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.

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  1. That “unreal” soap opera effect is due to the higher refresh rate that manufacturers keep advertising (120Hz, 240Hz, 600Hz, or whatever). I absolutely HATE this effect. Luckily it can be turned off. A friend of mine likes it for whatever reason but it drives the rest of us crazy since it can make even the most visually impressive movie seem like… a soap opera (I’ve used the same comparison). It’s been my conclusion that this effect should only be used for sports and video games.

  2. I have the same problem, but to me the action is more weirdly fluid and I can not stand it. That is when I bought my tv I got a plasma. Plasma display do not have to try to account for motion tear by interpolating image data and ‘mixing’ frames.

  3. I realized I was a cranky old man when I went on 45 minute a rant about how much digital media is ruining society because the local Blockbuster closed. I’m 25. I too don’t care for the ultra HD picture that seems like the norm. Supposedly The Hobbit was filmed at 48 fps and people have already complained about the footage shown in that way, saying it looked like a soap opera, but since the movie will do well no matter what 48 fps could become the new 3D.

  4. Yea, like Sam said, if this is really bothering you, The Hobbit is gonna be a nightmare for you. It seems that the 48fps crusade is the next one to attempt to revolutionize the film industry, as Peter Jackson, James Cameron (he’s planning the nest 2 avatars to be shot at this framerate), and several other high-profile directors have been advocating it. Cameron even suggested 60fps. Get ready for soap-opera looking films if it catches on.

    I haven’t had a chance to experience it yet, so I’ll withhold judgment, but the Hobbit screening sure got a few people irked.

  5. Simple answer? No. Stick with the high refresh rate. It might take a few weeks, but after that you cannot notice that soap opera effect at all.

  6. Wasn’t there a lot of discussion about this a few months ago after people saw footage from “The Hobbit” at test screenings? If I recall, Peter Jackson decided to up the fps he films at and a lot of people were angry with the result, describing it as being like a soap opera.

  7. As everyone else stated, all you have to do is turn this off. Each company will have some weird name for it, but in the options you ARE able to turn this off and put it back to regular mode.

  8. To all who complain about the “soap opera” effect….

    Why the FRACK are you buying an HDTV then? Go back to your CRT and STFU.

    Personally, I love the clarity AND the feeling of being THERE in the picture.

    The depth of field is amazing and even more immersive. First time I noticed it was watching BluRay of Pirates of the Carribean Dead Mans Chest on a plasma… it was amazeballs incredible.

    I think you people just don’t appreciate good picture quality.

  9. You have to remember. You have 24 frames per second that are being blended together to form the 240 frames you will see on that fancy 240hz TV.

  10. Glad to finally have found a name for this, hah.

    The best way I can describe the phenomenon to rude people like ‘thelaughingman’, is that it feels like each of the elements in the frame have been separated. You get the slight impressino that the background, actors, objects, are all on different ‘layers’, if you will. It’s unnerving.

  11. I never knew others were experiencing the same thing. On my LED Vizio there is a setting that I turned off because I couldn’t hardly handle the picture anymore. Everything seemed “too real” and was making it hard for me to watch any of my BluRays/DVDs at all. Turned it off and a sense of relief washed over me …

    That’s not to say that I could’ve left it on and eventually got used to it, but I think the picture is crystal clear either way. The “too real” aspect of the option turned on just wasn’t my bag.

  12. i noticed the weird soap opera effect on movies to but my younger cousins tell me they don’t see it. now that i know it is because of motion blurring, i am turning it off for tv and movies, and on for games and anime. it is kinda nice on non humans.

  13. Forget all the refresh rate stuff, go into the settings and try to find anything called “smooth motion” or “cinema motion”. Basically anything to do with motion and turn them all off. It will make a huge difference and should bring the tv back to “normal”.

