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 TVs 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.