Filmmakers can customize their TV settings in more ways than ever before – WIRED | Episode Movies

In 2018, Zink met with Christopher Nolan, the director of beginning, Interstellar, and a trio of Batman films. Nolan casually complained about how awful home TVs made his films look, and Zink took on the task of improving that situation as a kind of personal challenge. He reached out to dozens of directors, cinematographers, colorists, and other film industry professionals to ask them what would make their work look best on people’s televisions. The answer was simple: turn off all those post-processing settings.

“There’s no real reason not to just switch to Filmmaker mode, simply because it just plays back the signal as is,” says Zink.

Filmmaker mode eliminates motion smoothing, balances brightness and contrast, and omits color enhancements. It erases those settings and lets the video play on your screen undamaged.

It’s one thing to get a bunch of creative guys pushing for a feature that would enhance their artistic vision. It’s another to go to a dozen different TV manufacturers and tell them that the settings they use to market their products actually make movies look bad. But that’s exactly what Zink did, flying to meetings with manufacturers to argue that his path was better than anything their marketing teams had dreamed up.

It wasn’t an easy sale. TV manufacturers have all developed their own built-in settings for watching movies. As with their other modes, the names of these movie-friendly modes are all a little different: Cinema Mode, Movie Mode, True Cinema. The problem with any company calling the same thing differently is that it confuses users. If the picture looks just good enough, you probably won’t bother digging through the menu settings to make it look just that little bit better.

“Companies need to do this to differentiate themselves,” says Michael Hoog, chair of the UHDA Promotions Working Group, an industry PR organization. “But at some level we need to have some kind of cohesion about some things in the industry.”

After initial resistance from the industry, some manufacturers got on board. LG, Panasonic, Vizio and Samsung have all released TVs with Filmmaker mode built in, and support is growing with each generation of products. Importantly, the feature has the exact same name across devices to improve recognition and make it easier for curious viewers to find. But some streaming platforms go one step further.

Recently, services like Amazon Prime and HBO Max have started broadcasting metadata that can force a compatible TV to automatically switch to Filmmaker mode when you start watching a movie. It makes changing modes as easy as Zink and the others pushing the hiring had hoped. But it’s also likely to raise some hackles. First of all, some people will object to forced changes to their picture settings. Even if the feature makes the image look like it “should” be, it still takes control out of your hands and hands it over to a company that decides what’s best for you. And some people might not like how Filmmaker mode looks.

demo graphics

Zink demonstrated Filmmaker mode to me at the Dolby Labs office building in Sunnyvale, California. He played a movie on the huge wall mounted TV and toggled the setting on and off to show the difference. The film was fittingly Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk. When Zink turned on Filmmaker mode, the image got darker. Colors took on a gray cast and became more washed out. When characters moved on screen, there was no motion smoothing and no forced high frame rate. Filmmaker mode also made it easier to spot the judder – the flickering between frames that occurs at lower frame rates – but it looked quite good and cinematic in the darkroom. In a brighter environment, such as a poorly lit living room, the image may not appear off the screen as it does when the saturation and frame rate are increased to 11. If you’re used to that enhanced image, or you can’t control your lighting settings, it can feel like Filmmaker Mode is actually making what you’re watching look worse.

Wilcox, the TV tester, says that in his experience, Filmmaker mode makes the picture look better. “There’s always a compromise,” Willcox says, adding, “I’m not always a fan of companies that force consumers to see things a certain way. But I think for the majority of consumers it is an advantage.”

Earlier this year, UHDA added a component of Filmmaker Mode that uses ambient light sensors in TVs to adjust the picture to different lighting situations. The aim is to reduce the washed-out look in brighter rooms. The streaming services also allow you to easily turn off Filmmaker Mode yourself, although that requires the same kind of menu diving effort that Zink and the others were trying to stop.

Zink compares Filmmaker Mode to ordering a steak at a restaurant. The kitchen would like to cook your steak medium rare every time – the way a good steak should be cooked. Feel free to order it well done, slather some ketchup on it, or ruin it in some other creative way. But the chef wants you to eat it the way he likes it best.

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