Even if you have a great TV, it can be hard to set it up so that meticulously shot and color-graded movies don’t look like a combination of motion-smoothed soap opera and Saturday morning cartoon. Out of the box, most sets have features like motion smoothing and various color “enhancement” settings switched on, with no easy way to set things up to view movies and TV shows the way that they were meant to be.
Directors Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson have been talking to TV manufacturers in the UHD Alliance about standardising a “reference mode” that would more accurately display movies and shows in accordance with creative intent. Slashfilm has the information through a letter sent out by the Directors Guild of America that includes a survey on what such a mode should entail.
“Many of you have seen your work appear on television screens looking different from the way you actually finished it,” the letter reads. “Modern televisions have extraordinary technical capabilities, and it is important that we harness these new technologies to ensure that the home viewer sees our work presented as closely as possible to our original creative intentions.”
TV manufacturers are reportedly open to the idea, but want to know specifics on what would be important to directors. The survey includes questions like “How important is it to you to have a simple way to get consumers’ home TV setup similar to monitors in the color-grading suites for viewing film and television content that YOU created?” and “Would you expect this ‘reference mode’ to be called the same thing on different manufacturers of TVs?”
Nolan and Anderson are far from the first directors to campaign against motion-smoothing; Reed Morano started a petition several years ago with the aim of stopping it being the default setting on TVs. “It’s fair to have smooth motion as one of the options in the picture settings on HDTVs, because it actually is a great way to watch sports,” she wrote at the time. “But for literally everything else on TV, it cheapens the look and makes it look as if it’s a soap opera. If you care about the artistic integrity of the visuals that you watch and appreciate cinematography and a cinematic experience, then you should sign this petition.”
More recently, the likes of James Gunn, Christopher McQuarrie, and Rian Johnson have been outspoken on the issue. “You want movies to look like liquid diarrhea, fine,” the Star Wars: The Last Jedi director said last year. “But it should be a choice you make, not a hoop everyone has to jump through to unmake.”
There’s no guarantee that this particular campaign will work out, then, and it’s hard to imagine a single standardized mode being perfect for every TV and movie. But it’s encouraging to hear that TV manufacturers are at least willing to listen to directors on the issue, and simply no longer making motion smoothing the default would be a big step forward.