The Soap Opera Effect – How Your TV is Destroying Cinematic Efforts

October 11th, 2017 icon / message-square 22
The Soap Opera Effect - How Your TV is Destroying Cinematic Efforts

Have you ever heard of the so-called Soap Opera Effect? This built-in setting is usually enabled by default on most TV sets, causing cinematic works to look like cheap soap operas. The question is: why?

The Soap Opera Effect is the result of a default setting on modern TVs that creates and interpolates additional frames in between the existing ones in order to produce a sharp and crisp image of the action taking place on screen. This can come in handy when it comes to fast-paced sports events, but when applied to most narrative work you will find that the silky motion blur that’s so characteristic of cinematic works just disappears. Gone! Wiped out on purpose by your own TV.

soap opera effect

Photograph credit: Tina Rataj-Berard | unsplash.com

The Soap Opera Effect

In marketing terms, this effect goes by other, more eccentric names such as Auto Motion Plus, Smooth Motion or Enhanced Motion. Oftentimes, TV manufacturers ship their goods with this feature enabled by default and, since not everybody is a camera geek with a trained eye for that cinematic look and feel, it generally stays that way: switched on and constantly at work.

Technically, the TV analyses the incoming frames and calculates what a few frames in-between would look like. That way, it creates a 48p stream – or even higher – out of your standard cinematic 24p feed. The result is a much sharper and crisper image… perhaps too crisp. The reason behind it is that fast-moving objects lose their blur when displayed on these modern, high-definition TVs.

soap opera effect

Photograph credit: Tim Mossholder | unsplash.com

It’s a double-edged sword we’re talking about here. On the one hand, it is a very handy feature when it comes to sports, news and all sorts of factual content that’s not meant to look cinematic. On the other hand, it has the potential of ruining your popcorn-fuelled movie night, making everything look razor-sharp as if it was filmed with a handycam from the 90s.

Your TV can’t recognize the content it displays, so it isn’t able to switch off that soap opera look when it would make sense to do so. Since this feature is enabled by default and buried deep in the menus under obscure names, nobody cares. The consumer is not to blame for it. How should your parents know what a cinematic movie should look like? They just switch on that brand-new TV and enjoy. They will get used to the look in no time.

The Countermovement

According to the fine folks over at Gizmodo, an alliance has formed against this pre-loaded soap opera effect. Hollywood director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and other A-List directors and actors are standing up to TV manufacturers, requesting the soap opera effect not be activated by default.

But there is a clear absentee from this group. With The Hobbit trilogy, director Peter Jackson willingly decided to bake in the “Motion Plus” look by shooting at 48p HFR. While he may have been hoping to conquer new frontiers, by doing this he left critics and audiences with mixed feelings about the outcome.

soap opera effect

Photograph credit: Ahmet Yalçınkaya | unsplash.com

I personally have encountered the soap opera effect myself. While enjoying Watchmen on my new Samsung LED TV, I quickly realised that it looked more like a making-of video rather than the actual feature. Very awkward! It took some deep diving into the menu structure and some fiddling with strange-sounding settings to fix it. I figured it out after all, but I would assume that’s not for everybody.

I think giving a better clarification of what this setting is and does is really something every TV manufacturer should consider. The soap opera effect is not bad in and of itself, but it shouldn’t be enabled by default! Making it easier to switch between modes could also be a solution. My suggestion would be a split-screen preview, displaying one side with activated motion interpolation, the other side without. Just pick the look you prefer for any given program. Easy.

Source: Gizmodo | How to fix it (Gizmodo fieldguide)

Did you ever experience this strange effect and didn’t know why The Godfather looked like Days of our Lives? What do you think of this push by Hollywood directors? Let us know in the comments below!

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Linda Maio
Linda Maio
Guest
March 24th, 2020

I hate this effect! But I’m the only one in my family that notices. Thanks for letting me know I’m not crazy. Finally my husband went deep into the settings, just to shut me up, I think, and fixed it. Thanks for this article. It explained everything!

