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How to Avoid the “Soap Opera Effect” on Your HDTV … Or Do You Want to Avoid It?

Dec 19, 2011 1:39 PM, by Jason Bovberg

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What’s interesting in this whole argument is that the “beauty” of film, historically, is the result of its relative expense. Film is costly, and for that reason it uses the lower frame rate: That rate was the lowest that was considered practical for smooth motion and sound. Video can afford to have a 60fps rate because it’s cheaper. But for movies, we’ve become accustomed to a certain look, thanks to nearly a century of film history. Film has a texture and grain that gives it a certain heft, a palpable artistic weight. Those attributes go away when film becomes more like video.

Now, if we’re talking about gaming or sports or concerts or other broadcast video programming, the capabilities of 120hz 1080p TVs are absolutely astounding. I can’t believe how far HD technology has come in the home. And how cheap it has become! Every time I think we’ve reached a zenith in HD capability in the home, we seem to break a new barrier in clarity and detail.

But for film purists, there’s a point where you can go too far. And we seem to have reached that point.

The ability to disable the “soap opera effect” is vital. If you have one of these LCD displays, look for some kind of “smooth motion” or “real cinema” interpolation feature that is turned on by default. It’s this interpolation that makes 24fps film look more like 60fps video. It’ll require some digging around in the TV’s menu. On the Samsung display I have, it’s called the Auto Motion Plus (AMP) feature, and it is set to Standard in the box—Standard being the “soap opera effect.” (On Sony displays, it’s called Motionflow.) In other words, you have to dig deeply into your menu to disable something that should not be the default, at least for movies.

And that’s a problem. On my display, I had to press buttons on my remote more than 20 times before I could switch off AMP.

The bigger reason it’s a problem? Most people won’t bother adjusting the setting so that films look more like films. The fact is, the motion-smoothing effect is simply spectacular for the other sorts of programming. I watched a football game last weekend, and I could hardly contain my awe. It’s so beautiful and clear that you become giddy. It’s involving, immersive, astounding. With TVs having such an effect on consumers, it’s only natural that they’ll want the same effect on the movies they love.

And so it’s easy to imagine that consumers will just accept the new look for all kinds of programming, and leave their TVs set to this “smooth motion” interpolation. I can’t deny that the effect remains mesmerizing, despite all my misgivings. But it’s wrong! It defies notions of tradition and art. But how many people share these notions enough to disable the feature? I fear that gradually acceptance will grow wider, and before you know it, the “soap opera effect” will be the norm.

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