Movies and TV shows have historically been recorded at 24 frames per second, which has become a firm standard in media production. The so-called 24P format has many defenders that extoll its artistic virtue and similarity to the pace of the real world. In pursuit of realism, many films and TV content creators prefer to showcase their work in 24fps.
The problem is that all modern TVs and projectors out of the box run at 60Hz or 60 frames per second, at least. When converting 24P content to 60fps or higher using motion smoothing algorithms, the dreaded (or beloved, depending on who you ask) soap opera effect comes into play. That’s when 24 frames per second get sped up to 60 frames per second, giving things a false appearance. The term soap opera effect comes from the fact that TV dramas are typically filmed using high-speed video, not 24P film-like movies or more upscale TV shows. All told, for people who don’t like the soap opera effect, content appears unrealistic and too fast, more like a video game than a video.
The issue is so contentious that people like Tom Cruise have officially recommended turning off motion smoothing settings in TV and projector menus. In Cruise’s case, it was for his Mission Impossible movies, which he believes are best seen in 24 frames per second. When motion smoothing is off, the device attempts to show content as-is in as close to the native frame rate and frame pacing as possible, so that 24P remains unaffected. But this can introduce problems on devices not optimized for 24P playback.
So what do we think about this topic? First, let’s discuss the soap opera effect a little more.
When 24P content runs untouched on a 60Hz device, issues may emerge if the playback device doesn’t have good optimization for 24fps. Because there are effectively 48 frames per second missing from the standpoint of the TV or projector, viewers are likely to experience considerable judder, especially when the camera pans or during fast-moving scenes.
Motion smoothing, motion enhancement, or image interpolation adds the missing 48 frames to increase 24fps up to the native 60fps or 60Hz of the TV or projector. The quality of this speeding up varies by the capabilities of the onboard CPU and other components. If done properly, problems like judder, poor shadow definition, and detail loss due to blur are kept at a minimum. However, people sensitive to frame insertion will notice this and complain about the unrealistic nature of the soap opera effect.
While motion smoothing inserts duplicates of existing frames to fluff up the frame rate, motion blur employs black frame insertion. In other words, frames are blank and don’t have any visual data. Both of these try to “fool” our brains into not seeing them and thus present smooth 60Hz content with no judder, jitter, or overly intrusive blur. But not only do many people complain that these enhancement effects result in visuals that appear fake and unreal, flicker also happens quite often if motion smoothing and motion blur aren’t handled well, leading to eye strain.
The solution is quite obvious but requires considerable design and implementation work. That’s both on the hardware and firmware levels, which is why a lot of TVs and projectors don’t have this solution available. What is it? A native 24Hz or 24P mode that downclocks the screen refresh to 24 frames per second instead of trying to force 24fps into becoming 60fps.
Good 4K home cinema projectors and 4K screenless laser TVs have standalone 24P filmmaker modes that turn off all framerate enhancement settings to preserve that original 24 frames per second charm. No motion smoothing, sharpness, black level enhancement, or messing with the gamma and aspect ratio. The frame rate is set at 24fps and everything is kept as close as possible to the original vision of the content creators and the way they intended for you to experience their work. The availability of a dedicated filmmaker mode shows great attention to detail because the design team has to develop hardware and firmware versions that support a 24fps mode, which involves a lot of work compared to just sticking with 60Hz.
If you don’t mind 24P content running in 60Hz, then you’re good to go with pretty much any TV and projector out there, and admittedly many of them do a good job of it. But if you want a truly premium cinematic experience we recommend going with a model that offers support for native 24P playback. After all, this is an optional mode, and you can always disengage it for content that requires faster frame rates, like gaming, sports viewing, or one of the many newer movies that are being made in up to 120Hz.