So I learned something last night about 3D TVs … basically, they don’t suck as much as I thought they did.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think that 3D itself is a gimmick that adds very little to the experience and I have no desire to sit and wear 3D glasses in my own living room, but I did dispel a misunderstanding that I’ve had about the picture quality for the last year that makes me feel a little more comfortable about the next TV that we buy being of 3D nature…
…even though technically the problem that I was experiencing apparently was completely unrelated to 3D…
It all started last fall when we were up in New York for my wife’s Grandma’s funeral. Her parents had recently bought a new 3D TV, and while everyone else was gushing and raving over it, I couldn’t help but think that something didn’t seem right. In fact, there were shows that I flat out couldn’t bring myself to watch because the actors on screen had this extra depth to them that made whatever we were watching look more like a live recording than a feature presentation. I tried to watch some of the shows that I had been watching on HBO at the time, everything just looked really fake and terrible.
At the time I chalked it up to 3D sucks and thus vowed that I never wanted to get a 3D TV myself because of it, when in reality it didn’t even click until a year later that the 3D hadn’t even actually been on.
Something finally drove me to dig into this a little deeper last night when my sister-in-law’s new TV showed up and we set it up in the living room to substitute for our old TV until she moves out. For her and my wife, 3D is a big deal, so after getting everything hooked up, we threw a copy of the new Superman into her 3D Blu-Ray player to check everything out in full effect. And it started happening again … all of the amazing space backgrounds looked fantastic, but the actors themselves literally looked like they were performing a stage adaptation of Superman instead of the film that we saw in the theaters earlier this year!
We pretty much watched until Baby Superman landed on Earth and then everyone went to bed … well, they went to bed while I stayed up in search of answers because after spending over an hour in the store with her looking at TVs, I thought that the one she settled on was a pretty damn nice TV! There had to be something else that was going on that could make a $2,000 1080p LED look like crap…
…and it turns out there was, and on Samsung TVs, it goes by the name of Auto Motion Plus.
From what I understand, what it basically does is fill in the gaps for lower frame rate videos to bump them from 24 fps up to 30 fps, which doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal. In fact, when you watch live broadcasts like sports it looks pretty good, but for anything done in an actual studio, the “enhanced frame rate” makes the latest action blockbuster from Marvel look like it was shot with a Handycam on a badly lit sound stage. Here I thought when the specs listed the TV as having a dual-core processor, I just assumed that it was for the new web interfaces and apps that are being bundled with TVs these days, but in fact, the processor is actually being used for video processing – in this case, generating that extra 6 fps on the fly to “improve” the frame rate for a clearer picture.
Online I found a lot of people referring to it as the Soap Opera Effect, which now that I’ve heard the name is exactly what it looks like, whether we’re talking about a re-run of Seinfeld or Thor or pretty much anything else with actual people in it! I tried to take a couple of photos, but I don’t really think that they do the issue justice.
First, before – with Auto Motion Plus set to standard:
And now with it turned off: (P.S. I hate how yellow that particular scene is, but I think you still get the point…)
It’s obviously a lot more dramatic on the actual TV itself, but you can even see in the comparison photos how Thor looks a lot more sharp and shiny in the first one … and maybe that looks great to some, but to me it absolutely ruins the aesthetic of the picture. Thankfully when turning the feature off, though, the problem seems to pretty much disappear…
I did experiment with the other settings first to see if there was a suitable compromise, and Clear wasn’t too bad, but it still popped a little compared to turning it off completely. Turning it off completely delivered the actual HD picture that I was expecting – it looks very nice and is certainly a step up from our increasingly old, 52″ rear projection TV, but more importantly, now the picture is actually watchable … at least in my eyes! 😉
And I guess that’s the weird thing – I still need to show her how to switch it back and forth because neither of them claim to actually be able to see a difference … though admittedly my wife somehow didn’t notice the difference between SD and HD for the longest time, either. 🙄 Considering that my sister-in-law is a football fan, she might find that she actually likes that setting for watching sports – I saw some posts from last year about people watching the Olympics and they said that it looked fantastic with the higher frame rate … which would kind of make sense because it sounds like both NFL and the most recent Olympic games have actually been shot at 30 fps, whereas most movies and standard TV use 24 fps.
You may recall last year there was a bit of complaint about The Hobbit being released in both 24 fps and 48 fps formats, being the first of its kind to do so. Here’s an interesting article that does a pretty good job of explaining why the higher frame rates for that movie especially, and I would argue even here in general, make the picture look weird … essentially because as frame rates increase, you’re getting closer to the actual frame rate that your own eyes can tell the difference between … hence it looks like Thor is performing a play on public television rather than living it up in the realm of Asgard!
One thing that I did note on her TV that I found interesting was that while you can set custom picture settings for each input (i.e. cable, DVD player, XBox), what you can’t do is set different picture settings for individual channels inside those inputs … and admittedly I’m not quite sure how they would even do that, but I can see it potentially being an issue where you might say, “I want to use Auto Motion Plus for Discovery and The NFL Network and Lifetime for when I watch my stories, but not for HBO and Shotime and pretty much everything else.”
I can see that being an issue for some people because most probably don’t even realize that the setting exists in the first place … I would guess that most simply believe that this is just what TV looks like now, so it must be better! As that article mentions, we’ve already seen it with aspect ratios and even before then, with people still viewing SD channels on their HD TVs (a huge pet peeve of mine – why can the cable company not remove those from the guide altogether when there’s an HD equivalent instead of just putting a small ‘watch this in HD’ button on the screen?!).
Anyways, for the few and the annoyed who both can’t stand this and want to do something about it, there you go! Turn off Auto Motion Plus or whatever your TV manufacturer calls it, and enjoy your brand new, sparkling, ultra-slim, high definition TV at a normal frame rate the way that god intended.
Who would’ve thought that we’d get to a point where TVs are too crisp and clear?! 😕