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Samsung responds to 100Hz Motion Plus issues

The latest 'buzz word' for flat-screen television is 100Hz, but with some users experiencing problems, is it all that it's cracked up to be?

We've received a lot of feedback recently about our review of the Samsung F8 and our take on the company's Motion Plus technology. In order to rectify the problems F8 users have been experiencing, Samsung has released a new firmware version.

But what does the firmware do, and what does Motion Plus do, anyway? In order to find out, we visited the Samsung offices in Homebush this week for a demonstration of their technology. Before we go any further, though, we should explain what the heck 100Hz is ...

What is 100Hz?
Motion compensating technologies, lumped under the 100Hz banner, are designed to reduce motion blur in sport and simultaneously reduce the judder, or jerky motion, seen in smooth camera pans. The engine interpolates or adds extra frames between each frame to smooth out this motion.

One of the main disadvantages with 100Hz technologies is what's known variously as "haloing" or the "three ball effect" -- which is in reference to its effects on sport. These terms effectively describe the artefacts that appear around images that are static in a moving scene. We've described it before as "Tom Cruise's 'nasal noise'".

What is happening is that the television's processor is constantly trying to anticipate what the next scene will look like, but if there are changes in speed, or if it's a complex scene with objects moving at different rates, then you may encounter jolting or haloing artefacts.

Another lesser problem with 100Hz is that it can make motion appear less natural and more "synthetic" -- as all the natural bumps are removed and computerised. The effect at its worst can make live action look like a Pixar animation.

Samsung's F8 on the left, Brand X in the middle, an updated F8 on the right

Two technologies head to head
Inside one of Samsung's testing studios they had three TVs setup -- a Samsung F8 with the existing firmware, a "no-name" TV in the middle (actually a Sony X3100), and an F8 with the latest firmware update (1013).

Samsung's John Fragiadakis ran the demonstration and went through some demo's on all three TVs showing scenes from "juddering" films, including a 1080i copy of House of Flying Daggers. One particular scene showed the couple on the run through a series of trees and during this, all three TVs exhibited the haloing effect. The main character appeared to be wearing a two inch-thick suit of clear jelly on over his clothes, so pronounced was the effect.

Fragiadakis explained that there were three separate Motion Plus settings on a Samsung TV: Low, Medium and High. What the latest 1013 firmware does is reduce the strength of the effect on the default Low and Medium settings -- it doesn't alter how the technology works. Users who are interested in loading the latest firmware can try here. Updating seems quite straightforward, but the question is: how many people will want to flash firmware on something that isn't a PC?

Based on the example of the updated F8 we saw at Samsung, the new Low setting did not seem to alter the image in any way, but it did seem to eliminate the susceptibility to the haloing effect. Fragiadikis said users needed to be aware of what the settings did, and that High didn't necessarily mean "best". He said that the company may need to reconsider the naming conventions and rename the settings to match the content. Perhaps DVD, Sport and Blu-ray would be better?

Updating the firmware via USB appears straightforward.

Fragiadikis allowed us to alter the Sony's ... sorry ... Brand X's settings to try and reduce the artefacting, but we found it quite difficult given the TV's less-than-obvious settings (Custom 1, Custom 2 and Off?). Custom 2 appeared to have the strongest affect, but there was some artefacting present. However, we do expect to rigorously test Sony's MotionFlow system in our labs in the coming weeks, so watch this space.

Was there an outcome from our first championship bout? No, no winners. 100Hz as a technology? First generation is looking shaky (forgive the pun).

Is 100Hz for you?
Without further testing we can't say that one company is any better or any worse than the other when it comes to 100Hz. But we will say that this is a first-generation technology, and like most others, it has its teething problems. So, our advice is that you shouldn't be buying 100Hz TVs for this feature alone, or more than likely you'll be disappointed. Judder may be annoying, but to our eyes the haloing effect is much worse.