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A Solution to the Dreaded Soap Opera Effect?

August 5th, 2010 · 33 Comments · 3D HDTV, Blu-ray Players, LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, News, Plasma

(August 5, 2010) Do movies shot on film look like videotape on your LCD HDTV? Does it bother you? If so, you’re not alone. That problem tops the email complaints we get from readers and it comes exclusively from those owning 120Hz or 240Hz LCD or LED LCD HDTVs. It never comes from plasma owners.

The visible reduction of film grain and other film-based irregularities that should be present in the picture is often referred to as the Soap Opera Effect (or SOE) because the increase of the frame refresh rate from the 24 Hz to the rate of the display (120 or 240Hz) appears like a videotaped soap opera. While viewers don’t see the problem when watching sports or other live or taped broadcasts (which are shot at either a 30 or 60 Hz frame rate), they are rightly troubled when movies look like video, though not everyone is bothered by it.

A number of solutions provide a fix for some but not for all LCD/LED TVs suffering from SOE. What follows are the SOE “whys” and the fixes currently available as well as news of a possible total solution coming to 2011 models.

The Cause

HD Guru began testing HDTV motion blur in 2007 using a test disc from the Plasma Display Coalition that moves a resolution chart horizontally at a fixed rate of roughly 6.5 pixels per frame. 60 Hz LCDs have very poor motion performance, with a reduction from 1080 lines resolution per picture height (static) to around 300 lines with motion. The TV manufactures followed up with the introduction of 120 Hz LCD (and LED) flat panels and later adding 240 Hz models. The 120 Hz models raised the motion resolution to around 600 lines and the 240 Hz models kicked it to the 900 and up (depending on the model tested), however both types introduced the Soap Opera Effect when viewing 24 frame per second content which includes all film based motion pictures. To achieve 120Hz or 240Hz instead of the standard 60Hz rate requires a circuit called Motion Estimation/ Motion Compensation (ME/MC), which creates interpolated frames between the real frames. The interpolated frames have the artificial appearance that imparts the video look of a soap opera. You can turn off the interpolation on a number of displays, which will change processing to repeating the frame 5 times (in the case of 120 Hz displays) however, degradation remains visible on a many 120 and 240hz displays. According to a MC/ME chip maker this is due to the circuit altering the image even when it is not inserting interpolated frames.

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 Solutions

Currently the only consistent method to eliminate the effect on LCD and LED HDTV is to bypass the 120Hz or 240 Hz MC/ME circuits thereby forcing an TV from utilizing frame interpolation. This is accomplished on Samsungs or Sonys (we have not had a chance to check other makes and models) by engaging the “Game picture mode. If you notice the Soap Opera Effect with film based content on your LCD or LED TV (and almost everyone does) you will see the difference in the “Game” mode. Of course motion blur and judder (jerky motion during horizontal pans) will appear without interpolation (or frame repeat), so choose the artifact you prefer. For Blu-ray movies, be sure set the output of your disc player to 1080p/60 to assure 3:2 film conversion occurs. Frame repeat is a better method, although as stated above, many sets continue to create SOE artifacts in this mode too.

Plasma HDTVs have inherently high motion resolution without the SOE. This is due to the way they create a high definition image. Plasmas create moving images by a stream of short bursts of light (at least 600 times per second) instead of a “sample and hold” technique employed in all LED and LCD HDTVs. The result, 900 lines to full 1080 lines of motion resolution (meaning no blur) while maintaining the look of film. If you want film-like image on your flat panel without motion blur, buy a plasma (Samsung D6500, D7000,   D8000 series and Panasonic GT30 and VT30 series models now offer 4X frame repeat to eliminate 3:2 judder as well). Plasma HDTV pricing is at an all time low while sales are at record highs and overall performance is better than ever.

A 2011 Solution

We spoke to a representative of Integrated Device Technology (IDT) the owners of Silicon Optix HQV processing technology (obtained when they purchased the company a few years ago). IDT is introducing new MC/ME frame conversion chips. It claims their chips allow LCD and LED TV makers to use 120 Hz or 240 Hz in their respective displays without the dreaded SOE and other artifacts. They have promised us a demo in September at the CEDIA Expo and we will look and report with hopeful but as always skeptical eyes. Here’s the relevant section of IDTs recent press release.

