What is Filmmaker mode?
Hollywood has been unhappy about how modern TVs make its content look. Back in 2017, director James Gunn tweeted about how other filmmakers, including the likes of Edgar Wright, Tom Cruise and Matt Reeves, were all “on board the anti-motion-smoothing campaign”.
More folk weighed in, leading to filmmakers, Hollywood studios, consumer electronics companies and the UHD Alliance to devise a response in the form of Filmmaker mode. It arrives on new 2020 TVs, and is designed to tackle motion-smoothing and show films in the manner they were intended.
What makes this mode so interesting is that it’s standardised across all TV manufacturers, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
It’s a move that’s been widely praised in Hollywood, with Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Patti Jenkins and Ryan Coogler all voicing their backing.
So what does Filmmaker mode do, how do you use it – and what are the implications for the future of TV?
Why do you need Filmmaker mode?
As far as how pictures are displayed, Hollywood’s biggest complaint has been regarding motion smoothing, which creates what is more commonly known as the “soap opera effect”. Traditionally films have been shot at 24fps to produce the cinematic look we’ve become accustomed to, but this brings with it a degree of stutter.
However, TVs in the UK are capable of displaying content at 50fps (60fps in the US), with many able to run even faster at 120fps. As a result, TV manufacturers have been using the higher frame rate with motion smoothing enabled by using frame interpolation.
With frame interpolation, the TV examines two frames of the footage and generates its own frames that slot in-between to marry 24fps and 50fps together. The result is a smoother-looking image, but one that often looks odd. It gives the appearance of a home movie shot on a video camera, with a soft “soap opera” effect applied on top. Not only does it look odd, but this generates information that was never shot, which can introduce artefacts and other image errors.
Most TVs let you turn off motion processing and run the TV in 24p mode at the film’s original frame rate. Doing this will address the main issue Hollywood has with modern TVs – but not all of them.
Hollywood’s criticisms have run deeper than just motion smoothing. It also takes issue with image sharpening, colour adjustments and brightness, as well as TVs not respecting original aspect ratios of content. Filmmaker mode is a one-shot method of fixing all of these concerns, presenting films in the way they were meant to be seen.
What does Filmmaker mode do?
As we’ve said, it’s possible to turn off motion smoothing, but that only fixes part of the problem. When Filmmaker mode is enabled, it turns off motion smoothing and processing features on a TV, and corrects the frame rate and aspect ratio.
Colour modes are set to standard, so the palette used for the original graded print is respected. Some interesting things happen with brightness, too.
As LG explained to us, Hollywood masters (colour-graded final versions of the film) are made in darkened rooms using a maximum brightness of 100 nits for SDR content. With Filmmaker mode enabled, TVs have their brightness automatically reduced so that SDR content is shown at the same reference levels.
HDR content has higher peak brightness levels. For relevant HDR content, Filmmaker mode is more about dealing with processing, frame rate, aspect ratio and colour issues caused by TVs.
How can I get Filmmaker mode?
To get Filmmaker mode you’ll need to buy a new TV that has the option built in; LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Vizio (in the US) are all launching models this year.
LG says all of its 8K and 4K TVs will have it, while Philips and Samsung haven’t confirmed the specific models that will include the tech just yet. Conspicuous by their absence are Hisense, Sony and TCL, which have maintained a silence with regards to Filmmaker mode.
Due to the low-level way the mode interacts with a TV, it isn’t possible to update older TVs. This is strictly for new TVs only.
How do I use Filmmaker mode?
Filmmaker mode can be activated in one of two ways: via a dedicated button on a remote control or automatically.
Panasonic has chosen the remote option with its HZ2000 4K OLED TV, letting users choose when it’s activated.
LG uses auto-detection. Auto-detection requires the media to identify itself as cinema content. For online streaming, an API (application programming interface) can be used – so Netflix, for example, can know when to trigger Filmmaker mode for specific bits of content.
Using HDMI via an Ultra HD Blu-ray player is trickier. In this case, the AVI InfoFrame Content flag is used to indicate cinema content. This option was chosen since the InfoFrame is such an important part of the HDMI standard that the flag will get passed through all HDMI equipment regardless of age. The downside is that existing content doesn’t use this flag, so it will be a while before content producers start implementing it.
It’s important to note that any TV can be manually set to have Filmmaker mode turned on and off, but if you don’t have a dedicated button then you’ll have to dive through the settings or picture mode menus.
Are there any problems with Filmmaker mode?
Potentially the biggest problem with Filmmaker mode is screen brightness. While it makes sense to reduce brightness to show content at the level it was originally graded, not everyone watches television in a darkened room.
Watching under bright ambient light could make Filmmaker mode too dark for some situations, leaving people to turn up the brightness to watch – which takes away from having Filmmaker mode at all.
There are options for combatting this, such as Panasonic’s Intelligent Sensing mode, available on its flagship HZ2000 OLED. Intelligent Sensing uses the TV’s ambient light sensor to detect light levels in the room.
The image can then be adjusted, with changes to brightness and gamma, to result in a picture that looks like the original graded master regardless of ambient lighting conditions. This is fundamentally different to boosting brightness, which impacts detail.
We’ve seen the technology in action and it’s impressive to watch, making it easier to view content under practically any lighting conditions without having to sacrifice image quality.
Does Filmmaker mode work with all content?
Filmmaker mode can be engaged with practically all content with one notable exception: Dolby Vision.
Since Dolby Vision is a well-defined standard for producing high-quality HDR images, Filmmaker mode isn’t required. If the content has been mastered in Dolby Vision, it’s already been through the Filmmaker mode process, and therefore doesn’t require it.
And, with some 2020 TVs, there’s the option for Dolby Vision IQ, which, like Filmmaker mode, uses the TV’s ambient light sensor to adjust brightness and gamma to compensate for lighting conditions.
In all other situations, Filmmaker mode can be used to correct SDR and other HDR content, such as HDR10+.
Related: What is HDR10+?
Is Filmmaker mode the end of motion smoothing?
Motion smoothing will continue to exist on TVs and has its benefits for fast-moving sports content and for maintaining consistency of image quality across TV broadcasts. More interesting will be how film studios and content producers use the technology specifically for home masters of content.
There’s a general acceptance that in some circumstances, TVs with motion smoothing on can iron out some of the inherent kinks of 24fps content, such as mild stuttering in camera pans. The limitations of 24fps playback is partly the reason filmmakers such as Ang Lee, James Cameron and Peter Jackson have advocated High Frame Rate (HFR) capture.
The question for the future will be how cinema content can be made to look right on a home TV.
Some options of which we’re aware are for directors to pre-generate a motion-smoothed version of a scene that can be fed to a TV, or to send directions to the TV to use motion smoothing for a specific scene. LG told us that the α9 Gen 3 processor in its 2020 TVs is capable of being told when to turn features on and off.
There’s no hard answer at the moment, but what Filmmaker mode makes clear is that how content looks and feels should be up to the creators, and a TV should be there to respect that and do its best to match the director’s original vision.