The Soap Opera Effect: Why movies look bad on HD Smart LCD TVs

When BluRays first came out, the very first movie I saw in this format was “2012”, that disaster flick from Roland Emmerich. While most people in my mate’s living room were wowed by it’s crispness, I was not at all impressed. “Everything looks fake now.” I said. “This is ruining the CGI, it’s just unbelievably fake.”

Add to that, the scenes that were not pumped up with now fake-looking CGI looked like they were obviously shot in a studio on a very fake looking set, complete with b-grade lighting and no polish to the film, as if we were watching raw footage before it had gone to post production.

Was this the BlueRay‘s fault? Or was this the television?

Why does every show seem to be lit by cheap blue studio lights - Intentious discusses the Soap Opera Effect

“A Guy Thing sleeps its way onto Blu-ray with a 1080p HD transfer and … it should come as no surprise that little work was done for the transfer.” –

Perception problems with the picture on HD “Smart” televisions are widespread, as Danny Sullivan from CNET explains:

“Why does everything on the new TV look like video out of a bad soap opera,” my wife asked me, about a day after our new set arrived.

“You’re crazy,” was my response. I figured the move from a 40-inch set to a 55-inch one was taking some time to get used to.

As it turned out, she was right. After a few more days, even I conceded that unless “Game of Thrones” was now being shot in the same studio as “The Young and the Restless,” something was wrong.

It was annoying. In the store, the television — a Samsung 7000 Series — had a picture that looked great. There was George Clooney playing over and over again in a clip from “The Descendants,” looking as handsome as ever. Had I gotten a bad set? Maybe it was just me. The set was so nice that I kind of wanted to just blame myself.

Eventually, I started hunting through the menu options. One of the set’s features is a 240Hz refresh rate. Maybe this was to blame?

I never found an option that specifically said it controlled the refresh rate. But buried two menus deep, I found one called Auto Motion Plus. Guessing this was related to the problem, I turned it off. Voila! The bad soap opera look was gone.

Everything on my TV looks like Days Of Our Lives | Intentious

Everything on my TV looks like Days Of Our Lives | Intentious

Unfortunately only some televisions have this ability to control the refresh rate or motion/frame enhancement settings. If your television doesn’t come with this ability, you’re probably out of luck.

If you’re really interested in why the effect happens, it’s because soap operas (and some other television shows) are shot on video, which is cheaper than film. But shooting on video increases the number of frames displayed per second, giving them that particular look.

Many modern televisions seem to automatically create additional frames, even for filmed content. This “motion interpolation” is meant to smooth motion, which might be useful if you’re watching a fast-action sporting event. But it also effectively makes content that was shot on expensive film appear to have been recorded on cheap video. had a nice, recent article explaining this in more detail. This CNET article also explains it briefly, though it doesn’t name it as the Soap Opera Effect.

What I found remarkable is that people have been complaining about this for several years. Complaints are all over the Internet. How did I end up with a new set configured by default to show images in a way that you’d think manufacturers know plenty of people dislike. Why do I even need it at all?

My TV, I’d argue, is trying to be smarter than I am. It’s trying to smooth out “blur” and “judder” and remake the picture in a way it assumes will be better. But instead, it transforms the picture into something that feels unnatural.

Really, I just want a dumb TV that shows me a great picture.

Read the whole articleThe Soap Opera Effect: When your TV tries to be smarter than you | – Danny Sullivan

Indeed, the problem seems to be infiltrating cinemas too, with higher film projection rates (48fps) being used in Peter Jackson‘s upcoming holiday epic, the highly anticipated “The Hobbit“. It seem as though film and screen companies are trying to be smarter than our eyes, but failing dismally. Check out these recent reviews of preview screenings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey;

The Los Angeles Times quoted a projectionist who complained, “It looked like a made-for-TV movie.”

Variety spoke with the owner of a mid-sized movie-theater chain who said, “It looked to me like a behind-the-scenes featurette.”

Writing at Slashfilm, Peter Sciretta offered a more detailed negative response. “It looked uncompromisingly real — so much so that it looked fake,” he wrote.

“Hobbiton and Middle Earth didn’t feel like a different universe, it felt like a special effect, a film set with actors in costumes. It looked like behind the scenes footage. The movement of the actors looked… strange. Almost as if the performances had been partly sped up…. It didn’t look cinematic.”

Source: | The Hobbit, The Soap Opera Effect, and 48fps Future of Movies 

Is your TV plagued with these problems?

Do you regret your purchase?

Tell us in the comments below.


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Categories: Entertainment, Science, Technology

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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3 Comments on “The Soap Opera Effect: Why movies look bad on HD Smart LCD TVs”

  1. December 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    This is what annoys me most about people who buy big TV sets, they don’t do any research into the actual quality of the TV.

    I was in JB Hi-Fi a few months back, when The Avengers first came out on DVD and Blu-Ray and they had a TV playing the movie on silent, myself and my friends were watching it, quoting along with it (or as much as we could recall) and one of the things that we mentioned was how crisp everything was, and it wasn’t “oh, it’s so crisp, it’s so beautiful”, it was “this makes everything look like is moving plastic”.

    If it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to in the theatres, then it’s not normal.

  2. Lacey
    April 28, 2013 at 2:07 am #

    I kind of like it.

  3. Anonymous
    May 11, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    Thanks for the tip on getting rid of the “soap opera effect”. It was so annoying!! Just turned off the “Smooth Motion Effect” and it solved the problem instantly.

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