Setting up your new HDTV – the perils of the Soap Opera Effect

Setting up your TV is important, nothing irritates me more than watching 4:3 stretched out to 16:9 because the set-top box has been set up incorrectly. Why even have a nice new TV if the viewing experience is going to be diminished by watching a fat distorted face on your giant new flat panel TV?

Pattinson – well known to have a fat meathead

Further sins against your new TV include watching the standard definition broadcast when the HD feed is just a channel hopping moment away. I went round to a friends house the other week, and was blown away by the quality of his 50″ Plasma. I’d assumed that he was just watching freeview, but then I looked – and there it was – a Sky HD Box. Doctor Who looked awesome in glorious HD, the picture was vibrant and clear and all was right with the world. Even my wife noticed the difference in quality! The difference is more visible on a 50″ panel than on my (now small) 32″ panel.

Above, we see the greatest of sins against your shiny new HD TV. What follows are some more forgivable problems. They may seem trifling but will conspire to rob you of the benefits that your new investment should reap. When you go into a store to buy a new HD TV, you want to be impressed, to that end the TV’s are setup with oversaturated colours, maximum brightness and artificial sharpness set to the max.

Over-saturation of the colours is easy to identify and simple to fix. The most common problem is the contrast setting on an LCD TV. It is a devious ploy to trick the consumer into believing that the whites are “whiter” and the blacks are “blacker”. But in reality it only crushes details, as you can see in the image below.

Sharpness is the other major problem and this curse affects all flat panel TV’s. The sharpness setting on your new TV does not increase the level of detail present in a Blu-Ray or DVD. The information is instead added by a filter, at first glance though, you may well think that you can ‘see more’ detail. But this is an illusion and you will soon see that its an additive function that creates grainy noise and an unnatural picture quality. It especially sharpens between light and dark areas – and you can also get a nasty halo effect. The only time that you’d want to mess with this setting is if you were viewing an old-fashioned analogue signal or other ‘soft’ video source.

Finally, we come to the latest, greatest problem of them all. It’s the horrific issue that has been dubbed ‘The Soap Opera Effect’. I’ve been thinking about upgrading my TV recently, but I’ve been in stores looking at the TV’s, and found myself thinking that the picture was rubbish. Great movies looked like they were filmed by the producers of Neighbours.

The Soap Opera Effect occurs because some TV shows are shot on video, which is cheaper than film. This is a problem because shooting on video increases the number of frames displayed per second, giving them that particular look.

Many modern televisions now automatically create additional frames, even for filmed content. On Samsung TV’s, it’s called ‘Auto Motion Plus’ and  it is meant to smooth motion. For a fast-action sporting event, this might be desirable. For a film though, the effect is nothing short of a disaster.

For more information on this issue, Google ‘Soap Opera Effect’, or take a look at this Wikipedia article:


3 thoughts on “Setting up your new HDTV – the perils of the Soap Opera Effect

  1. Surely the “Soap Opera Effect” is just how we have become used to watching films. If we’d seen films at 48fps since a young age we’d be used to the realistic quality it gives to motion.

    How do you feel about the desire by some in the film industry to move to HFR recording? I’d quite like to see it, and I understand it will take some getting used to – but we have to move that way, as seeing motion in 24fps is unnatural, IMO.

    • Andrew, I think that the move to 48FPS will be doomed to faliure – because it does not look as good.

      There are a number of academic articles available online that discuss the science behind cinema and our human eye’s perception of visual persistence on the eye’s “fovea”. The science says we need to be engaged in decoding the material through that visual persistence and perceived motion from frame to frame.

      Viewing film recorded at 24fps is a perfect balance for engaging the audience’s participation without fatigue. Like 3D, I expect that many people will complain of headaches.

      Good post on the subject here:

      I’ve not experienced 48fps, so I don’t really know if it is as bad as people say. All I know is that if I buy a 120hz TV, I’d dial it down.

      • I had the misfortune of watching The Hobbit in the new snazzy HFR 48fps and it was terrible. I’m sure the film underneath was fantastic but I spent the first 3/4 of the film fighting the concept of 48fps to notice Bilbo playing with his ring.

        The cinematic feel of the film was completely lost and made it feel like a low budget fantasy drama shot on video. It worked better in some scenes than others though. The darker scenes in the caves with Gollum looked superb, whereas lit scenes made the actors stand out too much from the background.

        I think HFR technology would be superb for documentaries, but not for big cinematic sci-fi or action films. The lower frame rate has become too ingrained into us and perhaps subconsciously associate a cinematic feel with 24fps.

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