Bringing the message of the new “Filmmaker Mode” to the custom installer community at last week’s CEDIA Expo 2019, Mike Fidler, Ultra HD Alliance president, offered more detail on the history behind the specification setting process and what it will mean for televisions and consumers in the near future.

The following is a transcript of Fidler’s comments and a Q&A that followed on Filmmaker Mode from the UHDA’s CEDIA Expo press conference:

Mike Fidler: The process of developing the Filmmaker Mode specification started about 18 months ago. It was a long, arduous process to understand what the creative community was really looking for after they turned to UHD Alliance for assistance.

This came mostly from the studio side. They realized that here was an unbiased organization that had the ability and the ecosystem coverage to really help bring this to the marketplace.

The UHDA membership is very broad, so we had all of the components necessary to bring about the changes and bring them forward. The filmmakers were very deliberate and uniform in what they were looking; they realized that the TV viewing experience was becoming very important. There’s more cinematic material that is going directly to TV these days and we see that continuing to occur.

TV picture quality has become quite advanced. Not only 4K, but high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut, along with immersive audio, really provides that full, almost theatrical experience.

They also understood that right now it is very difficult for consumers, who don’t want to go through very complex, hierarchical menus, to access some of these modes, to change modes, to configure them. So having it accessible and easily addressable was a very important aspect.

When we started the Ultra HD Alliance five years ago, the mission was to ensure that we could help consumers get a premium experience and maintain the creative intent, and that has been the focus of the organization since its inception.

This is no different. In fact it takes it to a whole new level because the creators are acutally invovled in the development process itself.

In establishing Filmmaker Mode, most of it centers around bringing what the consumer experiences in the home to what the director sees in the color grading suite when they are preparing material for release to home video. They are looking, of course, at some very sophisticated professional monitors that try to deliver the color, the accuracy, the tone, the texture, the shading. Obviously, that’s part of the storytelling. It’s part of that emotion. This is the directors’ heart and soul. They want to be able to go home themselves and watch the movies the way they know they were intended to be shown.

That’s a really important part of how this started and how it has developed.

What It Does

Part of that was to make sure to address the very specific elements of what they were looking for. This includes setting some technical parameters to make sure the display could meet the desired delivery of creative intent. These are obviously high-level specifications and one of the things that was very important to them was that it had to be applicable to Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) and HDR to ensure that consumers across the board could get that experience with what ever system they had at home. It also had to have a color point that was really neutral and delivered the right tonality and texture . Among the key comments from the directors was to make sure to meet the correct color tone, the correct contrast ratio, the correct aspect ratio — make sure there is no cropping or squeezing — that was very important for the filmmakers.

They also wanted motion interpolation systems turned off. That was one of the key issues for most of them. They don’t generally like motion smoothing. We all heard some of that in the marketplace through videos featuring Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie. We know that piece that they did that generated 5-plus million Twitter downloads and basically talked about how you turn off motion smoothing. The way Chris left it was, go to Google, put in your brand, your model number and input ‘how do I turn off motion interpolation?’

Obviously, I think we’ve found a better way to do that.

Other parameters addressed include over scanning, sharpening (it’s off), noise reduction is off… all of the post-processing treatments that are done within the television … we tried to make sure from the filmmaker standpoint that the television replicated as best it could the theatrical experience.

They want to make sure it’s film and make sure that is what you see. That is what they want to see on the screen.

The folks at Vizio conducted a consumer survey. Televisions have all of these different modes. Some sets have six, some 10 and some 12 different modes. They all have you dig into the navigation and hierarchical menus. Guess what? Eighty-six percent of consumers never use them. They literally take the televisions out of the box and play them away in the default picture mode. That is certainly different from manufacturer to manufacturer. There’s no level of consistency between that.

We need to make sure that there is a way to have easy access for consumers. There are two ways that any CE company that is going to support Filmmaker Mode must implement this.

One is via a button on the remote that is clearly labeled Filmmaker Mode. Press it, it’s active. Press it again, it’s inactive. The other way is through automatic switching. There are right now existing flags in the digital AV information streams that was developed at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). It’s not something new. It’s a flag in the signal [metadata] that can kick the television into Filmmaker Mode automatically. There’s also supplemental enhanced information that’s available through the AVC and HEVC stream content that has to be inserted. But we have all of those technology partners who tell us that’s not very hard to do.

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It just defines the country code, defines what the product is going to do, what that distribution and access point is. With this, the customer doesn’t have to do anything, and it works for both film-based content and episodic TV, because we are all starting see what really high level production goes into producing some of today’s episodic TV programming.

We are also making sure that once those requirements are set that manufacturers can add other ways of accessing it, like voice control activation.

Consumer Interest

Of course we wanted to make sure that if this was developed would consumers be predisposed to purchase it. After we communicated what creative intent and Filmmaker Mode was, 88% said they would be predisposed to purchase a set with Filmmaker Mode over one without. And when the set was 4K that number was 94%. This was from a survey of 4,600 film consumers, who love their movies. They were also made aware that this was easily accessible. That was the other point of complaint that many had about having to go in and out of menus.

First Televisions To Support Filmmaker Mode

We have three launch partners in Panasonic, LG and Vizion. Panasonic just showed their product last week at IFA. They announced that they will introduce it in 2020. Whether or not they will bring that to the United States is up to them. They have no [TV] products currently in the U.S. market. The announcement was for Europe. They also announced that they would use the remote control activation option.

