Can We Overdose on HD?

This weekend, I had the opportunity to spend time with my friend’s new baby. It didn’t cry, or poop itself, rather it just sat there and entertained us all for hours.

Of course I’m speaking of a 60-inch Samsung LED TV that’s about as thin as my finger and more gorgeous than most supermodels. The picture was crystal clear to a degree I’d never seen before, but as I kept watching, something seemed…off about it. I think what I discovered might be a common symptom of this new era of uber-HD, and I have to wonder about the future of digital media if this is the direction we’re headed.

Quite simply, the picture looked SO real, it was unreal. For example, The Vampire Diaries (don’t ask) looked like a soap opera. Not just because of the dialogue (that didn’t help), but because the camera looked like the ones you might see in a daytime TV broadcast.

Similarly, the opening Stark Expo intro scene of Iron Man 2 looked like Robert Downey Jr. was hosting the Academy Awards. It was as if a live camera was being spun around him and he was being filmed in front of an audience live. Sherlock Holmes 2 (we were on a Downey Jr. kick) and 21 Jump Street blu-rays didn’t look like movies, they looked like we were standing on a set watching someone else film a movie. The difference is subtle, but definitely noticeable to someone who watches as much TV as me, and though it’s impossible to show you here, it’s something I bet a few of you have experienced.

Side note: Noomi Rapace was useless in this movie.

It bothered me to such a degree that I had to research the phenomenon on the internet. Hilariously, Googling “Why does my LED TV look like a soap opera?” returned a large number of accurate results. As it turns out, this effect was disable-able (yes, that’s a word) and as I fumbled with the TV’s “MotionPlus” settings, I got things to start looking like actual movies and shows again.

As it turns out, the effect comes largely from motion blurring, as in, most new TVs have nearly none. It makes the picture ultra-clear, but at the cost of the soap opera effect. But what I’m wondering now is if this is the new standard for a “clear” picture.

Yes, I got the TV back to “the way things used to be,” but it did sacrifice some of the astonishing clarity of the picture. And most people who buy these sorts of TVs aren’t going to play with the settings like I did because it looks different than they’re used to. Rather they’ll just adjust their own perceptions, and this standard of “ultra HD” will be the norm, despite looking almost eerily real.

Who *wouldn’t* want to see all the pores on his face?

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s weird to watch a movie and feel like you’re standing on set. Sherlock Holmes didn’t feel like a movie. It felt like I’d stumbled in a Steampunk convention and was filming it with my handicam. The way films have been shot for years has put a sort of distance between the viewer and the film, while still immersing them. It’s strange that once they finally achieved the effect of feeling like you’re in the film, it no longer feels real.

There’s probably a way to balance this, but if not, I’m worried that this is the first step in me declaring things “aren’t as good as they used to be” in my cranky old man voice as my kids watch shows in resolution so good it makes my eyes bleed. Perhaps this is just where we’re inevitably headed now, but I’ll be damned if I have to like it.


  1. frank July 11, 2012
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