One of the more interesting new technology announcements at CES 2022 was a new video processing solution from company Pixelworks to help directors adjust the way motion is presented across screens in all settings.

The end-to-end motion processing solution, called TrueCut Motion, made its debut at CES 2022 as an announced feature subset in TCL’s upcoming television line and developer Pixelworks is evangelizing the technology for broad use across content, distribution services and consumer electronics devices. More partners from each of these areas will be announced later.

TrueCut Motion is said to offer directors advanced mastering tools to control how motion is visualized in their films in theaters, the home and on the go. The system includes new streaming and theatrical distribution protocols and device messaging as well as end-user device certification to ensure consistent visuals across devices.

In particular, Pixelworks’ mission was to eliminate motion issues in images viewed on home theater displays, which long have produced an insufficient image compared to the artistic intent of filmmakers. The platform was developed to allow viewers to experience “incredible motion, consistently presented across every screen seamlessly.”

We caught up with Richard Miller, Pixelworks new technology executive VP, through a video chat during CES 2022.

Pixelworks is a video display processing solutions company that has developed proprietary picture processing algorithms for flat-panel TVs and video projectors for many years. More recently it has been focused on producing Pixelworks picture processing chips that are now used by three out of the four top brands of mobile devices in China.

Its systems are noted for very accurate color mapping and calibration, motion processing, scaling and power consumption management for video gaming on portable devices.

Enter TrueCut Motion, which is the company’s latest product that taps on Pixelworks’ long expertise in motion handling. That knowledge goes back to the introduction of the first progressive displays and the company has hundreds of patents in the field of display processing.

“Fifteen years ago we decided we had to get to the fundamental level of what motion was all about — not a partial solution but how we perceive motion and bridging the gap between 24 fps formats with the filmic look people want and the devices set up for sports, gaming and other things,” Miller explained. “What came out of that were some very powerful algorithms that help us wrestle this beast to the ground by removing judder without destroying the look of film.”

One solution was for filmmakers to produce content that runs at a higher frame rate than the decades old 24 fps film standard (as seen in titles including Gemini Man and 48 fps version of The Hobbit, for example). Alternatively, TVs can apply motion smoothing systems, which filmmakers tend to hate even more, he said.

More recently, many TVs have shipped with the Ultra HD Alliance’s new Filmmaker Mode. “Filmmaker mode is a good, single-ended solution.  TrueCut Motion’s end-to-end approach is really the next step for today’s larger and brighter TVs, Miller said.

To implement TrueCut Motion, Pixelworks has worked very closely with cinematographers, including Curtis Clark, The American Society of Cinematographers technology chair.

“They care a great deal about shutter angle, and getting the shutter to look right during playback is very critical and something they obsess about,” Miller explained.

“With shutter angle, a shutter is typically opened 180 degrees, which means it is open about 50% of the time (1/48th sec.) Any change by a few degrees left or right can change the feel, and they will change that shot-by-shot, sometimes to large effect in films like Saving Private Ryan, where Steven Spielberg chose to use a very fast shutter of about 90 degrees to achieve a kind of hardness to the look of bullets whizzing by,” he said.

These tools are sometimes used to affect at a subconscious level a sense of immersion and suspension of the viewer, and become critical to how the story is told, he added.

TrueCut’s motion handling system provides a means for adjusting most of the disparate elements of motion in post production, where very powerful processing systems in the cloud are leveraged to do most of the heavy lifting, taking much of the burden off of less powerful chip sets in television sets and devices.

“We can now adjust the shutter angle in post, which is extremely important, because TVs typically de-blur tremendously. That’s their job, but it can make a shutter angle of 180 degrees actually look more like 130 degrees,” Miller said.

Today’s motion handling systems allow finely tuning judder, shutter (motion blur), when filmmakers choose to maintain a 24 fps filmic look (or not). TVs and distribution systems often also adjust for other factors in motion (like convert from 24 to 25 fps or from 60 to 50 fps, which introduces other issues).

Miller said that with TrueCut Motion, Pixelworks set out to control and balance every aspect of motion using a set of tools (first announced in 2019) that draw upon a huge amount of processing resources in the cloud or on premises.

This, he explained, allows filmmakers to finely tune the way motion looks. Since that introduction, Pixelworks has been working with filmmakers on a number of productions to achieve the desired look.

After working out how to get the look right at the production end, the team worked out how to deliver that look consistently across every screen, from regular cinema, Dolby Cinemas, home TV screens, airline screens, mobile devices and subsets of them all.

“There are actually nine or 10 versions and the motion looks differently on all of them, and even within some displays, a dozen TVs, for example, can present motion that appears differently on each screen,” Miller said.

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Miller said TrueCut Motion now provides the ecosystem an end-to-end platform with tools available for streaming services, theatrical delivery and finishing, and firmware and certification for TVs to ensure they will deliver motion very accurately and correctly.

“Now you can make a movie, have your hero version as maybe the cinema version and be assured that the motion look appears the same in the home across television sets or across mobile devices, and in the future on VR headsets,” Miller said. “It’s all about wrestling motion to the ground.”

At the television set level, Miller said TrueCut Motion “tunes the TV to a reference mode that will accept the stream that we sent from the source. We use a high frame rate sort of wrapper, that doesn’t look like high frame rate, because people often say they hate the high frame rate look, but we use a frame rate within which we can deliver the intended look.”

Miller said the transmission streams often use a 48 fps or 60 fps rate to present a 24 fps look, with motion blur and judder appearing as the filmmaker graded for them.

Importantly, Miller said TrueCut Motion will work effectively on televisions with either 60 Hz or 120 Hz native refresh rates, adding that “120 Hz TVs do a little more work on blur reduction, so we have to do a little more work there.”

To communicate instructions to the TV from the originating source, Miller said TrueCut Motion can use standard metadata, but in most use cases the streaming service will have an app in the TV and Pixelworks adds APIs to the TV set that allow the streaming service to tell the television the incoming signal has TrueCut Motion and the set will then automatically switch into TrueCut Motion mode.

“We tune the TV into a sort of calibrated mode,” Miller explained. “It’s not like Filmmaker Mode where you are just turning certain things off. There’s a bit more involved than that. In fact, there are a dozen ways a TV can change the look of motion and we have to put them all into a certain prescribed mode.”

Miller said Pixelworks is a former member of the Ultra HD Alliance and is a big supporter of Filmmaker Mode, but the company dropped out of the Alliance because it was no longer able to attend the meetings.

TrueCut’s motion handling system allows some flexibility for users to make adjustments to the picture when engaged, such as adjusting for the brightness of the room, when a viewer might prefer a slightly brighter look.

“We allow all the spatial settings to be adjusted. However, we don’t allow the Motion Settings to be adjusted,” he said. “With TrueCut Motion you should not see any annoying judder, but instead of relying on a motion chip inside of the TV we’ve done something much more sophisticated entirely controlled by the director.”

Beyond adjusting for film-based and theatrical content, Pixelworks is working on adjusting motion in video and live sports, he added: “It’s something we are very excited about. It is not something we are announcing at the moment, but it is obviously a very important area and the different standards around the world are causing sports not to look quite as good as they could, and on a 60 or 120 Hz set you get a variety of different effects. Standards conversion is then a very key area of interest to us.”

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By Greg Tarr

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