Ask Deemable Tech: Why Does Everything On My HDTV Look Like A Soap Opera?

Jun 18, 2015

Jimmy writes, "I might be going crazy. I just bought a brand new flat-screen HDTV. Here’s the problem - when I watch TV shows and movies on it, everything just looks off The only way I can really describe it is that everything looks like a bad daytime soap opera. It looks too fake, too bright, too smooth. It’s awful. Other people don’t see the problem. Any idea why my TV is making things look so weird?"


Credit Panasonic

What you’re describing, Jimmy, is popularly known as the “soap opera effect." It's the result of an intentional feature of modern HDTVs commonly called “motion smoothing” or “motion interpolation.”

This feature was developed to resolve an issue stemming from the number of frames per second HDTVs can show. Most films and TV shows are filmed at 24 frames per second, which has been the standard for nearly a century. Modern HDTVs can display 30, 60, 120 or even 240 frames per second. TV makers had to come up with a way to display the 24 frames per second footage on the up-to-240 frames per second TV, so many used the simple method of showing the same frame multiple times in a row. But this caused a major problem with motion blur when images moved quickly across the screen.

To fix this issue, TV manufactures came up with the motion smoothing solution. TVs can now take two frames from the TV show or movie, literally create a new frame that is the average of the two, and insert it between them in real time. This fixes the motion blur problem. In fact, it means that fast-moving objects on screen and fast camera pans stay crisp and detailed in a way that seems almost hyper-real.

Now, this is great for certain types of shows, like football games where you want to see the ball travel across the field. But for normal TV programs or movies, the effect can be very disconcerting because we expect TV to look a certain way. Motion smoothing violates that expectation, and also seems to make the picture look unnaturally bright and clear. This most likely has something to do with the new frames the TV is creating.

The good news is that there is a way to turn this off. On almost every TV, motion smoothing is a feature that can be enabled or disabled. Unfortunately, doing so almost always requires digging through those notoriously confusing TV menus. And, what this feature is called varies depending on who made your TV. To help you get to the right place, here is a list of what the major brands call it:

  • Samsung – Auto Motion Plus
  • Sony – Motion Flow
  • Sharp – AquoMotion
  • Toshiba – ClearFrame or ClearScan
  • Vizio – Smooth Motion
  • LG – Tru Motion

If all else fails, look for a menu option that has the word “motion” in it. Disable that, Jimmy, and you’ll be able to watch your favorite TV shows the way they were meant to be seen.

And while you’re in your TV’s menus, you may want to take a little time to properly calibrate your television. We’ve found that when many people buy a new TV, they install it, turn it on and watch it the way it came out of the box. But these people often aren’t getting the picture quality that they paid for. When you buy a new TV, you need to calibrate the settings to what works for you and your home. Check out our suggestions for setting up your new TV at Deemable.com.