Filmmakers Declare War on ‘Soap Opera Effect’, Announce New TV Mode


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No one, as far as I can tell, really likes post-processed motion interpolation, also called motion smoothing or the “Soap Opera Effect” (SOE). It can work well for certain kinds of broadcasts, like sports, but its benefits in this arena are outweighed by the generally disliked, overly smooth presentation everywhere else. Unfortunately, modern TVs often ship with motion interpolation enabled, and most consumers aren’t aware of the feature or how to turn it off. If a new push from the UHD Alliance is successful, it’ll be easier to disable the option in the future.

Motion interpolation refers to the process of generating and inserting new frames of animation between the existing frames that were actually captured by the camera. (Interpolation means “to insert into something else.”) While the term “Soap Opera Effect” is often used to describe this type of video, there is a difference: Old-school soap operas were often recorded on videotape at 60 frames per second because their daily broadcast schedules made working on film impossible. Higher frame rates gave these shows a distinct look, but they weren’t creating and inserting new frames in-between existing ones. The difference between actual SOE and motion interpolation is that while interpolation looks like SOE in terms of smoothness and fluidity, it can also introduce artifacts that didn’t exist in the original material.

The following video gives an illustration of the difference between turning motion interpolation on versus off in two different scenarios:

The UHD Alliance has announced plans for a new Filmmaker Mode to be supported on consumer sets in the future. A number of major Hollywood directors weighed in approving the change, including Paul Thomas Anderson, Ryan Coogler, Patty Jenkins, Martin Scorsese, and Christopher Nolan.

One of the problems with motion smoothing is that it’s often implemented in TVs under very different names. For example, LG calls it “TruMotion,” Vizio labels it “Smooth Motion Effect,” and Panasonic calls it “Intelligent Frame Creation.” All three companies are supposedly on board with the Filmmaker Mode option, which would disable these and other post-processing effects to provide a movie-watching experience closer to that intended by the director.

The idea behind Filmmaker Mode is that it will take effect automatically when appropriate content is detected or else be easily accessible as a remote button. Either option would be an improvement over having to dig through a TV’s various menus. In aggregate, Filmmaker Mode is supposed to:

  • Apply a D65 white point to both SDR and HDR content
  • Maintain source content frame rate and aspect ratio
  • Disable motion interpolation
  • Disable overscanning
  • Sharpening and noise reduction are both disabled
  • All other image ‘enhancement’ processes are disabled

“Having a single name,” says Warner Bros Vice President of Technology Michael Zink, “is essential to delivering the message to consumers that if you want to see movies the way they were intended to be seen, you should watch them in Filmmaker Mode. You shouldn’t have this distinction we had before where ‘you should watch it in X mode on this TV, or ‘Y’ mode on that TV’. That dilutes the message. So a single name was really important.”

Some of these features may be important on lower-end TVsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce to prevent them from showing flaws or defects that manufacturers otherwise hide with post-processing tricks, so it isn’t clear if Filmmaker Mode will be a win for everyone. But provided the feature can be disabled or enabled at will, it should offer a much closer experience to what the filmmaker intended — and the ability to turn specific features back on if needed, if the final product doesn’t look good on your specific display.

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Microsoft: Xbox Next Will Bring Faster Load Times, 60fps, Backward Compatibility


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The next console generation is less than 18 months away, and Microsoft is starting to share a little more information about what it’s prioritizing for the next generation of Xbox consoles. Playability, load times, and backward compatibility for controllers and software are all top priorities for Redmond with the launch of Xbox Next.

“I think the area that we really want to focus on next-generation is frame rate and playability of the games,” Spencer told Gamespot:

Ensuring that the games load incredibly fast, ensuring that the game is running at the highest frame rate possible. We’re also the Windows company, so we see the work that goes on [for] PC and the work that developers are doing. People love 60 frames-per-second games, so getting games to run at 4K 60 [fps] I think will be a real design goal for us.

The thing that’s interesting is, this generation, we’ve really focused on 4K visuals and how we bring both movies through 4K Blu-ray and video streaming, and with Xbox One X allowing games to run at 4K visuals will make really strong visual enhancements next generation. But playability is probably the bigger focus for us this generation. How fast do [games] load? Do I feel like I can get into the game as fast as possible and while it’s playing? How does it feel? Does this game both look and feel like no other game that I’ve seen? That’s our target.”

This is more or less what ET predicted earlier this year. 60fps is a much more realistic target for the Xbox Next than the 240fps rumor that was going around. Despite various vague statements that the Xbox Next will support 8K, Spencer sensibly makes no mention of it as a gaming resolution target. There’s no chance a 2020 console will have a GPU powerful enough to support this resolution and we’re glad to see the company pivoting towards an emphasis on other aspects of gaming.

According to Microsoft, backward compatibility is a key pillar for Xbox moving forward. Xbox One, Xbox 360, and OG Xbox games will all continue to be supported on Xbox Next, Spencer told Gamespot. The company has promised that this backwards compatibility pledge extends to controllers as well, saying, “So really, the things that you’ve bought from us, whether the games or the controllers that you’re using, we want to make sure those are future compatible with the highest fidelity version of our console, which at that time will obviously be the one we’ve just launched.”

Will Microsoft Actually Push a 60fps Target?

