It can sometimes seem like TV manufacturers are running out of things to do with TVs. They made them brighter with the advancement of backlight technology, more colorful with the integration of quantum dot films, and sharper with the advent of 4K and 8K resolution. But one area has only made incremental progress all this time – and that’s movement.
The way you watch your favorite movies and TV shows at home probably isn’t the way they were meant to be watched. Processors, the brains behind the TV, have the unenviable task of translating incoming data to fill your screen, and that includes converting 24fps movies to 60Hz or 120Hz refresh rates. which it does is called motion processing, and some TVs do it better than others.
One of the most famous examples of motion doing both right and wrong was Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit franchise shot at 48 frames per second (known as High Frame Rate or HFR). It made the action shots clearer, sure, but gave the rest of the movie an eerie, almost soap opera-like feel.
What The Hobbit needed was some shots mastered in HFR and some not.
What if it was possible for movies? That certain scenes have a “motion quality” similar to how video editors match shades of color and audio mixers do a sound mix? And, then, when that content comes to TVs, we didn’t need the processor to handle the motion processing?
It turns out there is a way for content to be mastered, delivered, and displayed in a way that bypasses interpolation. That’s the idea behind TrueCut Motion, a new format coming soon to select TCL TVs.
TechRadar spoke with Richard Miller (EVP of Technology) and Miguel Casillas (Senior Director of Ecosystem Marketing) who work at Pixelworks, the company behind TrueCut Motion, who discussed how this technology could revolutionize motion processing and how it can be used to fix films.
How does motion processing work and how can it be corrected?
The content you see on your TV can actually be broken down into a series of individual static images – what we call frames. When an object in one frame is in a different place in the next frame, we have motion.
Motion smoothing creates an entirely new frame between the two existing frames that acts as a bridge to connect them. And for some people, this artificial smoothing – despite its well-intentioned – looks incredibly unnatural to the eyes.
It became such a problem that Tom Cruise recommended everyone just turn it off while watching Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
To fix this, most people just turn off motion smoothing – but that doesn’t fix the problem; 24fps video has yet to match the 60Hz or 120Hz refresh rates of modern TVs.
If this sounds like a complicated problem, you’re not wrong. In fact, it took Pixelworks about 15 years with 20-30 engineers working on it full-time to crack the code to get realistic motion from the editing booth to your TV…well, smooth.
Start at the source and work your way up the chain
Although the two technologies are very different in what they attempt to do, it can be helpful to think of TrueCut Motion the same way you think of Dolby Vision – a standard that requires a full pipeline to get to your screen. It starts with the final cut of a movie or TV show being produced in Hollywood or other studios around the world.
“The process isn’t straightforward, but it’s streamlined,” Miller told us when asked how the process might fit into existing content production schedules. “It can be done quite quickly, often in just a few days.”
According to Miller, six full titles have so far received TrueCut Motion verification, although they have all been released in the Chinese market.
Pixelworks has had a number of interesting partnerships along the way, though. Miller says the company worked with Sony on Men In Black: International, as one of many examples.
Taking a movie scene by scene to make motion smoother at source is key to how Pixelworks can deliver TrueCut Motion – and according to its developers, it’s the next logical step in the production process: “If you’re ready to do a quality color and sound mix, the next logical step is a motion quality,” says Casillas.
The problem? Distribution and posting of a better version
Pixelworks had its first big hit with TrueCut Motion at CES 2022 in January, when it was able to announce that TCL, one of the world’s largest TV makers, would be integrating the technology into its displays.
In a demo with TechRadar, we got a chance to see the technology in action, but on a standard SDR monitor that wasn’t TrueCut Motion certified. There was a difference between movement that had been mastered in the format and hadn’t been in our demo – but the effects weren’t as pronounced as they could have been on certified gear.
And that’s part of the problem here. Right now, there’s only one TV maker on board, and there’s currently no streaming service ready to offer the service.
Miller says it’s in the works, but for now the company is focused on theatrical releases. According to him, we’ll see a few made with TrueCut Motion later this year with streaming titles to follow down the road.
It would also be nice to see technology supported by more manufacturers outside of TCL – another area Miller feels confident about: “No additional hardware is needed on the TV… We hope that will be enough omnipresent.”
The extent to which the general public knows and cares about the technology will depend on its ability to market TrueCut Motion to studios, streaming services and TV manufacturers. Without all those ducks in a row, the service could be DOA, following in the footsteps of formats like Technicolor HDR, HD-DVD and half a dozen others over the past two decades.
A sweeter future is coming, somehow
Let’s hope TrueCut Motion takes off; TV makers with less than desirable motion processing technology (Vizio, I’m looking your way…) desperately need a format for perfect motion processing.
When asked if TV processors would ever be able to do the on-the-fly calculations for perfect motion, Miller said he thinks it might one day be possible. But given the complexity of the calculations, it could take another decade to get there. What doesn’t help is that, as TVs get brighter, the shake is amplified significantly – and so it’s a problem TV makers will need to address sooner rather than later.
Still, Miller remains confident in the format. “Even if we had processors that could process motion better, what about creative intent?” By giving directors the ability to completely control the end product, Miller believes TrueCut Motion is the best solution to the age-old problem – and the one with the most potential.
Casillas agrees: “This is one of the biggest upgrades in the streaming world for quite some time.” It’s a claim we can’t wait to test for ourselves as the technology rolls out to the streaming world over the next few years.
Until that happens, your next Hobbit viewing party won’t be worthy of sharp elven eyes.
- Looking for a better TV? Check out our guide to the best 4K TVs of 2022