Imagine this: You’ve just laid out big bucks for a new TV with all the bells and whistles. You get it home, set it up, and decide to celebrate by watching your favorite classic action movie. But when you turn it on, the picture quality looks more like a soap opera.
No, it’s not a defect in your TV. To make your movie look more like it does at a theater, all you have to do is change a single setting in the TV’s preferences. However, the mode you need to adjust has different names, depending on the manufacturer. For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to it generically as “motion smoothing.”
TV manufacturers invented motion smoothing to handle the visual discrepancy between movies and your TV set. As you probably know, a film or video consists of multiple single images that go by really fast to create the effect of motion. Have you ever seen one of those old-time flipbooks? Each page features a single image that varies slightly from the one before, but when you flip through them quickly, it looks like motion.
Videos are shot at various speeds, including 30 frames per second (FPS) and 29.97 FPS; however, most films and many TV shows have long been shot at 24 FPS, which gives content a slightly flickering, cinematic look. (The exception is daytime soap operas, which are often shot directly to video at 60 FPS, giving the impression that everything is either somehow too fluid or is moving in slow motion — an effect called “hyperrealism.”)
TVs have much higher refresh rates — typically 60 Hertz (Hz), 120 Hz or greater. The refresh rate is a measurement of how many times your TV reconstructs the image in one second, so it’s the TV equivalent of frames per second.
If you’re watching a 24 FPS movie on a TV, the discrepancy between the FPS of the content and the TV’s refresh rate creates blurring — also known as “judder” — especially when there’s rapid motion on the screen. TV manufacturers created motion smoothing to address this mismatch. The idea is that as a movie is playing, the TV analyzes the onscreen movement and creates additional frames to match the refresh rate based on what it thinks they would look like. The result is less blurring.
Motion smoothing can work well if the motion in the movie scene is linear and predictable — for example, a roller coaster going up or down. But if the movement is more random, it’s much harder for your TV to make an educated guess about what to include in the frame, which can result in visual distortion, also known as artifacts. The reduced amount of flicker causes 24 FPS content to look like a video shot at a higher frame rate — something known as the “Soap Opera Effect.” Click here for a video that demonstrates why it’s not desirable when watching movies.
Motion smoothing’s impact on 24 FPS movies and TV shows is not only unpopular with viewers, but with many movie directors too. After all, their whole world revolves around creating a particular look and feel in their films. When a director’s carefully shot movie looks like a cheap soap opera when viewed on a TV set (where much of today’s movie watching occurs), it makes them mad. It’s enough of an issue that several high-profile directors like Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese — as well as actors such as Tom Cruise — have asked the public to turn motion smoothing off when they watch movies.
The blowback from the film industry over motion smoothing motivated a group of manufacturers, content producers, studios and technology companies to form an organization called the UHD Alliance in 2019. The Alliance’s main purpose is to urge TV manufacturers to include a comprehensive setting on their products called “Filmmaker Mode” (FMM) so that viewers can watch movies with TV settings optimized for the cinematic experience … which includes motion smoothing being turned off.
It took a while for Filmmaker Mode to catch on, but it’s getting more widespread. According to a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter, “Filmmaker Mode is now available in all-new LG and Samsung TVs as well as select models from Hisense, Panasonic, Philips/TP Vision and Skyworth; projectors from LG, Samsung, Benq and Hisense; and services including Kaleidescape and Prime Video (the first streaming platform to automatically implement Filmmaker Mode for Prime on LG TVs).”
Although Filmmaker Mode is a heartening development, many people own TVs that don’t include it, instead offering a single control to turn motion smoothing on or off. If your TV falls into that category, simply use the list below to identify the name for motion smoothing that your TV manufacturer uses, then use its remote to navigate to the advanced picture settings menu (where it’s most usually found) and turn it off. (The links provide specific instructions for each manufacturer.)
Without the Soap Opera Effect, you may see more blurring during action sequences, but at least The Godfather will no longer look like The Young and the Restless. Happy viewing!