 Lena Fisher
Lena Fisher
Member
October 11th, 2018

We just returned our new TV yesterday (Samsung) and I told the salesperson it has a “cheap looking picture like a soap opera” – I told him I tried all of the color adjustments, clarity, etc…the over exposed “video like” picture is like a soap opera!! We brought home a higher end Samsung (TV vendors seem to push these as ‘the best’) and same thing. Yet the older Sony we have does not have this issue.

It took me a while to find this article!!! But geez….why are there not others complaining about this???!!! This story should be on the cover of New York Times!!

But….here’s whats going to happen: Suddenly this “image quality” issue will get some attention – maybe NY Times or Washington Post (Tongue in cheek) Then, some TV manufacturer / marketing guru is going to come out with a ‘special’ “cinematic hd tv” that has ‘special’ technology to make a movie look like a movie! They will charge extra for this high end tv and it will be at the top of the consumer lists.

Seriously, what TV’s are out there right now for which this feature is easily disabled and picture quality is not trashed for turning the feature off. This topic really deserves more discussion! The TV’s in the store look great while they are showing sports games, nature, etc. but getting it home and putting on a movie is a real letdown. I don’t believe that people will “just get used to this” as one of your commenters said. Maybe they’ll put up with it until they know better. Really, we don’t need extra interpolated frames of Trumps hair.

Jim Potyoposin
Jim Potyoposin
Guest
March 6th, 2020
Reply to  Lena Fisher

trust your eyes. Thats all

 Matthew Cockerham
Matthew Cockerham
Member
April 16th, 2018

I love the soap opera effect. Why should anyone tell people they can’t watch their own TV the way they want to. I could agree it doesn’t need to be turned on by default. But it should not be removed as an option either. Not all of us want to keep watching movies that we’re filmed by 1920 standards.

 Joakim Styren
Joakim Styren
Member
October 17th, 2017

Good article!
This is one reason I never watch TV in hotelrooms, where soap opera effect is always on, and almost impossible to turn off.
In my opinion, with the soap opera effect on, the actors look more like bad actors, less like believable caracters.
And that makes it much harder for me to get “sucked in” to the drama, I always got a feeling I’m watching a documentary.
I remember back in the 90’s here in Sweden, the US movies were shoot on 35mm film had a really “expensive” look when seen on TV, but Swedish film or TV series made for TV were shoot on BetaCam SP (for economical reasons) and look like shit.
I felt it was really hard to watch swedish drama on TV, it was not beliavable. Then I though that swedish actors and directors were crap, but since many of them have acually made great careers in Hollywood, so maybe they were not crap, it was the look that was crap…. And now modern TV sets make everything look that way.

 Steven Galvano
Steven Galvano
Member
October 13th, 2017

Good piece. This effect makes films on modern TVs unwatchable for me.

 Robin Erard
Member
October 13th, 2017

Hello,

I’m suprised by this enthusiasm for HFR or Ultra-Ultra-HD. Olaf von Voss wrote an article about an artistic question, and a lot of people don’t understand that.

Since time immemorial, people make Art. Without HFR or HDR or Ultra-HD, but with a piece of coal into caves. Art isn’t an exhaustive representation of reality, Art is the reality from the point of vue of an artist. Looking for more reality isn’t an interesting path for filmmaker. Maybe it usefull for animal documentaries, or for sport… but it’s useless to tell a story. Reality is the enemy of our capacity to imagine something. More an artwork is real less we have to appropriate and interpret the “message” behind.

Since time immemorial, people tell stories, by words, by pictures, by texts. The audience listen/read these stories without any problem. They don’t need HFR, HDR or 16K (everything above 4k is useless in term of perception). I don’t want to watch the perfect reality when I watch a film, I want to be part of the story. That’s why this techno-geek race is useless even if Peter Jackson used it, it’s not a good argument. You mix up technic and art. I watched his Hobbit in HFR 4k, it was bad, I watched in SFR 2K it was also bad… not because of technical reasons, but because this film is a bad film. “Beast of southern wild” shot in 16mm full of grain is good in SD because it’s a good film.

