Monday, June 13, 2011

Hobbits and the Soap Opera Effect

I'm worried about the new Hobbit movie. Very worried.

Not that long ago my family upgraded to a flat panel LCD television. It turns out that our chosen model was not the best (it really could use more black definition) but it works reasonably well. I especially enjoy watching bluray movies on it. What baffled me at first was that one of the 'features' of our new TV, when activated, actually made the viewing experience worse.

That feature is called motion interpolation, or TruMotion (240hz) on our LG. All new flat panels have it, although each manufacturer has their own name for it (Sony = MotionFlow, Panasonic = Intelligent Frame Creation, Sharp = Fine Motion Enhanced, etc.). What it boils down to is that this feature is supposed to create a smoother, apparently more high-def picture by increasing the frame rate. To accomplish this, they add frames between those actually being sent to the television. On some this is accomplished by simply repeating the last frame shown. On others, a computer program interpolates what the new frame 'might' have looked like, had it ever existed. Obviously the former is more prone to judder and the latter is more prone to introduced artefacts.

That doesn't actually sound so bad. In fact there are many advocates for this new technology, including one very vehement employee at my local Sony store.

But I just can't stand it. It makes everything look cheap and artificial, a little too smooth or fast. Some people say it looks like everything was shot with a camcorder. Others say it looks like Corry. I suppose that's how it got the nickname "Soap Opera Effect".

I remember when I first saw this effect in action. They were playing Quantum of Solace at the Sony Store. Having not seen the film previously, I assumed that MGM had simply gone cheap on the production values. Let me tell you, anyone familiar with CBC or BBC programming would recognize the look.

Or maybe not. I know a number of people who can't tell the difference.

Fortunately for me, you can turn this 'feature' off.

48 Frames Per Second

So what does this have to with the Hobbit?

Both James Cameron and Peter Jackson have announced that their next projects will be shot in 48 fps (and/or 60 fps for the Avatar sequels, but who cares about those?). They describe it as smoother, more clear. In fact, they describe it exactly the same way proponents of motion interpolation describe 240 hz TV's.

All possible technical difficulties aside, this will effectively force us all to abandon the familiar film look.


Apparently I'm not the only who's concerned which has prompted Peter Jackson to announce that a regular 24 fps print will be made from the 48 fps master so that every theatre will be able to show the movie. But he also says that it looks different than a regular 24 fps film when taken from the 48 fps master. I'm also anxious about the silky look he's talking about making via a larger shutter angle.

He also didn't mention anything about home video versions.

I don't know, am I a Fossil? A Ludite? Or is it that I simply know what I like?

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