You’ve unpacked and installed your new HDTV, you’ve fired it up, and despite the expectation that everything should look magnificent on it, you can’t get over how everything looks uncannily smooth and downright weird…almost as if it were sped up (even though it technically isn’t). Read on as we explain why and show you how to fix it.
What It’s Called
You are absolutely not imagining what you’re seeing. Most movies and TV shows these days are filmed at 24 frames per second, but video in higher framerate is much smoother. This is often known as the “Soap Opera Effect”, because back in the day, television soap operas had low budgets and used low budget video cameras instead of the full fledged film cameras their better-funded television counterparts were using. Video was higher framerate than film, though, so motion was smoother.
This effect, now cropping up in modern sets, is the reason a lot of people complain about their new HDTV sets and can’t quite put their finger on why they don’t enjoy watching them as much as they did their old TVs (and even older HDTVs). But why does this happen?
Where It Comes From
LCD-based HDTVs suffer from motion blur. Every manufacturer and every design handles it slightly differently, but it’s inescapable. The way images are rendered on an LCD panel simply leads to blurring in many situations, especially when rendering high speed motion on the screen. Really nice sets with quality components and fast processing can largely minimize it, but it’s always there to some degree.
While older TVs used 60Hz panels—which means they can refresh the image on the screen up to 60 times—many modern TVs use 120Hz or 240Hz panels. This allows them to use a feature called motion interpolation, which inserts additional frames in between the existing frames in order to smooth out motion, reducing any sort of judder or shake in the image.
When you’re watching newer HD content like sports broadcasts that offer 30 frames-per-second content, those motion-blur-fixing algorithms work really well. They have an abundance of frames to work with and the motion is fast and furious. When you’re watching a hockey match on a nice HDTV set with a high quality video feed, the action on the ice and the puck zipping about is going to look delightfully smooth, for example.
The problem, and where all those engineers’ hard work falls apart, is when you’re watching regular old movies or shows with traditional 24 frames-per-second speed. You expect to see the same filmic quality you’re used to, but instead you’re seeing movies at 120 frames per second with artificial frames in between. The end result is a sort of uncanny experience. The news studio looks too vivid and the motion of the news anchor is too smooth, almost CGI-like. The living room on the sitcom you’re watching has a weird sort of fake-3D depth to it that many people find unsettling. It just doesn’t look like the shows and movies we’re all used to.
How to Fix It
So where does this leave you, the unhappy consumer? Fortunately, on the majority of sets it’s easy to fix the problem. Manufacturers are definitely not oblivious to the problems that their interpolation algorithms cause and understand that what makes an HD sporting event or high-frame-rate movie (like The Hobbit) look good, can make watching the evening news or The Graduate feel uncomfortable.
As such, there is typically an option on sets that have 120hz and above refresh rates to turn off the motion smoothing algorithms (and the more thoughtful manufacturers even include profiles wherein you can set up a Cinema profile the content you want smoothed, and a regular profile for the content you don’t want smooth). Every manufacturer calls their fancy smoothing algorithm something different. Samsung calls it Auto Motion Plus, LG calls it TruMotion, Sony calls it MotionFlow, and so on. Reference the manual for your set or simply poke around in the on-screen menu until you find anything close to the terms “motion smoothing”, “motion”, “judder reduction”, “smoothing”, etc. There you’ll find the option to adjust and/or turn off the feature and, in the process, get rid of that uncanny plastic CGI look that the ultra-smoothing imparts to 24fps broadcasts.
Header image by Savio Sebastian.