“Integrated Device Technology, Inc. a leading provider of essential mixed signal semiconductor solutions that enrich the digital media experience, today announced the industry’s first motion-compensated frame rate conversion processors with an integrated resolution-enhancement engine for use in 120Hz and 240Hz televisions and high-definition video projectors. The new IDT VHD1200 and VHD2400 devices feature the industry-leading IDT HQV MotionSMART technology, which provides smooth motion and full-detail images while minimizing side effects seen with competitive solutions.

The new IDT frame-rate conversion processors are also 3-D capable, providing smooth motion with minimal side effects, which is significant for 3-D where varying side effects could be very distracting to the viewer.

“IDT continues to provide its customers with innovative video solutions. These new frame rate converters provide smooth motion and crisp, clear images for today’s HD and 3-D displays,”said Ji Park, vice president and general manager of the Video and Display Operation group at IDT. “The VHD1200 and VHD2400 follow in the footsteps of our other innovative video processing solutions, providing our customers devices that deliver the best picture quality.”

The IDT HQV MotionSMART technology includes per-pixel processing, providing the capability to make intelligent localized decisions in the detection and processing of complex images and motion in video images. The IDT solutions also feature cadence detection, which removes judder from sources with cadence, and a wide detection range to eliminate “flickering” when images move horizontally, vertically or diagonally on the screen.

An IDT spokesperson says their new ME/MC chips will appear in select 2011 LCD/LED flat panels and front projectors. Stay tuned.

Samsung recently offered a new firmware update they claim shuts off its the ME/MC circuit when its Auto Motion Plus feature is set to the “Off” position. An alternative (according to a Samsung spokesperson) is to set a Samsung 120 or 240 Hz LCD or LED TV to “Clear” mode or to move the “Judder” control to “0” using the “Custom” mode (post firmware update). You can update your Samsung LCD or LED TV by connecting it to your Internet router. For more on firmware updates read this hdguru.com/hdtv-owners-need-to-be-aware-of-firmware-updates/1964/

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33 Comments so far ↓

  • Hamilton

    Good analysis DOF….I feel you are correct —this is about the craft and art of story telling in film and the removal of DOF that was intentionally manipulated to story telling effect can only be interpreted as a corruption of the original.

    This became a controversial issue in the most recent LOR films with the use of high resolution high frame rate cameras — however in this case it was the director, Peter Jackson’s intent to go in this direction. He then prepared different versions of the “film” for distribution to theaters with various projection capabilities. I actually went to see the film multiple times in different theaters to see the different presentations.

    Personally, after a lifetime as a film and television editor, a cinematographer, and years as a projectionist before that — I prefer the film look. I think the effort of working with the limitations of the medium are where the art of film happens and not just the recording of an event.

  • pete

    Aaron H, there is nothing life like about it.

  • Thad Beier

    While I agree that frame interpolation is a dramatic change to 24fps content; it does appear to me that over the last few years it has become less objectionable — whenever I visit somebody with a new TV they always have it turned on; and don’t even know that it is on. Where back when this article was written everybody was shocked by the interpolation, it has become acceptable; even expected.

    What this also means is that the correlation between quality of production and frame rate is becoming muddled, as most people see most movies at home, and they’re seeing them at 120 fps. Soon the feeling that it’s a soap opera (previously, the only high-frame-rate drama content) will go away. And who watches soap operas, anyway?

  • vaffangool

    @ DOF:

    Fundamentally what is happening is that out of focus scenes are being artificially sharpened via the inter-population up-conversion…

    Whuck…inter-population? Surely you mean interpolation. Also, the upconverter can never do it’s job–it might do its job, without the fatuous apostrophe.

    Get it right or keep it to yourself.

  • Aaron H.

    The high speed look is actually as close as we can get to true 60fps. It is the future of movies and tv. More lifelike images. You are showing your age by even saying the Soap opera look that existed on tube tv’s. A lot of us remember that looks as being cheap because of the low budget shows that used video cameras instead of film. I personally like the new high speed look, 24fps just looks slow and outdated that is why it’s on it’s way out.

