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Is Motion Smoothing Ruining Cinema?

With TVs now delivering images faster than movies, TV manufacturers have tried to make up for that discrepancy via a digital process called motion smoothing. Whether you’ve realized it or not, you’ve likely watched a movie in motion smoothing, as it’s now the default setting on most TVs sold in the United States. Bilge Ebiri from Vulture says that while this feature was well-intentioned, “most people hate it.” He argues: “Motion smoothing transforms an absorbing movie or narrative TV show into something uncanny. The very texture of what you’re watching changes. The drama onscreen reads as manufactured, and everyone moves like they’re on a daytime soap — which is why it’s sometimes called the ‘soap-opera effect.’ In other words, motion smoothing is fundamentally ruining the way we experience film.” From the report: Motion smoothing is unquestionably a compromised way of watching films and TV shows, which are meticulously crafted to look and feel the way they do. But its creeping influence is so pervasive that at the Cannes Film Festival this May — the same Cannes Film Festival that so valorizes the magic of the theatrical experience and has been feuding with Netflix for the past two years — the fancy official monitors throughout the main festival venue had left motion smoothing on.

That seems like a funny oversight, but it’s not surprising. “There are a lot of things turned on with these TVs out of the box that you have to turn off,” says Claudio Ciacci, lead TV tester for Consumer Reports, who makes sure to switch smoothing off on the sets he evaluates. “It’s meant to create a little bit of eye candy in the store that makes customers think, at first glance, Hey, look at that picture, it really pops. But when you finally have it at home, it’s really not suitable.” He notes that most people don’t fiddle much with their settings because motion smoothing isn’t easy to find on a TV menu. (It’s also called something different depending on the manufacturer.) Which gets to the heart of the problem: As more and more people watch movies at home instead of in theaters, most won’t bother trying to see the film as it was intended to be seen without the digital “enhancements” mucking it up. “Once people get used to something, they get complacent and that becomes what’s normal,” Morano says. And what films were supposed to look like will be lost. Mark Henninger, editor of the online tech community AVSForum, suggests TV manufacturers “just put a couple of buttons on the remote that are direct surface level — TV, movie, sports, or whatever.” The industry’s reluctance, he says, has as much to do with uncertainty as anything else. “Manufacturers don’t know who to listen to. They don’t know if it should be the reviewers, their own quality-assurance lab, or user complaints.”


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