Have you or your loved ones sat down to watch your favorite movie on your brand spankin’ new 80 inch “super ultra max HD+ special edition” TV just for it all to look like it was shot with your grandparents home video camera? Have you found yourself at the local watering hole and look up to see that all of the big screen televisions playing a re-run of Two and a Half Men and it instead looks like footage of Charlie Sheen caught by TMZ?
The problem is that your new TV is trying to fix something that isn’t broke. This effect has been given the affectionate nickname the “soap opera effect” and it’s butchering the way movie and TV directors intended their works to be seen.
It all boils down to motion. According to research done at Trinity College Dublin, it was determined that for the human eye, life is a movie running at around 60 fps (frames per second). Our eyes and brains expect something very different when we’re watching movies. Since the beginning of cinema, almost all film has been shot at 24 fps. Most modern TV shows shoot in the same manner. When the camera records action in this way, it gives the shot a subtle motion blur effect which makes it aesthetically pleasing to the human eye.
Directors have been fighting tooth and nail to get their movies or tv shows to look the way they intended long before this epidemic. Broadcast TV already does some work to the original footage which was shot at 24 fps, conforming it somewhat to fit their broadcasting settings, but it wasn’t until just recently that it got this bad.
With the rise of Smart TVs, a TV is now practically a computer and comes jam packed with a variety of features. The feature that is to blame for all of this has many names, but most of the time is called “motion blurring.” It allows the TV to insert additional frames to simulate a higher frame rate and for some reason that setting is the factory default when you turn on your TV for the first time. So that’s why most bars and restaurants with TVs have this problem. They get the TV out of the box, hang it up and think they should be good to go, when in fact they’re probably display an image filled with more fake frames than real.
Although it can affect the image of a movie or TV show dramatically for the worse, it can be quite impressive for things such as sports broadcasts. Football games and other sporting events are shot at a higher frame rate, and adding those additional “fake” frames allows the image to look crisper and tricks your eyes into feeling like you are at the event.
I guess it’s more of a personal problem I have with all of this. Ever since I was a kid, it bothered me when I’d shoot a short film on my parent’s camera and it never looked like a “movie.” Once I learned that the illusive “film look” was primarily frame rate, it changed everything. Now when I see modern technology strip that “movie magic” away, it annoys me, probably more than others.
Don’t let your kids see Star Wars for the first time and instead of it being a magical experience, it looks like an awkward home video of a guy talking to a green frog puppet. Don’t watch the first season of House of Cards on Netflix and have it feel like you binge watched hours of CSPAN. Watch movies and TV the way and it was intended, with the motion smoothing turned off!