  • CJW

    What is the SOE really though? What is the framerate of real life? and why does a film have to “look” a certain way. It only has 24fps because people over 100yrs mistakenly thought the human eye couldn’t detect any more frames which is obviously way out. All this talk of how a bluray should look, and how the director intended his film to look is a bit of nonsense because he’s using a standard for recording that he didn’t set and probably has no real choice with.

  • dbroom

    Fantastic. Thanks for the tip. I have a Samsung LCD 630 (46″) and setting the Auto Motion Plus feature to “Clear” did the trick. The SOE was so annoying. I am a filmmaker and couldn’t stand watching any film on the LCD. Was just about to go back to my 24″ monitor when I discovered your tip. Thanks so much.

  • Stan

    Thanks so much. New TV made quality film look cheap. Fixed!

  • Dale

    Thanks for this article. I noticed the SOE when looking at Plasmas and LCD TV’s back in 2009. I ended up with a G15 Panny plasma. I HATE SOE!!! Why don’t more people complain about this that own LCD HDTV’s?! Hard to convince people to buy plamsa since most still believe in burn in (and Santa Claus).

  • DOF

    Better explanation. These LCD TV’s are removing a common cinematic technique called Depth of Field, which works in subliminally putting emphases on the subject by the use of in-focus, while things of lesser important out of focus. So it is NOT A FLAW IN FILM. We are talking movie-making 101 here! You are losing an important cinematic attribute and is why one feels this so-called camcorder or soap opera effect.
    Fundamentally what is happening is that out of focus scenes are being artificially sharpened via the inter-population up-conversion, thus effectively rendering the entire scene as everything is in focus! Due to the missing 5 FPS, the TV’s processor is creating (tweening) the hybrid pixels from the previous and next frames, in very much the same way FBI image enhancing algorithms enhance a blury vehicle tag from video footage. So the up-converter is in fact doing it’s job, but at the expense of losing a very intentional cinematic attribute called Depth of Field – aka Focus. Since TV’s main job is to reproduce the original, I’d say these sets are indeed flawed.

  • Thrang

    Nice…I was having SOE/motion issue with my sharp 70 even with film mode and motion enhancement off – selecting the game mode seems to have done the trick…thanks

  • furrball

    Maybe it’s only me, but I (for one) would LOVE to see what a show like “Castle” would look like with the SOE… :)

  • Jarnold

    @ Patrick

    Quasar 25 inch CRT’s are the only ones subject to the splash effect. Quasar call it ‘collywarble undistribbing’. They sell special distribbing glasses to counter the effect.

  • Patrick

    We have an old 25 inch Quasar CRT TV, cerca 1990’s early 2000’sand the picture freezes now and then, splatters and comes back together. Is this the soap opera effect? Operating on still a 60 hz frame? Just not up to date? Called DISH, They didn”t seem to know what we were talking about! Was it our receiver or tv? We are retired and in our seventies with all these old tv sets. Seems to us that we will have to disguard them and get a new one with still all the pixel problems. Let me know when the problem is solved . Cya-Patrick

  • Seth

    The SOE on my Insignia was a little different to fix just because the terms used are different. I went to menu then advanced video options and then went to DCM and turned it to off. If you play video games like myself it will help a lot because it was delayed with the SOE and movies seemed to have lossed their effects the director intended to have. The panning of the camera just seemed off. Sports seemed uneffected but it is any easy switch to change for whatever you are watching and what your preference is.

  • Patrick from Alabama

    @ Sanity Check Out of the nearly countless websites in existence, I’m pretty sure that a technical discussion about popular consumer electronics and a disconcerting ergonomic effect is way low on the list of stupid websites.

    Here is the issue: for numerous decades, the balance between frame rate, quality and cost led to almost every movie shot on film running at 24 fps. Movie theaters showing 35mm film had a distinctive feel to it. So, as films became more artful, more magnificent and more costly, film makers considered the viewing environment when deciding how to film.

