The flatscreen HDTVs at the Consumer Electronics Show were absolutely dazzling. Color, contrast and clarity are better all the time. OLED displays are the brightest and thinnest yet. And of course, stereoscopic 3D TV is finally a reality.But watching the latest and greatest in TVs, I couldn’t help but flash to a warning James Cameron sounded last week for the movie industry.
“As 3D starts to come into the living room, and come in at higher frame rates, then we’re gonna have to up our game again. ‘Cause movies can’t look worse than what you’re getting at home,” Cameron told Daily Variety in a wide-ranging interview coming soon to Variety.com.
Cameron’s comment came when we asked if on “Avatar” sequels he’d push for a higher frame rate, which deliver a clearer picture and less “strobing,” or motion blur, the way he pushed for 3D over the past decade.
He said TV will force movies to change — and not for the first time.
Though it will be years before today’s high-end sets are widely adopted by viewers, the HDTVs on display at CES were loaded with technology to improve moving images that, in some ways, aren’t as good as the flatscreens we watch them on.
Even today’s digital cinema standard is left in the dust by the latest and greatest from TV makers. Some companies showed “4K2K” TVs, with far more pixels than a 2K digital cinema projector throws on the screen. Panasonic’s mammoth 152-inch 4K2K plasma would be an upgrade over many screening rooms.
Some makers, including LG and Toshiba, have put graphics processors into flatscreens, in part to correct motion blur. LG’s Trumotion attacks motion blur by running at 480 fps, even when the source is 24 or 30 fps. Where do the extra frames come from? Partly from the built-in GPU, which interpolates new three frames to smooth out the difference between two frames of normal video. In other words, movies and HD video don’t have enough frames to stop the strobing, so three out of every four frames on Toshiba’s HDTV screens have to be made up by the TV set itself.
Strobing is an inevitable result of the 24 fps standard adopted decades ago. “It’s not fast enough,” Cameron said flatly. “It should never have been 24. It probably should’ve been 36 as a minimum.”
It’s been proven that faster frame rates improve the picture just as more pixels do.
He wanted to shoot “Avatar” at 48 fps, but “everybody just looked at me cross-eyed with that one.” Besides, rendering all those extra frames of visual effects would have been too expensive.
That said, “If you couple 3D with higher frame rate, you’ll blow people’s minds,” Cameron said. “People think their minds are being blown by ‘Avatar’ — we could blow your mind with 48-frame-per-second 3D.”
Cameron doesn’t expect to do a lot of tubthumping for higher frame rates. Changing standards in TV will make movies change with them.
He points to the history of color in movies. Black-and-white films lingered for about 15 years after the invention of color movie film, and during those years, color TV was introduced as a high-end product. For the 1966-67 TV season, though, the three networks went to all-color lineups. Not coincidentally, in 1967 the Academy abolished the black-and-white cinematography Oscar.
The second color television came in,” Cameron said, “boom! Everything was in color.”
Strobing is particularly problematic when a ball moves across the screen, and Cameron said sports leagues are already pushing for higher frame rates for 3D telecasts. More programming eventually will follow.
“So, I think it’s gonna solve itself,” said Cameron. “I don’t have to run around waving my arms like I have been for the last nine years about 3D, for higher rates. I think it’s just gonna happen.”
HDTV isn’t the only area getting a tech upgrade with the next generation of home theater. Both Dolby and DTS were showing off Blu-ray soundtracks that are “bit-for-bit” identical to the sound delivered to theaters. A Dolby spokesman admitted, though, that “real-world considerations” keep most people from getting home sound as good as a theater. …