This year, Hollywood filmmakers are making headway in their ongoing crusade against gimmicky television technology such as motion smoothing. A number of major TV makers — including LG, Vizio, and Panasonic — announced at CES 2020 this week that some of their 2020 TV models will support a new feature called “Filmmaker Mode,” which disables video post-processing so as to present movies and TV shows the way they were intended to be seen.
“Filmmaker Mode is a mode in which we can ensure that the original intent of the filmmaker — the technical aspects of the film, and the way in which we finish the film in the edit suite and the color timing room — gets to the viewer the way that we intended,” said director Christopher Nolan in a recent promotional video for the feature.
Filmmaker Mode resulted from a collaboration between consumer electronics companies, movie and TV studios, and Hollywood creatives. The UHD Alliance, a film and technology industry consortium that sets standards and certifications for 4K video content, unveiled Filmmaker Mode in August with commitments from the aforementioned TV manufacturers. (UHD stands for “ultra high definition,” aka 4K.) But 2020 is the first year in which displays will actually be released on the market with built-in support for the feature.
The UHD Alliance describes Filmmaker Mode as an option that will “allow viewers to enjoy a more cinematic experience on their UHD TVs when watching movies by disabling all post-processing (e.g. motion smoothing, etc.) so the movie or television show is displayed as it was intended by the filmmaker, preserving the correct aspect ratios, colors and frame rates.” TV makers can offer it as a setting for users to turn on, and content producers will also have the ability to use metadata to automatically enable it on supported TVs.
LG and Vizio announced at CES that they will both offer Filmmaker Mode on all of their new TV models this year. Panasonic confirmed that at least one of its new 4K OLED TVs will have Filmmaker Mode too, although that display won’t be available in North America; the company pulled out of the region’s TV market years ago.
During a CES press briefing this week, the UHD Alliance announced that it had secured commitments from Samsung, Philips/TP Vision, and Kaleidescape to include Filmmaker Mode on new products this year. The major TV makers that have not joined the effort are Sony — a curious holdout, since it’s a member of the UHD Alliance — and TCL, which instead announced at CES a similar-sounding feature for video games, “THX Certified Game Mode,” that it will offer on some 2020 TV models.
The UHD Alliance also announced endorsements from some film industry groups at CES: The Directors Guild of America, the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild, and the Film Foundation — a nonprofit founded by Martin Scorsese that is dedicated to film preservation and education — said they will recognize Filmmaker Mode as “the preferred way for home viewers to enjoy film and TV shows as they were intended to be seen by the filmmaker.”
Almost all modern TVs offer an array of ancillary options that their manufacturers promote as image enhancements. Most of them are relatively innocuous, like sharpening and dynamic contrast — they don’t do too much unless a user really turns them up — but they’re specific to individual TV makers, so they’re an easy way for companies to market their displays as having unique features. And sometimes, they’re enabled by default, so people don’t even realize that what they’re seeing isn’t what the filmmaker intended.
The most infamous of these post-processing techniques is known by a number of names, including “motion smoothing,” “video interpolation,” and “the soap opera effect.” It refers to a mode in which a TV artificially inserts extra frames into a video feed — frames that it generates by interpolating (i.e., using math to guess) between existing frames.
Motion smoothing has the effect of increasing the viewer’s perceived frame rate, which makes the video appear, well, smoother. Some people either can’t tell the difference or actually like the way it looks, but to discerning viewers — and the artists who make movies and TV shows — this so-called enhancement ruins the experience with an unnatural defilement of the filmmakers’ intent. (Knives Out writer-director Rian Johnson described it in a since-deleted tweet as making movies “look like liquid diarrhea.”) And because each manufacturer has its own branding for motion smoothing, it can be difficult to figure out how to turn it off in a particular TV’s settings menu. For instance, LG calls it “TruMotion,” while it’s labeled “Auto Motion Plus” on Samsung TVs.
Along with Johnson and Dunkirk’s Nolan, numerous Hollywood directors have been railing against motion smoothing for years. The UHD Alliance smartly worked with hundreds of filmmakers, including approximately 140 directors and cinematographers, to develop Filmmaker Mode. The group produced videos with testimonials from directors such as Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), M. Night Shyamalan (Glass), James Cameron (Avatar), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Ava DuVernay (13th), Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible), Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale), and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).
“I know the world is crazy, and there are bigger fish to fry than this,” said Abrams in the videos. “But I got to say, if you want to see movies as they were intended to be seen, you should use Filmmaker Mode.”