    Meanwhile, low-budget, not always quality programming, used less expensive magnetic tape, which ran at a faster frame rate thus capturing higher quality motion. The tape did not produce nearly as good of a picture as film stock did.

    So, what you have is decades and decades of quality content being viewed in a particular way, and decades and decades of budget content being viewed in a different way. Now, the quality content can be digitally manipulated to give the higher fidelity motion quality, long seen in lower-quality media. Unfortunately, that distinctive look coming from their favorite Hollywood films is a bit disturbing to some.

    My first experience with 120 Hz, we went through a series of DVDs turning the interpolator on and off. Firefly looked like Doctor Who. Batman looked like Dark Shadows. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen looked like you were watching a behind the scenes documentary. From an entertainment perspective, it can be an issue. The point of higher quality technology is to improve the viewing experience, not distract you from it. Take the Star Wars: The Special Edition for example. :-P

  • K. Leaf

    Mentioned above was the option of selecting the source of the HD video through “Game” or “Gaming” input to turn off the interpolated frames of a 120Hz+ (Turning off smoothing/MEMC didn’t fix it: Auria 55″). I have a HDMI cable from the HD cable box to the monitor. What if i went from HDMI to Component connector? vice versa? By using the two best cables for HD in a variation of adapter ends, could that help? Would this assist the “Game” option written about by HD guru? My monitor only has multiple inputs for all connectors (HDMI, component, s-video, rca, etc.), which would support other consoles.

  • K. Leaf

    @ Sanity Check; this is exactly what the internet and forums such as this are for. I just got a 55″ 120Hz LCD and after plugging in the HDMI, i had no idea why the picture looked like early studio shows (e.g., Twilight Zone(1959-’64) with a motion delay: due to a long decay of pixels from the screen’s phosphor. But, in the few hours after purchase, i have learned all about these issues of blur, judder, MEMC, smoothing,and interpolated frames that concerned me because of my financial investment. Forums are for the free flow of information, not disparaging posts.

  • Stamp Out SOE

    Sanity Check you, and several of my friends and relatives are fortunate to be oblivious to this “effect”. Sports look great, but even my kids can see the difference when watching movies and TV dramas on an LCD TV on factory settings. Based on your reaction, you must have had friends ask why their favorite movie looks like it was shot on a camcorder and the CG effects resemble cardboard cutouts. I just want a magic box that sets every program or film to the settings, including aspect ratio, to the look the director, producer or technical director intended.

  • Mason

    Changing the Motion Plus to clear did the trick for me too. Movies look more natural, but sporting events are not quite as crisp. I can see toggling this setting back and forth depending on what I am watching. Quite an easy fix depending on your preference.

  • Sanity Check

    It is amazing to me that you idiots actually started a website to complain about a TV with a fantastic picture. The SOAP OPERA EFFECT? ARE YOU SERIOUS or just have too much time on your hands? It goes to show how people can never ever be happy about anything. The Samsung product does a simply phenomenal job of showing what the customer wants. Screw the director; they didn’t pay for my TV, I did! Samsung, if you listen to these crybabies then you will truly be the dumbest company on earth. It’s quite apparent that these folks work for your competitors, been committed or are blowhards who love hearing themselves talk. Ignore them please!

  • Josh S

    I agree with David S. on this one. I just purchased a Samsung LED 1080p 120Hz and changing the Auto Motion Plus option to “Clear” has gotten rid of the SOE, while still having the Auto Motion Plus option on. I haven’t come across a movie yet that I had to turn Auto Motion Plus completely off, but I’ve only had the TV for a week. I also set the picture to “Natural” which I like the best. It really depends on your own preference.

  • David S

    Perhaps I’ve been lucky enough to buy my Samsung TV after the software update, but really it’s an easy setting to change. Just set Auto Motion Plus to “Off” or “Clear” – I use the latter as Clear seems to make the best improvement w/o the SOE.

    Either way, it’s also a matter of opinion. I actually like the effect sometimes, but for movies like Lord of the Rings it is a bit weird to trick you into thinking it’s a PBS special. It’s a subconscious judgement by association than anything else.