I’m happy to read artistic articles on Cinema5D.

 Peter Peak
Peter Peak
Member
October 13th, 2017
Reply to  Robin Erard

I think we need to separate story/telling from technology. They can act great together, but more of it is just for altering our experience of movie. I think lot of people here knows artistic experiments with use of editing, sound and colors, together with debates that it destroys “film magic”, but in modern -even art- cinema, their cooperation with the storytelling is more-less subtle. I think using HFR or 3d is quite similiar. It’s very expressive, but also still very uncommon from our complexes of “cinematic film”.

Member
October 13th, 2017
Reply to  Robin Erard

Robin I disagree that an article titled ‘The Soap Opera Effect’ (Motion Interpolation) is an article that only covers ‘an artistic question’ without correlation to a technical one. This website is predominantly based on gear, equipment and technique with maybe a third story telling. The ‘tech is nothing without a good story’ statement that pops on these sites (C5D, RedShark, NFS…) over and over is redundant and does not need to be pointed out.

‘We bring you information about the latest advancements in camera and filmmaking technology as well as industry news, reviews and analysis of cinema cameras and video DSLR’s.
cinema5D is for filmmakers and all those who are interested in new developments and technologies to help them bring their film & video projects to life.’ Cinema5D goes on to talk about ‘real’ story telling but this site is indeed one concerned about tech foremost.

 Robin Erard
Member
October 13th, 2017

I’m sorry Christopher, but my opinion isn’t the opinion of a novice. I’m also interested by technic, but for all that I’m not blind.

This article explain why our TV destroy an artistic work. It’s a shame to let an artwork beeing destroyed by a stupid TV processor that pretends to give more reality to images.

As film director and colorist I’m interested by this “reality” concept and I can say that HFR isn’t a good path to tell a story. It’s a technological way to get more reality, but in my opinion it’s useless for artwork because reality isn’t the point.

Cinema5D is a very good website, and it’s even better when their reviews make a link between art and technic. When they examine the relevance of a technic.

Member
October 13th, 2017
Reply to  Robin Erard

As per the article I believe TV’s should not alter 24p/25p content with interpolation. Sports and Broadcast 60p on a 120Hz display can benefit from it as the artifacting is minimal compared to 24 -> 60p interpolation, as fluid motion is the end goal anyway. Though real 4K120p will have to wait until HDMI 2.1 which I would love to see in person. On the artistic side, considering 24p was never optimal and only a compromise between expense of stock versus smoothness of motion, I feel Movies do not need to stay in an antiquated ‘Cinematic’ look based on nostalgia and what previous Artists have accomplished. At the same time I do find it admirable that many want and proceed to keep Cinema a very specific art form with detailed confines such 24p, 1:2.39, 1-2 hours, plot, dialog, OST etc etc.

 Robin Erard
Member
October 14th, 2017

I’m sorry but the question isn’t to stay in” antiquated “cinematic” look”, the question is : Looking for more reality to create an artwork is not an interesting path. It’s a marketing argument to sell more cameras. None of best pictures of 2017 are shot at HFR.

Hawkish
Guest
November 22nd, 2019
Reply to  Robin Erard

heya ev’rybody here – great to be with such engaged folks with cine, art and all.
As an artist & auteur, this discussion really makes me comment, first time since yrs!

