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New Filmmaker Mode For Ultra-HD TVs Aims To Put An End To ‘The Soap Opera Effect’

by November 07, 2019

In December of 2018, Tom Cruise and Mission: Impossible — Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie released a video urging viewers to turn off their TVs’ “video interpolation” or “motion smoothing” feature when watching movies at home. The video was intended as a public service announcement, and was included as an introduction to the latest Mission: Impossible installment’s Blu-ray release. The move was applauded by A/V enthusiasts, who tend to loathe the uncanny feeling that motion smoothing inflicts upon film and TV content. These Hollywood big-shots actually seemed invested in ensuring that everyday folks were enjoying the best possible movie-watching experience at home. By the way, Tom Cruise is also a serious and evangelical audiophile; he even convinced The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon to buy a pair of Magico speakers. For non-enthusiasts, the widely-circulated video was somewhat puzzling at first, most had never heard of video interpolation or motion smoothing before. But anyone who has ever looked at the TVs in a Best Buy, Target, or Walmart, has certainly seen the dreaded “Soap Opera Effect,” as it is also known, in action. Earlier this year, when I was shopping with my brother Dan for his new OLED, we saw two TVs side by side, both playing the same scene from the 2007 film Spider-Man 3. The display on the left wasn’t using motion smoothing, but the one on the right was. I asked Dan, who is not an A/V enthusiast, to describe the difference. He said that the TV on the left showed the character Spider-Man, standing in a living room, talking to another character. The TV on the right showed an actor in a Spider-Man costume, standing on a film set, delivering lines to another actor. I couldn’t have described it better myself.

FilmMaker ModeYouTube Discussion

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The terms “video interpolation” and “motion smoothing” might sound technical, but the concept behind them is fairly simple. A video is composed of a certain number of still frames displayed in rapid succession — let’s say 30 frames per second for this example. Modern TVs can display frames much more quickly than that — at least 60 frames per second. In order to reduce motion blur and make the movement of onscreen images look less like film and more like real life, most TVs these days can use software to examine two sequential frames, and estimate what a frame halfway between them would look like. The software then inserts this “interpolated” frame between the two existing frames. I know some people who enjoy the result of this technical wizardry when watching sports or nature documentaries, and this kind of smooth motion can be impressive when watching demo material in a store. But for movies (and pretty much everything else), it just looks wrong. And it doesn’t take a trained eye to see the difference between the film-like motion that we see in the movie theater and the soap-opera-like motion displayed on a TV with the video interpolation setting turned on. When I have pointed out this hyper-smooth motion to the most casual TV viewers among my friends and family, they have all spotted the difference immediately. Once you see it, you can never "unsee" it again! Perhaps we have been conditioned to appreciate the slight “judder” introduced by a film-camera’s 24-frame-per-second motion. What’s certain is that filmTom Cruise mission impossible.jpgmakers and TV show creators do not want an algorithm fundamentally altering the presentation of their video content. Unfortunately, motion smoothing and other interfering video settings are often turned on by default, and most people never change them. Most folks simply don’t know that they should make changes to the out-of-the-box settings in order to enjoy the best picture quality. Others might be aware that something looks off, but they don’t know how to navigate the often confusing menu systems on their TVs. From one brand of TV to another, the names for these settings can be completely different. LG calls it TruMotion, Samsung calls it Auto Motion Plus, and Sony calls it MotionFlow. To learn how to disable motion smoothing on an LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, or Vizio TV, check out this detailed article on CNET. It seems that Tom Cruise has an impossible mission (pun intended).

In order to solve this technological conundrum, a group of Hollywood studios and members of the filmmaking community teamed up with a group called The UHD Alliance, which defines itself as “a global coalition of leading entertainment studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, content distributors and technology companies aligned to foster the creation of an ecosystem that fully realizes and promotes the next generation premium in-home entertainment platform.” Members include Dolby, Xperi Corporation (DTS), Panasonic, Samsung, Technicolor, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment. From this collaboration came a new viewing mode for TVs called “Filmmaker Mode,” which disables all post-processing (such as motion smoothing and noise reduction), and preserves the original aspect ratios, colors, and frame rates that the content creators carefully chose.

