generations a clearer picture of the work our astronauts are doing in space. It’s really cool to see the important science the crew conducts for researchers and scientists on Earth in such high definition!”
So basically, NASA wants to have the newest and best equipment. It makes sense. It doesn’t really help explain, though, why the space agency is trying to crash everyone’s web browsers with a ridiculously huge video file. For now, here’s what we know:
You Can Still Watch a Pretty Nice Version of the Video Without an 8K Monitor
“Viewers can watch high-resolution footage from inside and outside the orbiting laboratory right on their computer screens,” reads the NASA press release accompanying the video. “A screen capable of displaying 8K resolution is required for the full effect, but the imagery is shot at a higher fidelity and then down-converted, which results in higher-quality playback, even for viewers who do not have an 8K screen.”
So even if you don’t have $4,000 to blow on an 8K monitor, you can still enjoy the video of astronauts inspecting samples in a deep freezer, monitoring plant growth, and analyzing crew members’ blood and saliva samples, among other space-based experiments. That doesn’t answer the why, though. From all appearances, that answer is simple:
NASA Made an 8K Video Because NASA Can Do What It Wants
Astronauts aboard the ISS shot this video with the Helium 8K camera from digital cinema camera company RED. This $20,000 camera, which was sent up to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s April resupply mission, shoots in 2K, 4K, and 8K. So if the astronauts can shoot a video with four times as many pixels as most laptop screens can handle, then why not do it?
NASA Is Celebrating the 18th Anniversary of the ISS
Look, NASA doesn’t always need to have an excuse to show off the hard work of the crew of astronauts aboard the ISS, but on Friday, it got one: As of November 2, astronauts have been living aboard the ISS continuously for 18 years. In the time since astronauts first occupied the ISS, the iPhone was first released, the United States began rolling back marijuana prohibition, and perhaps most importantly, Rick and Morty premiered.
Sure, maybe the 8K video will freeze your browser, but it looks really nice. So go ahead and enjoy it — even if you just watch it in 1080. It can be our little secret.
Editor’s Note: As of 5:43 p.m. Eastern, 11/5/2018, this story has been updated to include comment from NASA.