  14. As someone who has a few TV’s like this, it’s an effect you get used to. And the great thing is that once you do, it doesn’t hurt to look at the “old” TV’s. You just get used to processing both.
    Soap opera’s, sadly, will still be Soap Opera’s

  15. Yessss I had this same thing happen to me when I bought my new Samsung. It’s def weird at first but honestly I don’t even notice it anymore and can’t imagine not having such a nice picture now

  16. I’ve been complaining about this feels like a couple years now, at /least/! I’m 19 and my friends call me weird haha but I first noticed this watching Beauty and the Beast with my girlfriend and I thought it might just be since it was the first Disney Movie to use a cgi background. But then I noticed it in other movies and when I asked my friends if they noticed it (they owned the TV) they looked at me weird. Anyways glad I’m not crazy! (sorry that got kinda tangenty)

  17. Glad I am not the only one to have made this comparison, my friend got a 55″ and we were watching watchmen and it looked horrible. I mentioned that it looked like a soap and he had no idea what I meant.

    I realize it is refresh rate and can be turned off, but there is also such thing as too clear of a picture. Movies need a little but of grit grain.

  18. I thought I was the only one! I first experienced it at Wal-Mart, where they were playing the Prince of Persia movie on Blu-Ray. At first I thought it was a behind-the-scenes thing, but nope. Just no film grain. It was awful. I hate Blu-Ray. Hate, hate, hate it.

  19. @Charlie Ward

    You don’t hate blu ray. You hate the motion blur setting. Turn it off and you get the HD picture without the “fast motion”.

  20. I’ve noticed the same thing, not on an HD TV with a Blu-Ray, but watching a DVD on my computer. Turned out to be a setting in PowerDVD. I had watched a couple movies that way, and it rather bugged me. Then my wife and I were watching The Book of Eli, and the effect was immense. Everything looked like a set, and just seemed completely fake. I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and dug around in the settings until I found it, then turned that thing off. Was so much better afterwards.
    As for Blu-Rays, luckily my TV isn’t one of the new ‘mega’Hz models, so they still look awesome.

  21. It is called “true motion” and it absolutely sucks.
    Everythings looks like your holiday home videos from the 80´s

    You can turn it off in the options but some douchbag TV´s always automatically turn it on agian after an update…

  22. Thanks for the article! I finally can give a name to the weird effect that makes me hate LED TVs.
    To me, the high refresh rate makes everything look like it’s old 80’s Claymation, because the natural blur of real frames is taken away.
    God, I’m getting old, complaining about new tech.
    At least now I know I can turn the damn effect off, and knowing is half the battle

  23. I have dealt with this motion smooth, true motion effect etc on several TVs. From jiggering with the settings I have found that certain shows can look great while others look awful.
    My current TV has three settings for smoothing and another “Film” setting that can be turned off or on.
    A quick breakdown of settings that I use.

    Smooth High, FILM setting on- Great for shows such as House, Bones, Rizzoli and Isles Law and Order.

    Smooth Low, Film setting on- I use this for a majority of what I watch. Game of Thrones, True Blood, Movies etc.

    Smooth off Film Off- Any time I play video games I turn that shit off. Causes video lag.

    Now it’s a whole different story for watching animation.
    I have noticed that the High smooth effect really makes 3D animated films pop visually yet causes one big drawback, it throws the mouth animations off slighty. This bugs the hell out of me. So I keep it on low or medium smooth.

    For 2D animation I turn all the smooth effects off and leave film mode on. The smooth effects really seem to cause ghosting and sync issues on 2D animated films.

    Hope this helps.

  24. I saw it for the first time while staying in a friend’s guest house with a 70″ flat screen 240hz LED Samsung… It was unnerving and it completely distracted from the program I was watching. I went into the settings and found the motion settings and turned it off… Honestly, it was the reason why I talked myself into spending less money on a 60hz LCD. I get 1080p without the headache or confusion and I can replace it with little guilt for having not spent a lot of money while waiting for the next tech. (Although fast action is annoyingly blurred, good thing I prefer thrillers and comedies!)

    Great article, keep’em coming!

  25. Try the player “Splash Pro” if you want this ultra HD on any vids in the PC. That player take any vid to 60 PFS. At first the soap opera efect is present but you get used to it. May be it’s time for upgrade our eyes!

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