Historically, there have been a handful of games that specifically targeted 60fps for console play, but it’s been an uncommon frame rate target. The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro expanded the list of titles that offered this frame rate by encouraging developers to release updates for new and existing games that would add new resolution options or the ability to play at higher frame rates than the base title supported. Actually moving the game industry (back) towards a 60 fps target, however, would be a feat.

There’s some reason to think both console manufacturers could pull it off. The Xbox Next and PlayStation 5 will both target performance levels above the existing Xbox One and PS4 Pro.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce The use of Ryzen and an RDNA-derived GPU for both platforms guarantees that the consoles will pack more performance, but the level of perceived visual quality improvement one console generation offers over the next has been shrinking every cycle. Instead of simply chasing improved levels of detail, Spencer wants developers to target smoothness and load times — two other objective areas where it’s possible to deliver major generational gains, particularly with SSDs being adopted for the first time.

Statista-TV-Market-Share

One major question is how the 1080p/4K split will be addressed. Spencer refers to a 4K/60fps target, but 1080p still accounts for a large percentage of TVs sold and the install base for the older standard is enormous. The simplest way for Microsoft to handle a 1080p output limit is to render internally at 4K and then output at 1080p. This effectively applies supersampled AA to the entire image and would deliver a substantial improvement in image quality over standard 1080p. With the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, both Microsoft and Sony gave developers a variety of ways they could use the additional power of the newer consoles to punch up the base experience, and we expect a similar approach here. One of the advantages of having a powerful GPU paired with a lower-resolution display is that you can crank up secondary features like AA without worrying about the performance impact, and we’re hoping Microsoft brings some of that flexibility to its Xbox Next design.

The PC gamer in me can’t help noting that the already barely-there line between consoles and PCs will be even thinner next cycle. Consoles have provided backward compatibility before, but it’s often come up with qualifiers related to your hardware version and been limited to one previous platform. Microsoft isn’t just going to support Xbox One games on Xbox Next, it’ll continue supporting Xbox 360 and OG Xbox, as well as Xbox One peripherals. That’s exactly the kind of backward compatibility support we would expect when upgrading from PC build to the next and it’s nice to see consoles catching up after a few decades.

The flip side, of course, is that the console-versus-PC debate gets goofier every generation. At this point, you might as well just ask “controller or keyboard?” (keyboard, natch). Functionally, at the hardware level, we’re all gaming on PCs.

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Minecraft’s Long-Promised Super-Duper 4K Graphics Pack Is Canceled


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A little over two years ago, Minecraft developer Mojang announced that Minecraft would be receiving an awesome, amazing, incredible graphics update. The new Super Duper Graphics Pack (we didn’t name it) was supposed to introduce a swath of new graphics features, including 4K textures, rippling water, cleaner lines, a different lighting engine, dynamic shadows, edge highlighting, and directional lighting. The video showing off the improvements was a hit back at E3 2017, and questions about when the update would be released have popped up on the Minecraft subreddit from time to time ever since.

Today, Mojang declared the Super Duper Graphics Pack update is canceled, permanently. According to the company, “Super Duper was an ambitious initiative that brought a new look to Minecraft but, unfortunately, the pack proved too technically demanding to implement as planned.”

Minecraft Super Duper Graphics Pack. Image by Microsoft.

The only explanation the company has provided for why it won’t be bringing the update is that “we aren’t happy with how the pack performed across devices. For this reason, we’re stopping development on the pack, and looking into other ways for you to experience Minecraft with a new look.”

This is a pretty thin explanation. First of all, we would have expected this kind of work — specifically, the work of deciding which devices would be targets for Minecraft’s SDGP — would have been typified before that project had begun. Minecraft runs on a huge number of devices, but you don’t typically develop an expansion like this without targets in mind, because (presumably) you’ll be testing the updates on a variety of systems as you work through them. Discovering after two years that you can’t justify the update because some products can’t run it, if true, speaks to some rather odd development priorities. Why wouldn’t you finish the update or upgrade for the systems that can?

The SDGP required a complete rewrite of the Minecraft graphics engine. Such efforts are not trivial and it isn’t crazy for a total overhaul to take two years. But at the same time, what sense does it make to scrap the rewrite after two full years in development?

Not much makes sense about this. The Super Duper Graphics Pack wasn’t supposed to break Minecraft’s ability to run on older hardware; it was supposed to provide better image quality for machines capable of running it. The upcoming launch of a new console generation and the inevitable upgrade treadmill for mobile devices should have provided a more robust hardware platform for the game relative to 2017. Mojang and Microsoft jointly declared that Minecraft has sold 176 million copies as of May 2019. The original PC version has sold 30 million copies. Microsoft continues to invest in and augment Minecraft with spinoffs like the AR-focused Minecraft Earth. If any game could possibly justify the investment of a new graphics engine a decade after launch, it’d be a title like Minecraft.

The most logical implication here is that Mojang couldn’t find a way to build an engine that both delivered the capabilities they wanted at the top-end and still offered an acceptable level of performance on lower-end hardware. There might have also been fears about the impact of splitting the player base across multiple versions of the game and maintaining updates for both engines going forward. Killing off the engine update after more than two years is a fairly extreme step. Hopefully, there’ll still be a way for some of these optimizations and enhancements to be integrated into the base version. Otherwise, Mojang’s graphics team has just spent two years of work on a major engine rewrite, only to see their efforts basically flushed down the drain.

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