Does your new TV make everything look like a cheap soap opera? Here's how to turn off that eerie, ultrasmooth motion.
If you're ever wondered why new TVs look "weird," like everything is "too realistic" or "too smooth," you're not alone. In fact, most new TVs default to a mode that does this on purpose. It's not the resolution, though the change did happen around the time 4K TVs were becoming more common. Colloquially, it's called the "soap opera effect," and while some people don't notice it, and some even like it, many of us absolutely hate it.
The more accurate description of this "feature" is motion smoothing, though it's also called motion interpolation, motion estimation or motion compensation. Every TV manufacturer has their own name for it, but it usually has one or more of those words in the name. Most new TVs have this tech and, thankfully, you can turn it off.
You're not the only one who doesn't like this mode. Many people don't like it, but just figure that's how modern TVs look. Most TV reviewers don't like it. Hollywood filmmakers don't like it either, since the TV is making changes to the image they never intended. So here's what it is and how to turn it off, so you can fix your own TV and all your friends' and family's TVs too.
The soap opera effect is actually a feature of many modern televisions. It looks like hyperreal, ultrasmooth motion. It shows up best in pans and camera movement, although many viewers can see it in any motion. The effect is potentially welcome for some kinds of video, such as sports and reality TV. But movies, high-end scripted TV shows and many other kinds of video look -- according to most viewers, and directors who actually create the movies and shows -- worse when it's applied by the TV.
Filmmakers, widely, do not like it. Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, for example, want you to turn off the soap opera effect when you watch movies. They even made a video about it back in 2018 and appended it as a sort of video-quality PSA.
Many newer TVs even have a special picture mode, called Filmmaker Mode, that among other effects is designed to make sure there's no soap opera effect turned on.
This motion "whatever" was ostensibly developed to help decrease apparent motion blur on LCDs. All LCD-based TVs -- which these days is any TV that's not OLED -- have difficulty with motion resolution. That means that any object onscreen that's in motion will be less detailed (slightly blurry) compared with that same object when stationary. High-refresh-rate (120Hz and 240Hz) LCDs were developed in part to combat this problem.
The short version: In order for high-refresh-rate TVs to be most effective, they need new, real frames to insert between the original frames.
Thanks to speedy processors, TVs can "guess" what's happening between the frames captured by the camera originally. These new frames are a hybrid of the frame before and the frame after. By creating these frames, motion blur is reduced. With 30 and 60 frame-per-second content, this is great. Content like sports has better detail with motion, and there are minimal side effects, beyond errors and artifacts possible with cheaper or lesser motion interpolation processing.
However, with 24fps content -- namely Hollywood movies and most TV shows like sitcoms and dramas that aren't reality TV or soap operas -- there's a problem. The cadence of film, and the associated blurring of the slower frame rate's image, is linked to the perception of fiction. Check out the scathing reviews of the high-frame-rate version of 2012's The Hobbit for proof of that. Even if this perception seems grandiose, the look of 24fps is expected with movies and fiction TV shows. Even though the TV and movie industries have long since moved away from shooting on actual film, the new digital cameras are set for 24fps because the audience for fictional programming expects that look.
SOE messes with this cadence. By creating new frames between the 24 original frames, it causes it to look like 30fps or 60fps content. In other words, it makes movies (24fps) look like soap operas (30/60fps).
The bad news: Every TV company has a different name for their motion interpolation processing. And in most default picture modes it's turned on. Why? Maybe because TV-makers want to justify the extra price you paid for a TV with this feature built-in. Ah, progress.
The good news: With almost every TV on the market, you can turn it off.
Step 1: Put the TV in Filmmaker, Movie, Cinema or Calibrated mode. On most TVs this will not only eliminate or greatly reduce smoothing, it will make the picture more accurate in general, particularly colors. If Movie looks too dark, feel free to turn up the Backlight or Brightness (on LCD TVs) or OLED Light (on LG OLED TVs) until it's bright enough for you.
Step 2: Make sure smoothing is actually off. Some TVs keep the soap opera effect turned on even in Movie or Cinema mode. Not cool. Here's what several companies call their motion interpolation features. These can be found in the picture adjustment menus, often in deeper menus called "Advanced" or " Expert."
In some cases there will be adjustments for the amount of motion smoothing. Feel free to experiment to see what gives you the best combination between detail and smooth motion. Fully off is what we recommend for movies and fiction TV shows.
Most of these names have remained consistent over the last few years that smoothing features have been around, so if you have an earlier TV from one of these brands, you should be able to find the smoothing function with some digging.
No matter which TV you have, it's worth getting to know where this setting is. It's possible you'll want it on when you're watching sports or other "video"-based content (30fps or 60fps). Then, for movies and fictional TV programming, you can turn it off. This will give you the best-of-both worlds approach with minimal motion blur with sports, and no SOE with movies.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.
He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines and a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.