Friday December 13, 2019
Talkin' New TV Motion-Smoothing Blues
We just bought a new TV—our first since ... 2008? The previous one, a Sony, we got just before smart TVs became a thing. It was one of the last of the dumb TVs. To access the menu most TVs now have (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, etc.) we had to go through our Blu-Ray player. I guess that was getting old. No, that wasn't it. The streaming was touch-and-go. It worked fine for a month and then not. It would get chunky, or blurry, sometimes on Prime, more often on Netflix, most often on HBO (via Prime). That's what was getting old. And it just seemed time.
So we went from a 40“ Sony to a 65” Samsung. Good god, right? It was so big it wouldn't fit in our car so we had it delivered. Think about that: Our TV is too big for our car. Anyway, it finally arrived yesterday—from Sacramento rather than Sodo Seattle.
I will say this: They made it easy. The directions for the most part were simple and user-friendly. It was easy to take this behemoth out of the box, to screw on the stand, to set up. The toughest thing, oddly, was removing the back of the remote to put in the batteries. Patricia and I worked on that for like a half hour. This video is what helped us finally solve the problem. Thanks, man.
We were excited. New TV! Great, right? Then we began to watch.
The first thing we watched was the second episode of the third season of David Simon's “The Deuce.” It included the filming of a few porn scenes, which were fairly explicit, and now beaming in 65“ super-crisp format into our neighbors' windows. Sllightly abashed, we closed the blinds. But that wasn't the real problem.
The real problem was that while it looked good, it looked ... odd. Cheap. Like a 1980s video. Like a soap opera.
”Ech,“ I said.
”Maybe it's just this show,“ Patricia said. ”You know, because it's ‘80 porno and all.“
”Maybe,“ I said.
So we tried a Blu-Ray we’ve watched often: ”The Insider.“ Same fucking thing. It was distracting. All that work, all that money, for something that looks this cheap?
This morning, when I googled it, I found out that cheapness is something called ”the soap opera effect." It's motion smoothing. Here's an article on it. Basically the tech has moved beyond what we‘re used to, or what has been (24 frames per second), and so to ensure old software keeps up with the new hardware they’ve added this feature. For them, it's a feature. That's why the default is auto rather than off. The nice thing is you can turn it off. Which I did. Immediately. Not all new tech is good tech, boys. If tech is progressing to the point where it makes our products look cheap, maybe it shouldn't be the default.
I'm curious what internal discussions were like at Sony, Samsung, et al., over making motion smoothing the default. Or did they just go along with it because everyone in the industry was going along with it?
Yes, it's a first-world problem. And yes, at least we can turn it off. For now. But I fear the next iteration. It's Fear #1,682 on the list.
ADDENDUM: I just spoke with a colleague, Ross, and he's glad I'm on his side against motion smoothing. As are, he told me, most directors, who can't stand what TV/tech companies are doing to their art form. At the same time, he let me know this issue has been around for six years. So, yes, a bit late to the battle, but ready for the fight. Because god. Ech.