To experience a movie in the way it was intended, you really should see it in a theater. However, if you want to replicate that authenticity at home on your sofa (with your own competitively-priced popcorn), you’ll soon be able to with Filmmaker Mode.
With a single switch, you can watch a movie (or TV show) as it was intended, disable post-processing effects (like motion smoothing), correct your TV’s color profile, and set the film to its original aspect ratio.
Unlike other options (like HDMI-CEC), it’s not called different things on different TVs—the switch for Filmmaker Mode is clearly labeled as such on any TV that has it.
What Is Filmmaker Mode?
TV manufacturers were showing off Filmmaker Mode at CES 2020. It allows you to watch content the way directors, producers, and movie studios want it to be watched. It disables additional features on modern televisions that change how content is presented in order to preserve the cinematic aesthetic.
At the press of a button (and, in some instances, automatically), you disable all additional post-processing features. The original aspect ratio, color profile, and frame rate are preserved. Today, you often have to adjust the picture quality options scattered across various menus on your TV to accomplish what Filmmaker Mode does. Soon, though, this feature will be universal on all televisions, regardless of brand or model.
This new way of viewing content will make its way to upcoming 2020 TV releases from Vizio, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, and Philips this year, with more manufacturers likely jumping on board before the year is out.
Filmmaker Mode was prompted by the growing number of filmmakers who are displeased with the way TV manufacturers enable post-processing by default on their displays. In 2017, James Gunn was one of the first to publicly denounce this in a tweet (see below), in which he name-dropped a few other filmmakers who agreed with him.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) October 5, 2017
While the new standard was spearheaded by the UHD Alliance, it’s also received official endorsements from the Directors Guild of America, The Film Foundation, the International Cinematographers Guild, and the American Society of Cinematographers.
Why Do We Need It?
Modern televisions make heavy use of post-processing effects, like motion smoothing. This “smooths” content artificially via frame interpolation, which means it inserts additional frames to reach a higher (and thus, “smoother”) frame rate. Motion smoothing is often referred to as the “soap opera effect” or branded with manufacturer-specific labels, like “TruMotion” (LG), “MotionFlow” (Sony), or “Auto Motion Plus” (Samsung).
Hollywood and much of the filmmaking world use a standard cinematic, 24p frame rate. This means 24 frames are displayed per second (technically, it’s closer to 23.967). This filmic frame rate is what gives movies their recognizable “cinematic” appearance.
Motion smoothing, on the other hand, overrides the original frame rate and tries to match the content to the TV’s refresh rate (often 60 or 100 Hz).
Not only does this make cinematic productions look too smooth, it often introduces unwanted visual artifacts. Displays that use motion smoothing often struggle to interpolate accurate frames, which results in blurry images (particularly in busy or action scenes with lots of movement).
Filmmaker Mode also addresses problems with aspect ratio and correct color output. While these issues have little to do with motion smoothing, each display manufacturer implements them in different ways. It could take a series of convoluted menus to adjust color temperature or enforce a particular aspect ratio.
Some manufacturers set aspect ratio and display settings on a “per-input” basis. This means the settings for a PS4 connected via HDMI 1 are different from those for the cable box connected via HDMI 2. Filmmaker Mode solves these issues (temporarily, at least) with the flip of one switch.
Why Is Filmmaker Mode a Big Deal?
Filmmaker Mode isn’t a proprietary technology. It’s being introduced by the UHD Alliance, a group that consists of some of the largest players in the film and technology industries. Display manufacturers Samsung, LG, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio, and Panasonic, are all members. Amazon, Nvidia, Dell, Google, Dolby, Intel, and Asus are also part of the alliance.
This means that, unlike proprietary technologies, Filmmaker Mode will be implemented identically across all devices and manufacturers. This eliminates any confusing branding or convoluted menus you might otherwise have to navigate to enable this feature.
It’s important to note, however, that just because a company is a member of the UHD Alliance, it doesn’t automatically mean Filmmaker Mode is coming to its TVs. For example, Sony hasn’t committed to offering Filmmaker Mode on its TVs yet.
A standardized implementation means all televisions that support Filmmaker Mode will either have an identical button on the remote control or switch automatically, thanks to the metadata that accompanies media. At present, we know LG has opted for automatic switching, while Vizio will provide both automatic switching and a dedicated button on remotes.
The UHD Alliance has developed these standards in conjunction with members, including Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, and Technicolor. Such alliances are common in the industry, but they normally concern technical aspects, like resolution and color depth, rather than specific features or modes.
How Is Filmmaker Mode Different from Game Mode?
If you’ve purchased a television in the past decade or so, it probably has a variety of profiles available, including cinema or game modes. What these modes do is entirely up to the manufacturer. A Game mode usually removes as much post-processing as possible in order to reduce latency (and thus, input lag).
Some displays don’t have a game mode, but rather, specific inputs designed with low-latency in mind. For example, if you have an HDMI port labeled as a “PC Input” on your TV, it’s likely designed for low-latency input. You can hook up your PC or console without navigating a series of menus to get the best results.
While Filmmaker Mode also wages war on motion smoothing, its ultimate goal is not the same. Its primary function is preserving the image, rather than eliminating latency. So, while Filmmaker Mode might present an excellent means of playing games, it might not go far enough.
While lower latency might be a side effect of Filmmaker Mode (we don’t know yet), it’s not a primary concern. While proprietary profiles (like game mode) and universal standards (like Filmmaker Mode) might overlap in some areas, they’re not substitutes for one another.
How Do I Buy a TV with Filmmaker Mode?
At this writing, there aren’t any TVs on the market that use Filmmaker Mode. However, you can expect a flurry of models that support this new standard to launch this year. To get your hands on one, look for the Filmmaker Mode logo (see below) on the TV’s box or marketing materials.
A representative from LG told Variety Filmmaker Mode would be on “every new 4K and 8K TV that we introduce in 2020.”
Panasonic likewise stated its upcoming 2020 OLED HD 2000 series would include support. You can also expect retailers to promote the technology at the point-of-sale, so finding a compatible display should be much easier within the next few months.
Will My Old TV Get Filmmaker Mode as Part of an Update?
At present, it’s unlikely older displays will be updated to include support for Filmmaker Mode. No manufacturers have confirmed whether the feature can even be added via a firmware update.
A representative from Vizio also completely ruled this out when we spoke to them at CES, stating that the technology will only be finding its way into brand-new TVs released in 2020 and beyond.
This could be due to hardware requirements, or manufacturers using their latest, greatest feature as an incentive to upgrade.
If you want the best TV for gaming, Filmmaker Mode probably isn’t your top priority. Here’s what you should look for in a gaming display.