Your TV looks soft and it's your brain's fault. With any luck, you haven't noticed. But if you read this, you probably will. Sorry about that.
The issue is something called "motion blur," and TV manufacturers have been coming up with ways to combat it for years. Unfortunately, these methods often have side effects that, for many people, are worse than the cure.
Take. Along with many movie fans, he hates , which can make films look buttery-smooth in motion, kind of like soap operas. TV makers created this effect to combat motion blur and often associate it with .
High refresh rates and motion smoothing are just the beginning. Numerous other antiblurring technologies, including TVs. Learning the pros and cons of each should help you get a TV image you're happier with. Or at least, happier than before I ruined TVs for you.scanning and , can be found on today's
What is motion blur?
Motion blur is when anything on-screen blurs, becoming fuzzy and less distinct, when it moves. This can be a single object, like a ball or car, or the entire screen, as when the camera pans across a landscape.
I always notice it when there's a closeup of a face, and then the person turns away. One second you're seeing every eyelash and wrinkle, the next it's a blurry mess.
Some of this can be attributed to the lower frame rate of movies and most TV shows, which can result in a blur caused by the camera. There's nothing you can do about that. There's also blur caused by the TV itself, which, to an extent, you -- actually, your TV -- can do something about.
In the early days of flat TVs and displays, the culprit was often the slow speed of the liquid crystal elements that create an image on LCD TV. These days most LCDs are able to change their states fast enough that motion blur is caused by something else: "sample and hold."
LCDs -- and modern OLED TVs -- configure their pixels to show an image and then hold that image until the screen refresh. With most TVs this means that for a full one-sixtieth of a second, the image is stationary on screen. Then the screen refreshes and a new image is held there for another one-sixtieth of a second. Some TVs have faster refresh rates, and in some countries TV refresh every one-fiftieth of a second, but the process is the same.
Your brain on LCD TV motion
Sixty still images every second is fast enough to exceed your brain's flicker fusion threshold. You don't see still images, you see fluid motion. However, your brain is working fast enough that it's expecting to see motion during those hold times. The images are held long enough that your brain assumes anything in motion is going to continue being in motion… but it isn't. It's actually stationary and then jumps to the next position, which is also stationary.
Your brain and eyes, expecting smooth motion, blur the object by moving to follow where it should be. The physiological reasons behind this are beyond the scope of this article, but the key aspect is motion blur is in your head (isn't everything?), which is important when it comes to discussing how we get rid of it.
TV manufacturers have known about the motion blur issue for years. It's the main reason for higher refresh rates. Modern 4K TVs , but in the 1080p days, there were models up to 240Hz (or 100 and 200Hz, depending what country you live in).
Higher refresh rates don't, in and of themselves, fix the motion blur problem. The images are still being held, and if you just double the number of still images to fit 60 into 120 you haven't really changed anything. You need something to change to, and that's when things get interesting.
The processing in modern TVs can determine, with a surprising amount of accuracy, what happens in between two frames of video. For instance, if a ball is on the left side of the screen in frame A, and the right side of the screen in frame B, the TV could safely assume that if there was a frame between A and B, the ball would be in the center of the screen.
A 120Hz TV determines what this "AB" frame would look like, then inserts it between frames A and B. This means there are more frames to switch between, and less time "held" on each frame. This is called frame or motion interpolation. With video content like sports, a new frame is inserted between every original frame, and the result is less motion blur and greater apparent detail. With movies and scripted TV shows, however, there's a problem.
Nearly every movie and nonreality TV show is recorded at a frame rate of 24 frames per second. This goes back to when nearly everything was shot on film. Though the early days had a variety of frame rates, Hollywood settled on 24, and it has been that way for decades.
These days very few movies or shows are "filmed," but the digital cameras are set to record at 24 frames per second. This is perceived by the vast majority of people as "fiction." Consciously or not, people equate higher frame rates with either low-budget or reality recordings. News, reality TV, sports and so on all use higher frame rates, usually 30 or 60fps.
Interpolating frames increases the apparent frame rate, so 24fps content no longer looks like 24fps content, because when shown on these TVs, it isn't 24fps content. The interpolation effectively increases the frame rate so 24fps content looks more like 30 or 60fps. More like sports, reality TV or the content that gives this effect its name: the Soap Opera Effect. That's where our friend Tom comes in.
Many people don't notice, or don't care, about the Soap Opera Effect. Others, like Tom and myself, can't stand it. The ultrasmooth motion is not just artificial-looking, but can be distracting and unpleasant. Most Hollywood creators hate it, too, because it isn't what the director intended for his or her creative vision. If they wanted to record at 48fps, they'd have recorded at 48fps, like.
