Movie fans who subscribe to the best streaming services the likes of Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney Plus could soon get an upgrade to the Filmmaker Mode image preset that will allow them to experience movies on their TV with the same level of quality as the movie’s director intended.
That news came during a session LG held last week to give TV critics an up-close look look at the new G3 OLED TV. The proceedings included a briefing by Mike Zink of the UHD Alliance, an industry group that includes members from the consumer electronics, technology and Hollywood manufacturing communities. While Zink mainly gave an overview of the group’s activities, he also said a Dolby Vision Filmmaker mode is in the pipeline for TV manufacturers to implement. To understand why that’s important, let’s first discuss Filmmaker Mode and why It is important.
Filmmaker Mode is a standardized image preset on the best 4k tvs from makers such as LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, Hisense and Vizio, and was developed by the UHD Alliance in response to film directors (Martin Scorcese and Denis Villenueve being among the strongest advocates) who were tired of seeing their films poorly reproduced on TVs. Inaccurate color and unnatural motion processing were two of the main sticking points for these directors, but there were also concerns about preserving a film’s original aspect ratio and eliminating aggressive image sharpening and noise reduction.
Filmmaker Mode solves all of these problems, allowing viewers to watch movies the way the directors intended, with little effort other than selecting a specific picture preset on their TV. And while Filmmaker Mode is generally a good option for watching all kinds of programs, it has one major limitation in that it cannot be used for viewing Dolby Vision high dynamic range programs.
When watching movies with Dolby Vision, TVs automatically switch to a Dolby Vision picture mode. For example, a TCL 6-series model I recently reviewed defaults to Dolby Vision IQ mode, though Dolby Vision Dark and Dolby Vision Normal options are also available. The difference between these is that IQ mode uses sensors in the TV to adjust picture brightness based on the ambient light in the viewing environment, while Dark and Normal are fixed presets for nighttime and daytime viewing respectively.
Of these, Dolby Vision Dark is the preset most similar to Filmmaker Mode, which uses a warm color temperature, a setting that provides a neutral white balance for accurate color reproduction. It also turns off processing modes that add motion interpolation (the source of the dreaded “soap opera effect”) and high levels of both image sharpening and noise reduction.
Dolby Vision Dark, as the name implies, like Filmmaker Mode, is for viewing in a dim or darkened room, much like the room the director sat in when their movie was being mastered for a home video or streaming release. But not everyone enjoys watching in a cavernous environment, which is why the Dolby Vision Normal and IQ presets exist. In both cases – at least on the TCL 6 series TV – a high level of motion processing is applied and Dolby Vision Normal further switches the color temperature to a less accurate mode. The result is a photo that would make Martin Scorcese and Denis Villenueve gag, and we’re not even going to bring the situation to Tom Cruise’s attention.
Dolby Vision Filmmaker Mode… to the rescue?
We don’t yet know the details of the Dolby Vision Filmmaker mode, other than what was briefly discussed at the LG TV event. It was apparently approved at the end of 2022 and for that reason won’t appear in new sets before 2023, although 2024 is possible.
What makes a Dolby Vision Filmmaker mode important is that the current array of TV presets for watching programs with Dolby Vision are all compromised to some degree. Dolby Vision IQ is a good option as it automatically compensates for ambient lighting in the room, but it’s not the same as Filmmaker mode as it adds motion processing to images. It’s true you can adjust the settings in Dolby IQ mode to eliminate motion interpolation, but that defeats the purpose of a preset – something viewers, like Filmmaker Mode, can simply select and expect an accurate, director-approved presentation.
The bottom line here is that preset modes like Dolby Vision IQ and Dolby Vision Normal brighten pictures, but in the process emphasize the judder and blur artifacts inherent in footage shot at 24fps. Motion interpolation processing can successfully eliminate such artifacts, which is why they are applied in those modes. But motion interpolation also makes movies look like daytime soap operas — one of the main reasons the Hollywood community pushed for a Filmmaker mode.
Ideally, a Dolby Vision Filmmaker mode would offer the benefits of Dolby IQ – automatic brightness adjustment based on the ambient light in a room – and possibly combine it with variable frame rate motion processing – something along the lines of the TrueCut Motion Technology used to create Avatar: the way of the water. TrueCut Motion is a motion grading tool used in movie post-production that allows frame rates to be adjusted on a variable basis to reduce the visual impact of judder and blur without making motion look unnatural. I’ve seen it in action when I caught it Avatar: the way of the water in an IMAX theater (as well as in a follow-up demo at CES 2023), the visual benefits were obvious.
I have no idea what Dolby has in mind for Dolby Vision Filmmaker mode, as no details have been released outside of the tech and production communities. But if it can somehow strike a balance between accurately portraying a film director’s vision and enabling more flexibility in home viewing conditions, it will be a very welcome development.