I’d like to offer the appreciation that, whatever (kind of) story someone is telling (or visualising, in this case), it’s ALWAYS a SUBJECTIVE thing. We all know, there is no such thing as ‘reality’, no matter how much insecure people ma capitalise (on) it! We’re of stardust and molecules moving eternally and endlessly – that’s the fabric of what all try stories – for me – are about.
It#s great to see a representation of a cinematic movie in a theater, but also that is only ONE form (tho absolutely intended and crafted so) of that specific story (let’s think of the sequel and series formats also, which most often abberate from an initial idea or feeling).
For me, TV’s (SD, HD, 4k or whathaveya) is just a sometimes acceptable level of visual communication – never art, as it’s even less original than theater, but honestly I admit: I’d sometimes(rarely tho) rather see a BAD quality representation (and yes, even a cam stream) than not being able to make it to the cinema…
(BTW – I haven’t seen the ‘Real Cinema’ TV’s settings quality, which some contemporary Hollywood directors subscribe to).

Member
October 12th, 2017

There was a study done some time ago when 4K was in early development about resolution/screen size vs frame rate. Back when I was watching HD on a 32″ TV I was all about sticking to the strict 24p Film look. But now with Ultra HD resolution mixed with a 65″ TV I must say that 24p looks too jittery and prefer 60p even in a Cinematic Film not just Sports/Broadcast. That said, seeing 120fps HD on a monitor that supports it is quite the experience. Hell even scrolling through the new 120Hz iPad Pro makes 60Hz look choppy. But pertaining to the article, Motion Interpolating 24p to 60p is yuck.

 Peter Peak
Peter Peak
Member
October 12th, 2017

I like to see the thing the way author intendet to make it. Whether it was Dunkirk (my wife shouting her ears), or Hobbit. Maybe I am minority, but I think Hobbit is technological marvel and I am grateful for that Peter Jackson have “auteur” chance to open debate on HFR 3d. I will not judge technical benefits/looses. But I liked even maybe more dramaturgical than stylistical level of this Hobbit presentation. in civil scenes, of course you have soap opera/vhs complex before your eyes, but in efx scenes, thanks to 3d and this complex, it transcends into more believable “virtuality”. If actors were just people playing their roles, then when monsters came, they became also more real.
Practically eliminating shutter effect is not for every movie, but don’t blame too much people who experiments on such scale, practically with people’s complexes :) They are thinking of it how to use it, because they enjoy discovering new grounds (i.e. 3d editing in Tintin). It’s not automatic TV translation. Rules are for trespassing them-but you have to be aware of them first.

 Lauri Tamminen
Lauri Tamminen
Member
October 12th, 2017

What’s even worse is that even professionals sometimes don’t see the difference… Last year at Camerimage in Poland (a festival focused on cinematography for crying out loud) the televisions running showreels at both Arri and Sony booths had the settings on default, so the great cinematic content shot on for example the Alexa 65 looked like a news broadcast. When I asked the guys at the stand about this they we’re like “Mjeh, I don’t know, I think it looks fine”.

Gene Nemetz
Guest
October 11th, 2017

I don’t like the soap opera effect. Filmic isn’t a big deal to me either. Things change. The film look is phasing out. The best image I have ever seen is from an 8K Helium shot by Mark Toia. If the look of movies goes that way I will be happy. :-) What a beautiful image it is!

Oscar Stegland
Guest
October 12th, 2017
Reply to  Gene Nemetz

Which was mastered at 24p/25p…

Gene Nemetz
Guest
October 13th, 2017
Reply to  Gene Nemetz

Oscar Stegland , Which???

Gene Nemetz
Guest
October 14th, 2017
Reply to  Gene Nemetz

Oscar Stegland , Hi Oscar, which video are you talking about. And where can I read about the video you speak of being rendered in 24p? If you and I are talking about the same work then it is clear it is not “filmic” in any way.

 Robin Erard
Member
October 11th, 2017

What I heard about this “Soap opera effect” is that TV manufacturer of “cheap” TV can’t maintain a correct luminance of their TV at 25p or 24p. So to maintain enough luminance everywhere on the screen at the same time they must increase the refresh rate. They pretend this is for “quality reason” for “best motion” or for “others stupid reasons”, but in fact it’s to solve a technical problem. (sorry for my english, I normally speak french)

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