Why does your television have a filmmaker mode and what does it do? Tom dishes the details.
Featuring Tom Merritt.
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My friends make fun of me because they say my TV has the soap opera effect
They told me I need filmmaker mode
I’m not a filmmaker and I don’t watch soap operas. What are they on about?
Let’s help you Know a Little More about Filmmaker Mode
TVs these days have a wealth of settings. This makes them more capable than TVs of the past, but also bewildering to the average TV watcher. Hence the epidemic of people leaving motion smoothing on and getting the so-called soap opera effect on everything.
Despite all this, people are watching more movies at home now than ever. Some of them may venture into settings and turn on Cinematic or Movie mode when they watch a film. That’s better than motion smoothing but it still messes with the picture more than a film’s director might approve of.
So even before COVID-19 hit, Filmmakers were teaming up with TV manufacturers to try to make it easy to configure your TV to look as close as possible to how a movie’s director would want it to look. I mean outside of you seeing it in a theater.
The Ultra HD Alliance or UHDA, is made up of loads of companies involved in making technology for displaying video– including Samsung, LG, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio, Panasonic, Amazon, Nvidia, Dell, Google, Dolby, Intel, and Asus
The alliance. maintains a spec for the combination of 4K, HDR and Wide Color Spectrum, called Ultra HD and Ultra HD Premium. Sometimes just UHD for short. That’s why you often see TVs labeled as UHD instead of just 4K HDR. (And side note, if you want to know about HDR we have a separate episode of Know A Little More about HDR TV)
The UHD Alliance also tries to educate consumers about the best settings for their home theater, including at a website called “experienceuhd.com”
And on August 27, 2019, it announced a new project to create a new viewing mode for all TVs, called Filmmaker Mode, or FMM for short.
The UHD Alliance wanted to create an easy way for viewers to set their TVs so that movies looked right. It partnered up with the Directors Guild of America, The Film Foundation, the International Cinematographers Guild, and the American Society of Cinematographers. So it was the folks who knew the tech combined with the folks who knew movies.
At CES 2020, months before the lockdowns began, TV manufacturers including Vizio, LG, Samsung, Panasonic and Philips introduced Filmmaker Mode for their coming TV models.
With one setting, sometimes one button and sometimes even automatically, all the post-processing features that muck with a film’s looks are turned off.
You may wonder why there is all this post-processing at all. The short version is that some video content benefits from it. Post-processing can emulate extra frames which makes things like live sports look better. Most of these try to match the frame rate to the TVs refresh rate, anywhere from 60 to 120 Hertz. The theory goes that motion looks most natural to our eyes when it’s 60 frames per second. Which is why amping up the frame rate to 60 helps live stuff look good.
But films have a long history of being shot at very close to 23.967 frames per second. We generally round that to 24. You often hear it called 24 p.
There are all kinds of theories as to why 24 frames per second became the standard for film. The earliest silent films were anywhere between 16 and 26 frames per second, varying based on the speed of the person cranking the projector. The range came about as the cheapest for film stock, but still enough to look like things were moving fairly smoothly. When sound came to films they had to pick a standard to hit because the sync got weird if the frame rate varied, so they settled on 24, which was right in the middle of what movie projectionists were achieving at the time.
Some folks theorize that 24 stuck because it’s smooth enough, but also requires your brain to work to fill in frames, since 60 is the natural rate. Theoretically that extra brain work engages us more in movies. 24 also might have stuck around for a long time because it’s cheap. You use less film to achieve it. But for whatever reason it stuck. And now, we’re all trained to expect a film to look like 24 frames per second. Anything else looks odd. See The Hobbit movies.
Plus post-processing can often introduce inaccurate frames which can cause artifacts and blurriness. Not as big of a deal in a live soccer match, but noticeable in movies.
So you have this situation where you might want post-processing or even certain aspect ratios or color settings for certain content but it doesn’t work well for movies.
Let’s say you have your settings tuned for all that hockey you watch. If you watch a streaming movie or Blu-ray on that same device, it’s a pain to dig into settings to adjust it. And then adjust it back when you’re done
Filmmaker mode solves for that.