Promotional Support

To get the kind of support we have received from the creativity community, quite frankly, you can’t buy that. They didn’t do this for money. They did this for their own art. They did this to make sure that what they delivered on film really matched their creative intent. To date, we have interviewed [on camera] 17 directors. We have a lot of material we can use on Social Media in 15 sec. or 30 sec. pieces to help promote this out, and they are all in it. We are also going to do film festivals, we will create some sizzle reels for in-store retail plus additional demo content. There are not many directors that you can think of who are not a part of this equation.

We have many big directors including Steven Spielberg, Edgar Wright, Chris Miller and others who are coming along as they see their compatriots supporting this and they wan’t to support it as well.

This is the first industry collaboration with the creators. I worked in the consumer electronics industry going back to the introduction of laser disc, and with DVD, Blu-ray and now with Filmmaker Mode. They all want to put their energy into this because it’s a single name, it’s used across all manufacturers, it has easy access and it delivers what they are looking for which is preserving that creative intent. They also wanted to ensure they got that support from the members of the CE community, so obviously that’s why the Ultra HD Alliance was important. We support it fully, and all of the major manufacturers are in on it, and either they are weighing it or in the case of the three I have already mentioned, implementing it.

Will Filmmaker Mode be available as a firmware update?

That is something that the manufacturers are studying to see whether or not they can go back into models already in the marketplace to do that. We have a full set of technical specifications as well as well as certification.

Because this is a trademarked item, we want to make sure that every manufacturer who brings this to market is in compliance. The obviously will have to meet each and every part of that technical specification, show how they did it, and get verification of that. Inevitably it will be up to the manufacturers to determine how to drive that as a firmware update to older models.

Will this be part of the UHDA’s Ultra HD Premium specification?

No. The Ultra HDTV Premium specification was a completely different set of specifications defining high performance 4K. It was established five years ago.

Does Filmmaker Mode take the place of a Picture Mode setting in the television?

It is, in effect, another picture mode. You could put the television in Filmmaker Mode to begin the calibration to the room conditions. In talking to Dolby, IMAX, Netflix and others about this, they layer the calibration settings on top [of the selected picture mode]. What they like about us is that we are baseline. We are HDR10. We are plain vanilla. We don’t support any other proprietary technology. The other HDR formats like Dolby Vision and HDR10+ is on top of this.

One of the things the directors wanted to understand is that there are reasons why you would use motion smoothing, such as with sports programming or gaming. And that’s fine. There’s always that option to change to the mode that they prefer.

Consumers won’t have to guess what the difference is between each of these typically proprietary modes. They’ll know because of the uniformity of the alignment and messaging that this is a good mode to be watching movies in on their TV.

Shouldn’t the display first be properly calibrated to the viewing environment?

That’s a decision for the consumer to make. At the upper end, professional calibration is worthwhile. But there are a lot of consumers who won’t get a professional calibration and this is more of a viewing mode that is suitable to the characteristics of the content.

Will there be some indicator for consumers showing Filmmaker Mode is engaged?

Yes. There is a prompt that comes up and manfacturers will have a little bit of flexibility in showing how that’s identified. But it will be called Filmmaker Mode for any of the manufacturers who come on board so that there is consistency across manufacturers.

Are there requirements for gamma?

There are within the specifications. But those are only available to member companies. We had a discussion as to whether or not those should be made public and that has not yet been decided. But it is something that we are considering. We want to make sure that there is an appropriate certification process. That’s particularly important if its a self-certification for the manufacturer.

Where is Sony in all of this?

Sony is a member of the UHDA. Having worked for them for a number of years, I know that Sony is a company that is always interested in preserving creative intent. The work with UHDA in bring this out, but ultimately it will be up to each manufacturer about whether they incorporate this or not. They are obviously stuyding it as all manufacturers are. The expectation is that product announcements will come out in January. So there is still lots of time. These are the just the initial three companies to announce. There are some other manufacturers that are now in that decision making process.

The reason we are at CEDIA making this third-wave annoucement [after the Hollywood and IFA announcements in the last two weeks] is to show the opportunity this presents to custom installers for presenting this to their customers and taking the message to a whole new level.

How does Filmmaker Mode address a UHD movie upconverted to 8K?

We’ll have to get back to you on that, but it shouldn’t be an issue because 8K resolution is specified within the UHD definitions.

Is this going to be a mass market initiative or something that will be used as a differentiator for high-end models?

That is something for the manufacturers to decide. Based on what we are trying to do is not add but take away, and if you know some of the modes that exist today there are maybe three or four modes in a TV that take away motion smoothing or remove motion smoothing, so those things exist already. But I think it will be a more popular spread across a broad away, particularly when you look at Ultra HD Premium certification product, that represents the upper-tier productions.

Given that tone mapping is something that can’t be calibrated and varies from model line to model line, is that something that has been addressed within the specifications?

All I can say is that it’s been discussed. It is built into the requirements and I suspect that as products start going out into the market we will have more technically oriented sessions. Because that is something that is up to the manufacturer. They have the guidelines and implementation is obviously up to them. They will have to meet the core requirements [for certification].

How does this address the lighting conditions of the viewing room?

There is a recommendation that the movie be watched in a dark or a dimmly lit room. We also allow for manufacturers that include an ambient lighting control to be able to control that. But obviously that is getting more sophisticated with AI. So that is helping it. But obviously, we’d like to make sure that the recommendation is that the movie been viewed in a dark or dimmly lit room.

If the manufacturer implements the metadata option, is there a way to turn it off for anyone who doesn’t want it to automatically trigger that mode?

Yes. We want to make sure that consumers have that option if they choose it. Hopefully they’ll keep it on, but they will have the ability to defeat it.

By Greg Tarr

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