The thing that sets Filmmaker Mode apart is it will be a pure, clean expression of what the movie was meant to look like when it was made. Your Skynet is motion smoothing. Luckily, our John Connor has arrived.

— Rian Johnson, director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Unlike existing film modes, such as ISF, THX, and Technicolor, Filmmaker Mode will not require the viewer to navigate multiple menu levels. Instead, it will be activated automatically, through metadata embedded in the content. In some cases, it will be accessible via a single, dedicated button on the TV’s remote control. The name and settings will be consistent across multiple TV brands, and TVs that support the Filmmaker Mode will have the official logo on the box, or at least on the specs list. So far, Vizio, Panasonic, and LG are on board to participate in the program when it launches (probably in 2020), but Sony has declined, saying it “sets its own standards” for creators’ intent. Despite the absence of Sony and the influence of the company’s movie studio, there is some serious star power behind Filmmaker Mode. The UHD Alliance reportedly consulted over 400 filmmakers, including 140 directors and cinematographers. The Directors Guild of America, the American Society of Cinematographers, and the American Cinema Editors guild were all included in the discussion, as was Martin Scorsese’s organization, The Film Foundation. Along with Scorsese, several other big-name content creators were involved in the creation and endorsement of Filmmaker Mode, including the following:

  • Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk, Interstellar, The Dark Knight Trilogy)
  • Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, Creed)
  • Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman)
  • Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread)
  • James Cameron (Terminator 2, Titanic, Avatar)
  • J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)
  • Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle In Time)
  • Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up)
  • Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi)
  • Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale)
  • The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things)

I started the Film Foundation in 1990 with the goal to preserve film and protect the filmmakers original vision, so that the audience can experience these films as they were intended to be seen. Most people today are watching these classic films at home, rather than in movie theaters, making Filmmaker Mode of particular importance when presenting these films, which have specifications unique to being shot on film.

— Martin Scorsese

The UHD Alliance also sought feedback from the broader creative community by polling the individual members of organizations like the Directors Guild of America and The Film Foundation, in order to identify their priorities and include their perspectives. The development of Filmmaker Mode marked the first time that major movie studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, and leaders in the creative community all worked together to deliver this kind of entertainment technology to consumers.

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The UHD Alliance’s Chairman, Michael Zink of Warner Bros, said that the Alliance was “eager and ideally situated to engage in the conversation,” and dedicated to “extending the cinematic experience into the living room… and (providing) a way for consumers to better experience the filmmakers vision.”

Modern televisions have extraordinary technical capabilities, and it is important that we harness these new technologies to ensure that the home viewer sees our work presented as closely as possible to our original creative intentions. Through collaboration with TV manufacturers, Filmmaker Mode consolidates input from filmmakers into simple principles for respecting frame rate, aspect ratio, color and contrast, and encoding in the actual media so that televisions can read it and can display it appropriately.

— Christopher Nolan

Every day on set, we make hundreds of decisions about how to present and tell our story. No one decision makes or breaks a film, but theres a cumulative effect that results in a film that looks and feels the way we envisioned it. As a filmmaker, I want to see — and think viewers want to see — that vision carried through to every possible viewing environment. Filmmaker Mode makes it possible for all those choices to be seen in the home.

— Patty Jenkins

I care deeply about how cinema is experienced at home because that's where it lives the longest. That's where cinema is watched and re-watched and experienced by families. By allowing the artists in the tent to help consult and give feedback to the electronics companies on Filmmaker Mode, we can collectively help make the consumers experience even more like it is in the cinema.

— Ryan Coogler

With all the advances in todays televisions, now is a great time to introduce Filmmaker Mode. It's just impossible to ignore what the technology can do. We can use these capabilities to preserve the intent of the filmmaker (and) preserve the purpose of the art.

 — Paul Thomas Anderson

 Will Filmmaker Mode finally be the end of the nefarious Soap Opera Effect? Share your thoughts in the forum thread below, and consider these perspectives from the filmmakers involved.


About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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