This Weird TV Feature Makes Everything Look Like a Soap Opera – CNET | Episode Movies

So you just bought one new tvstep back to binge house of the dragon and notice that something about the picture seems… off. It just didn’t look right. You could describe it as “too realistic”, “too smooth” or with “strange movement”. It made everything look like a daytime soap opera. Lots of people thought that was just what 4K resolution looked like, since the move to 4K happened around the same time as this “feature”.

The good news is that you are not imagining it. Your TV could absolutely change the look of your movies and TV shows. Colloquially, the feature that creates this look is called the “soap opera effect” but has many names like “motion smoothing,” “motion interpolation,” or “ME/MC” for motion estimation/compensation.

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The even better news is that on almost every TV that has this feature, you can turn it off. Do your family and friends a favor and turn theirs off too. A lot of people (including me) don’t like it, but a lot of people don’t even know that you can turn it off. Here’s what the soap opera effect is and how to banish it from your TV forever.

So what is the soap opera effect?

The soap opera effect is actually a feature of many modern televisions. Some people don’t notice it, some don’t mind it and some even like it.

Filmmakers, by and large, don’t like that. 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 in 2018 and attached it as a video quality PSA of sorts.


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Many newer televisions even have a special one image modecalled Filmmaker modewhich, among other effects, is designed to ensure that no soap opera effect is activated.

The soap opera effect looks like hyper-real, ultra-smooth motion. It shows up best in pans and camera movements, although many viewers can see it in any movement. The effect might be welcome for some types of videos like sports and reality TV. But movies, high-end scripted TV shows, and many other types of video — according to most viewers and directors like McQuarrie, who actually create the movies and shows — look worse when applied by TV.

TV maker: “It’s a feature, not a bug”

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To get the best picture, you sometimes need to delve deep into your TV’s menu system.

Samsung

This “whatever” movement was supposedly designed to help diminish appearances motion blur on LCDs. All LCD-based TVs – which is the case these days any TV that isn’t OLED — Have difficulty with motion resolution. This means that any object on the screen that is moving will be less detailed (slightly blurry) than the same object when stationary. High refresh rate (120Hz and 240Hz) LCDs were developed in part to combat this problem.

The short version: For high refresh rate TVs to be most effective, they need new, real frames inserted between the original frames.

Thanks to fast processors, TVs can “guess” what’s happening between the frames originally captured by the camera. These new frames are a mix of the frame before and the frame after. Creating these frames reduces motion blur. For 30fps and 60fps content, this is great. Content like sports has better detail in motion and there are minimal side effects apart from errors and artifacts that are possible with cheaper or less motion interpolation processing.

Soap opera effect smoothing Tom Cruise Vizio

On Vizio TVs, controls for the soap opera effect can be found under Motion Controls.

David Katzmaier/CNET

However with 24fps Content – namely Hollywood movies and most television shows such as sitcoms and dramas that aren’t reality tv or soap operas – there is a problem. The cadence of film and the associated blurring of the image of the slower frame rate is linked to the perception of fiction. Check out the scathing reviews of the High frame rate version of The Hobbit from 2012 to prove it. Even if this perception seems grandiose, the see 24 fps is expected for movies and fictional TV shows. Although the television and movie industries have long moved away from filming, the new digital cameras are set to 24 fps because that’s the look that audiences expect from fiction programs.

SOE plays with this cadence. By creating new frames between the original 24 frames, it looks like 30 fps or 60 fps content. In other words, it makes movies (24fps) look like soap operas (30/60fps).

How to disable the soap opera effect

The bad news: Every TV company has a different name for their motion interpolation processing. And it’s on in most standard picture modes. Why? Maybe because TV manufacturers want to justify the extra price you paid for a TV with this built-in feature. Oh progress.

The good news is that you can turn it off on almost every television on the market.

Step 1: Put the TV in Filmmaker, Movie, Cinema or Calibrated mode. On most TVs, this will not only eliminate or greatly reduce the smoothing, it will make the picture more accurate in general, especially the colors. If the movie looks too dark, you can increase 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 that smoothing is actually turned off. On some TVs, the soap opera effect stays on even in film or cinema mode. Not cool. This is what several companies call their motion interpolation functions. These can be found in the picture settings menus, often in deeper menus called “Advanced” or “Expert”.

  • LG: TruMotion
  • Samsung: image clarity or Auto Motion Plus
  • SonyMotionFlow or TruCinema
  • TCL: Action smoothing
  • Vizio: motion control

In some cases there are adjustments for the amount of motion smoothing. Feel free to experiment to see what gives you the best combination of detail and fluid movement. Fully off is what we recommend for movies and fictional TV shows.

Soap Opera Effect Smoothing Tom Cruise LG

Some TVs have smoothing turned on by default even in cinema mode.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Most of these names have remained consistent over the past few years that smoothing features have existed. So if you have an earlier TV from either of these brands, you should be able to find the smoothing feature with a little digging.

No matter what TV you have, it’s worth figuring out where this setting is located. It’s possible you’ll want it on when you’re watching sports or other “video”-based content (30fps or 60fps). Then you can turn it off for movies and fictional TV programs. This gives you the best of both worlds with minimal motion blur for sports and no SOE for movies.


As well as reporting on TV and other display technologies, Geoff takes photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, giant aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips and more. Check out Tech Treks for all of their tours and adventures.

He wrote a best-selling science fiction book about city-sized submarines and a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.

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