You just bought a new TV, set it up, and excitedly fired it up for the first time. But suddenly, disappointment. The picture looks funny. Sitcoms and dramas look “too real.” Movies appear as if they were shot on an old camcorder. What’s wrong with your new TV? Don’t sweat it. This isn’t caused by 4K resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), or even the panel technology in your TV.
What you’re seeing is called video interpolation, aka the Soap Opera Effect, and it’s something even Tom Cruise wants you to be aware of. The good news is, it’s easy to fix, and doing so can help you enjoy your favorite movies and TV shows as they were meant to be seen.
What is the Soap Opera Effect?
From the way people talk about it, you might think the Soap Opera Effect is a bug, but it’s actually a purpose-built feature found in many modern TVs. It goes by many names, as we’ll detail later, but we know the technology behind it as video interpolation, or more commonly, motion smoothing. A feature deliberately added to most modern LCD/LED TVs, it arose to solve a problem, not create one.
Unlike old CRT and plasma TVs, LCD displays have problems with motion blurring. Some are more sensitive to it than others, but when an LCD TV has to display fast motion — quick-moving sports or video games, for example — the blur can be excessive, obscuring image detail. To help combat this problem, TV manufacturers started using displays with higher refresh rates, moving from the native 60Hz refresh rate used in older TVs to more modern 120Hz panels.
Since most sources of video — including broadcast and streaming — don’t stream at this frame rate, however, motion smoothing came along to “fake” a higher frame rate by inserting images in between the actual 30 or 60 frames per second that come from your cable box, game console, or antenna. It creates these new images when your TV analyzes the picture and digitally guesses at what new images it could insert. They even use this frame guessing game on some OLED TVs.
Motion smoothing works fine for sports programming and video games because of their methods of content recording and/or producing, but we’re used to seeing lower frame rates in many TV shows and movies, most of which are recorded at 24 frames per second. Therefore, people were unnerved watching The Hobbit at 48 frames per second as opposed to the 24 fps we’ve been seeing from film reels for decades, and mimicked by digital cameras and projectors later on. Many people who saw the film thought it looked unnatural and frequently commented that it looked too real.
Sound familiar? Also, showing 24-fps content with frame interpolation for 120Hz displays messes with the cadence, as the display is adding frames that never existed. It is literally fake and removes the judder between frames we expect to see. That’s why it can be so annoying. That said, motion smoothing is not always a bad thing.
The benefits of motion smoothing
As mentioned above, motion smoothing can be great for sports and video games, as it leads to smoother-looking action. Even if the Soap Opera Effect bothers you (some people are more sensitive to it than others), you may well find it preferable for sports.
Motion smoothing doesn’t perturb everyone, and some people even like it for watching TV shows, depending on how they’re shot. There are even some people, rare though they may be, who prefer watching movies with motion smoothing turned on. Finally, there are people who notice nothing amiss. If you’re reading this article and wondering why you’ve never seen this so-called Soap Opera Effect, you may be one of them, and that’s OK, too.
If you don’t notice motion smoothing, or if you prefer it, then there’s no harm in leaving it on. Motion smoothing doesn’t damage your eyes or anything like that (as much as those who hate it might believe otherwise). If you can’t stand it, here’s how to turn it off.
Killing the Soap Opera Effect
In virtually all cases, all you need to do is adjust one setting on your TV and the Soap Opera Effect will vanish. The hardest part is finding that exact setting on your TV — as it goes by several names — and ensuring it’s disabled for all sources.
The name game
Every TV manufacturer seems to use its own term for motion smoothing. LG calls it TruMotion, Samsung calls it Auto Motion Plus, Sony calls it MotionFlow. Outside of a few edge cases, the setting for your TV probably has the word “motion” somewhere in the name. One notable exception is Hisense, which calls its motion smoothing UltraSMR.
It’s this wild-west naming problem that is at the core of most people’s confusion around the Soap Opera Effect, and how to disable it. It’s such a common problem, the UHD Alliance proposed that all TV manufacturers add a button to their remote controls called “Filmmaker Mode.” Pressing it would instantly disable all forms of motion smoothing regardless of what the TV manufacturer calls it or how hidden that setting may be.
Companies like Vizio, LG, Samsung and Panasonic have committed to adding Filmmaker Mode to their TVs. Until Filmmaker Mode exists across the board, however, read on to find out how to find motion smoothing on your TV and turn it off.
It’s likely under the picture settings, but exactly where it’s located is going to change from manufacturer to manufacturer. You might even have a button that performs the equivalent of Filmmaker Mode on your remote, but with the general trend of simplifying TV remotes, this likely won’t be the case if you have a newer TV.
To find motion smoothing, navigate to the Settings menu and find the Picture settings sub-menu. Most of the time, it will list motion smoothing toward the bottom, after you’ve passed more traditional settings like Brightness, Contrast, and Sharpness. Sometimes, you may have to go into a separate section, sometimes called Advanced Picture Settings or something similar.
Some TVs only use motion smoothing in certain picture modes, so it’s possible that your TV might use it in the Sports or Vivid picture setting, but automatically turn it off in the Cinema setting to avoid the Soap Opera Effect. This can make things easier, but if you’re the type that likes to adjust your own TV settings for the best picture for your environment, you must hunt down the setting and turn it off.
Furthermore, if you’re using the onboard apps in a smart TV, your adjusted Picture setting may not apply to streaming content on apps like Netflix or Hulu. In this case, you may have to once again turn off the setting while inside the app. Sometimes, you may find a Global option for all settings adjustments, which we recommend, as it should apply any settings you make across all sources.
Clean the blur, lose the soap
So you’ve gotten rid of the dreaded Soap Opera Effect, but now you’re finding things look a little blurrier than they used to. For some TVs, this is just a trade-off and you must deal with it. Others, however, especially those on the higher end, offer blur-reducing technologies that don’t rely on motion smoothing or offer an adjustable range of smoothing so your experience is less jarring.
In a nutshell, the more settings your TV offers, the higher the chances you’ll be able to reduce blur and judder (a stuttering effect most noticeable in camera pans) without dealing with unpleasant side effects.
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