The end of the NFL season is a popular time for people to invest in big new television sets at sale prices. Now that the Super Bowl is over, it's time to enjoy your favorite movies and series on your glorious TV. But something is not quite right. You're streaming a big blockbuster superhero action movie, but the visual quality is off. It looks more like a daytime soap opera than a modern film. You've stepped into the realm of what's known as the "soap opera effect."
The soap opera effect is actually a side effect of the wonderful new television technology we now enjoy. But don't worry. It's adjustable and you're not going to be stuck forever feeling like George Clooney is starring in some weird version of "All My Children."
The soap opera effect explained
The soap opera effect is generated by a television's motion-smoothing technology. Its purpose is to reduce blurring during motion scenes, which sounds nice, but it can create a hyper-realistic look in the process. These motion-enhancing features can be great for when you're watching sports, but it's not so hot when it makes movies look different from how we're used to viewing them.
Want a little more detail? We'll need to step back into motion picture history, all the way back to the dawn of talkies, the first movies with sound. Those movies and most films since were shot at a frame rate of 24fps (frames per second). A frame is a single still image, so think about what an old film strip looks like and you'll get the idea. The modern video tech version of that is called 24p since physical film strips are no longer a requirement in the digital age.
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Soap operas, however, were typically shot at a much higher frame rate of 60fps. The result is smoother motion, but it's not what we're accustomed to seeing when we go to the movies. Your high-tech television can create that same sort of look with its motion-smoothing tech, which is why "The Avengers" looks like it was shot on the same camera as "The Young and the Restless."
Avid film buffs tend to be especially bothered by the soap opera effect, but it can also impact the look of your favorite television shows. If you're wondering what all this fuss is about, then you may be a person who simply isn't bothered by the soap opera effect. Maybe you even prefer it. That's just fine, but you'll know what's up when someone comes over for movie night and complains about the picture quality.
Adjusting the soap opera effect
Let's assume you're one of the many people who find the soap opera effect uncomfortable to watch. Now is the time to take back your TV viewing experience by venturing into the settings.
Different brands have different names for their motion-enhancing features. Samsung calls it "Auto Motion Plus." LG calls it "TruMotion" and Sony uses the term "MotionFlow." Usually, you will see the word "motion" in there somewhere. Each brand of television is set up a little differently, so you may need to do a little digging in the settings to find the right one.
While most televisions offer multiple motion enhancement settings, you can turn it off entirely if it bothers you to have it around at all. For example, let's look at a typical Samsung LED television. The basic "Picture" settings option offers a quick fix when you choose "movie" as a picture mode as opposed to the default "standard." If you're more adventurous, you can look into the expert settings, select "Auto Motion Plus" and then choose to either turn it off or tweak your own custom settings.
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If you're a big sports watcher, then you may want to turn motion-enhancement back on for your favorite events. It's just a matter of popping into the settings and making an adjustment. The custom options sometimes include a setting called "judder reduction." Judder is a stuttering effect that can be particularly noticeable when a camera pans across a scene. Play around with it. If you don't like the look, you can still turn it all off or change the judder reduction later. Don't worry about falling too far down the settings rabbit hole. Most TVs have an option to restore them to factory settings, so you can always start over.
Motion smoothing is here to stay
So how pervasive is the soap opera effect? It bothered movie cinematographer and director Reed Morano so much that she started an (ultimately unsuccessful) petition asking television manufacturers to turn off motion enhancement as a default setting. "As artists, these new HDTVs are preventing our vision from being seen the way we shot it and it's also affecting the viewers' experience with the story because they are often put off by the odd 'home video' look," Morano stated.
You might not be able to sign the petition, which gathered over 11,500 supporters, but you can control your television settings and watch movies the way they were intended. Filmmakers like Morano will be pleased.