Now you may be saying “well video game mode already turns off post-processing, why not use that?” It does, but with the goal of reducing latency. Something important for video games. But latency is not important for your movie-enjoying experience. Filmmaker mode doesn’t care about latency, it cares about preserving the image. To optimize for latency uses slightly different settings than optimizing for image quality.
OK so we know why we might want filmmaker mode, but what does it actually do?
Keep in mind that Filmmaker mode is designed by filmmakers, so the ideal situation is a darkened room like a theater. There’s a planned update to filmmaker mode for those of you who insist on watching movies in a bright room, but for now, filmmaker mode is tuned for a dark theater-like experience.
When you engage filmmaker mode, here’s what it does
It respects the source content’s frame rate and aspect ratio. That means it won’t stretch the picture or try to insert frames.
It turns off motion smoothing. Just off. No interpolating.
It sets the gamma control (which controls how quickly the video signal transitions from dark to light) to a preset called BT1886, and reduces peak brightness to 100 nits. This is bad in bright light, but again in a darkened room it keeps the shadows from looking gray.
It turns off sharpening and noise reduction. These generally fix one problem while introducing others. They’re only useful, if they’re ever useful at all, with degraded video. You’re streaming movies and Blu-rays are not degraded video.
It only allows overscan if the image signals for it
It turns off any other image enhancements a particular TV might have by default.
And it sets the white point at D65/6500K. This is the white balance. It makes the color temperature not too warm, not too cool but just right.
Now. You can tweak these settings yourself after filmmaker mode is engaged- you know to turn the brightness back up or something– but that kind of defeats the point of having an easy one button or automatic solution.
Keep in mind that all these settings are independent of other aspects of your picture, like HDR10, Dolby Vision, etc. These settings work separately from the effects of HDR and such.
Great. What TV makers get to use it?
Filmmaker mode is available for any device manufacturer to implement, so it works the same across devices. Most members of the UHD Alliance who make displays are implementing it, though not all. Sony being an early holdout.
New TVs in 2020 were the first to ship with Filmmaker mode. As of January 2022, Filmmaker Mode is available in all new LG and Samsung TVs as well as some models from Hisense, Panasonic, Philips/TP Vision and Skyworth; projectors from Benq and Hisense; and services including Kaleidescape and Prime Video. And some airline displays are supposed to get it in 2023.
If you have one of these TVs with filmmaker mode, it’s dead simple to use. There is either a button on the remote or even better, the TV reads metadata in the content and asks if you’d like to apply filmmaker mode and then automatically apply it from then on. Most TVs will have both options. And of course if you’re not using the remote or want to apply it to content without the metadata, you can activate it in settings. Which is still easier than tweaking each of those settings individually.
Finally, what if you have an old TV? While theoretically it could be added in a firmware update it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
However you may have a setting that’s almost the same or even identical to filmmaker mode under another name. It won’t have the easy one button or automatic aspect but at least you could apply it to films when you need to.
On LG for example, this is called Technicolor Expert Mode. (I Know.)
Oh and about that requirement to sit in a dark room to watch movies. In 2022, The UltraHD Alliance began phase 2 development of Filmmaker mode to make it work in bright rooms. Since some of you out there just refuse to put in blackout curtains or turn off all the lights when you watch movies. The idea is to use ambient light sensors present in many TVs to automatically adjust brightness to the optimal setting.
So that’s filmmaker mode!
Filmmaker mode is not going to magically fix every issue you have with a movie. Certainly not the plot. But there are also visual quirks specific to the type of display you have like an OLED or LCD. Filmmaker mode won’t make LCD black levels darker. And experts can certainly tweak a few detailed settings here and there to suit the room you’re in better. The color controls of filmmaker mode particularly are considered a little generic.
But at least with Filmmaker mode right now, you’re getting the right white balance and aspect ratio and a simple way to set the baseline so it’s closer to what the filmmaker would find acceptable.
In other words, I hope you know a little more about Filmmaker mode.