Fortunately, most TVs not only give you the option to turn it off, but let you adjust how intense the frame interpolation is. So instead of a created frame that's halfway between A and B, maybe it's only slightly different from A or slightly different than B. If your TV has this adjustment, it's worth playing with to see if you can find a setting that reduces motion blur enough that you're not bothered by it, but isn't as intrusive as the more intense frame interpolation modes are. Some even separate out the processing to reduce the judder caused by.
Black frame insertion
Fortunately for people who hate the Soap Opera Effect, there's another method to reduce motion blur. The general term is black frame insertion, but this broadly covers a lot of different ways to produce a similar effect. At its most basic, and where the technique gets its name, what happens is, a black frame is inserted between the real frames.
This, too, has its history in cinema. Though filmed at 24 frames per second, movies weren't shown at 24 frames per second. This was slow enough that some people saw the flicker. Instead, each film frame was shown twice, with a shutter blocking the light in between. Some cinemas went even further, showing each film frame three times. This blanking was a simple way to give some of the "performance" of a higher frame rate without the cost of additional film stock.
With black frame insertion, there's less "hold" in the sample-and-hold. It fools your brain better into thinking there's smooth motion. Unfortunately, once again there's a couple of downsides.
When the TV spends half of its time showing a black screen, its light output drops. In many cases this trade off is acceptable, as modern TVs are exceptionally bright. In other cases, not as much. I have a front projector, for example, and the BFI mode can make the image look very dim.
There's also the potential for visible flicker, as the TV essentially flashes on and off with the inserted black frames. CNET's TV reviews often find that the flicker from BFI is too intense to be worth the improvement in motion blur.
Like frame interpolation, black frame insertion has different implementations. Rarely would a TV with a BFI mode show a black frame for the same length of time it shows a real frame. It's also not necessarily a "frame" at all. All LCDs create light with a. This backlight can also turn off for only a portion of the time the frame is on screen, which is one of the ways companies can .
Another method is a rolling or scanning backlight, where parts of the image go dark in sequence. The backlight might darken first in the top quarter of the screen, then middle-top, middle-bottom and bottom quarter. Rinse and repeat.
There are also levels of how "black" the black frame is. A 120Hz TV could insert a frame that's a duplicate of the previous frame, but darker. Not "black," just dimmer. There are pros and cons to this method, too. Not as much light lost, but perhaps the motion doesn't seem quite as sharp.
As with frame interpolation, if your TV has different settings, it's definitely worth reading up on what they do and testing them out.
We discuss BFI more in.
The DLP projector option
The only two flat-panel TV technologies available today, LCD and OLED, both suffer from motion blur. However, there is still one display technology that doesn't: DLP.
Currently only found in front projectors, Digital Light Processing uses millions of tiny mirrors that rapidly flash on and off to build an image on a screen. . At home they're not that expensive. You'll need a screen, too, but they're not that expensive either. Getting a 100-inch "TV" for under $1,000 is easy. Many models are even cheaper.
However, there are several trade-offs. While modern projectors are very bright compared to older models, they don't hold a foot-candle to the average television. In a room with dark curtains, or if you watch TV mostly at night, this isn't an issue. I've used a projector as my main TV for over 15 years. I use blackout curtains in that room, however.
The other aspect is the overall picture quality. The better DLP projectors' pictures look good and are exceptionally sharp, especially with motion compared to other display technologies. They don't have the color depth or contrast ratios of other technologies, however. So the image won't "pop" like it does on, say, an OLED TV. contrast ratio is poor, it's not going to look much different than non-HDR content.. It can read the HDR data, but because they're not bright and the
If you loathe motion blur, though, this is easily the best option. I am a projector proselytizer, but it's definitely of a lifestyle choice. You'd really, really have to hate motion blur for this to be the reason you switch.
Know your TV's motion controls
Many new TVs, especially midrange and high-end models, have some adjustability in how they handle motion blur. Hopefully, if motion blur bothers you, you can find a setting that works for you without annoying the rest of the family.
I have long loathed motion blur, being far more aware and annoyed by it than my peers. Since I also hate the Soap Opera Effect, the only current option for reducing motion blur on my current projector is black frame insertion. And after a few months… I turned off. The trade-off of a dimmer picture, and a just-noticeable flicker, was no longer worth the better apparent detail.
I'm not telling you to just give up, fellow blur haters. If you've had your TV for a while and just can't get past the motion blur, definitely try the various settings mentioned above. If you've gotten a new TV, perhaps upgrading from an old plasma or DLP rear-projection TV, see if any of the settings give you relief. If not, give it a bit of time and see if you get used to it. Hopefully you will.