  • Onanymous

    This is so wrong on so many levels. Poor people who trust you…
    1. It’s incorrect to call it “soap opera effect”. It should be called “film effect loss”. It’s a flaw in film that is being removed by 120Hz processing, not the other way around. Any upscaling to higher framerates will result in this, it’s not a flaw, it’s the whole point of 120Hz TVs.
    2. TVs certainly does not have lower resolution in motion, the resulting artifactws would be obvious and 120Hz would not help.
    3. There is no need for 3:2 conversion with bluray, blurays are recorded natively in 24p.

  • Margaret

    I just exchanged a Samsung 55″ LCD-LED HDTV from BestBuy, for a Sharp 60″ LCD-LED HDTV. But now after reading here, I’m wondering if we should have gotten a Plasma. My boyfriend and I both hate the Soap Opera Effect.

    Does anyone know if the “2011 Solution” has arrived and is available? We love how thin the LEDs are, but that SOE will drive us nuts.

  • Richard Robin

    Another solution in Samsung TVs other than turning on game mode is Mode => Picture, and turn off Motion Plus. I think it’s less key presses. It also allows you to change lighting mode (dynamic, natural, movie, etc.), which game mode does not.

  • Beth

    When we set up our brand new 55″ Samsung LCD last night, we were dismayed to see that everything looked videtaped, like a soap opera. Per the article’s suggestion, we turned off the Auto Motion effect, and it looks great!!!

  • James Wages

    You mention at the end of this article that you would report back on MC/ME frame conversion chips after the CEDIA Expo. That expo took place at the end of September. It is now November. What did you find?

    Obviously, we are all wondering if we still need to purchase power-hungry plasma screens, or if these new chips will enable us to buy LCDs in 2011 without the dreaded Days of Our Lives effect.

    So please report on what you saw at CEDIA.

    Thank you.

  • Mark S

    My friends Samsung TV has this mode and it drives me crazy. I hate watching almost anything on it, Blu-rays look like they were filmed in a high school hallway. Also FPS games (Halo, Call of Duty) are unplayable due to the SOE creating a noticeable delay in the action.

    But they must like it. A comment they made last night was that “When we first got the blu-ray we had to get used to how it looked”. You shouldn’t have to get used to it… THAT’S NOT THE WAY IT’S SUPPOSED TO LOOK!

  • Chuck S

    I have a UNC6900 led-lcd.

    I was able to adjust / turn off this feature via the menu:

    MENU/PICTURE/PICTURE OPTIONS/AUTO MOTION PLUS

    Set the mode to CUSTOM and then reduce the Blur Reduction and Judder Reduction to suite your taste.

  • Andre Vinga

    Seems I finally found an explanation to the effect my dad experiences on his Samsung LCD. He has a 720p Samsung LCD for a few years now.
    We mainly use the TV to watch movies, but hate watching them on that particular TV. We actually called it the handy-cam effect. Every movie we watch on it, looks like it was filmed from handy-cam, it just looks horrible and takes away the “movie feeling”.
    This article finally explains this issue. I’ll see if my dad has this Game option and see if that makes a difference. I remember tinkering with all kind of settings on that TV, but nothing would make a movie look like a decent movie.

    Many thanks for this article.

  • Jason Blair

    I hope TV makers do not stop making TVs that provide a SOE. I personally love the way it looks, and know several others who do as well. The “we hate SOE” and the “it’s not the director’s intent” crowds seem to be much more vehement and vocal about it though. If any TV manufacturer reps pay attention to this site, PLEASE remember that there is a market for TVs with the current motion interpolation technology!

  • Gregory Lee

    Although you attribute the SOE solely to LCD/LED flat panels, I see many complaints from owners of Samsung plasma sets, specifically pnxxc7000 and pnxxc8000, about the “motion judder cancellation” (MJC) feature, which is claimed by these owners to give the SOE. I have a pn59c8000, and, personally, I like the effect of the MJC, though I do agree with critics that there is a rather unpleasant artifact when objects (typically people’s heads) are in rapid motion. I would describe the artifact as a refractive wave, as though the moving object were on the verge of penetrating into some new dimension.

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