My Two Cents
Wednesday, 28 August 2019 13:27

The UHD Alliance unveils the Filmmaker Mode initiative to ensure 4K TVs display movies properly at home

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So I spent a couple hours up in Hollywood yesterday afternoon to cover something pretty interesting…

At a press event at the Screen Actors Guild, members of the UHD Alliance, three major consumer electronics manufacturers, and leading Hollywood filmmakers officially announced a new partnership effort to implement Filmmaker Mode as an extension of the 4K Ultra HD spec.

The idea is to ensure that when you watch a movie at home in 4K on your new Ultra HD display, whether from a disc, stream, or cable/satellite broadcast, it will look exactly as it should. UHD Alliance research suggests that as many as 80% of people who buy 4K TVs never change the settings out of the box. This means irritating features like motion smoothing and unnecessary processing are being applied to the image by default – processing that actually takes the picture away from the filmmakers’ intent.

What the Filmmaker Mode will do is to allow the user – either with one push of a button on the remote, or with a very easy and obvious menu setting – to set the TV’s display parameters to most accurately display the 4K content. This would be a baseline setting for the image – any added adjustments signaled by HDR10, HDR10+, or Dolby Vision metadata would happen on top of that setting. [Read on here...]

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As the editor of The Digital Bits for the last twenty one years, I can tell you that one of the questions I get most often is: “Hey, I’ve been reading your site for years and I just finally got a new 4K player and TV. What do I do now? What picture settings should I select?”

Answering that question can be complicated, because every manufacturer uses different terminology for their image processing options and has a different set of menus, some of which are very hard to find. So helping readers to navigate them is next to impossible, and usually involves directing them to an A/V discussion forum (where others have purchased that exact same model of display) to see what settings enthusiasts prefer.

Rian Johnson on Filmmaker Mode

At the event yesterday, director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Knives Out) told the story of being in a bar where the TV was showing Raiders of the Lost Ark with motion smoothing. He found it so annoying that he asked the bartender for the remote so he could fix it... but then couldn’t because he couldn’t find the right menu. “We live in a golden age of image quality. But if you’re a movie fan, motion smoothing is your SkyNet,” he said. Filmmaker Mode is “a single simple button that you can press that lines up all the image settings, turns off motion smoothing, and makes all that wonderful technology work to the benefit of the movie.”

It turns out that Hollywood filmmakers (and the studio technical wizards who help to ensure their films look as good as possible) have long tried to implement this kind of standard in the previous DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray specs, but without success. But because the UHD Alliance represents the entire 4K technical space, a partnership like this can finally be implemented. Here’s a panel featuring Michael Zink (UHDA chairman & Warner Bros), Annie Chang (Universal), Ron Martin (Panasonic), Carlos Angulo (VIZIO), and Mike Fiddler (UHDA president) talking about this at the event...

Michael Zink (Warner Bros), Annie Chang (Universal), Ron Martin (Panasonic), Carlos Angulo (VIZIO), and Mike Fiddler (UHDA) on Filmmaker Mode

Launch partners for Filmmaker Mode will include LG, Panasonic, and Vizio. Representatives from each of these companies told me that they’re still working to decide whether their hardware will use a button on the remote, or a simple menu setting, or both. The first product models to include Filmmaker Mode will likely be announced at IFA (in Berlin) in early September and CEDIA (in Denver) in mid September. More are likely to be announced at CES 2020 in Las Vegas in January. And at least one manufacturer told me that they’re working to see if they can add Filmmaker Mode retroactively to their existing 4K display line-up via firmware updates (it’s likely this will be model-dependent).

While Samsung, Sony, TCL and other display manufacturers are not yet on board, I suspect the pressure on them will be intense, especially if 4K consumers and enthusiasts demand it. UHD Alliance market research suggests that over 95% of consumers surveyed said they would rather buy a 4K display with Filmmaker Mode than without it. And the Alliance has created a new logo to identify products that are so enabled...

filmmakermode logo

Nice, right? Very simple to understand. Personally, I think this could be end up being a lot like the THX stamp of approval that consumers and enthusiasts used to look for on hardware and software back in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Hollywood studios are certainly on board. Reps from Warner Bros. and Universal were on hand at the event, and Amazon Prime issued this statement:

“Amazon Prime Video is dedicated to delivering the best viewing experience for our customers worldwide, and we are excited about participating in this initiative,” said BA Winston, Global Head of Digital Video Playback and Delivery at Prime Video. “Filmmaker Mode gives our customers an automatic way to experience cinematic entertainment from the comfort of their homes, and creators the assurance their work is viewed as it was intended to be seen.”

Hollywood’s filmmaking and creative talent is firmly on board with this initiative too, with widespread support among directors and cinematographers. Among those endorsing it from Day One (in addition to Rian Johnson) are Paul Thomas Anderson, Ryan Coogler, Patty Jenkins, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Christopher McQuarrie, Reed Morano ASC, Damien Chazelle, James Cameron, Ava DuVernay, Ross and Matt Duffer, J.J. Abrams, M. Night Shyamalan, and Patty Jenkins.

Here’s a testimonial video featuring some of them that was shown at the event...

From a technical standpoint, the goal with Filmmaker Mode is to preserve the correct aspect ratio, colors, and frame rates in 4K movie content:

Filmmaker Mode applies to both SDR & HDR content:

  • White Point: D65

Image & Display Parameters:

  • Maintain source content frame rate & aspect ratio
  • Motion interpolation: OFF
  • Overscan: Only if signaled with the image
  • Sharpening: OFF
  • TV Noise Reduction: OFF
  • Other image “enhancement” processing: OFF

Filmmaker Mode is to be accessible through at least one of the following:

  • A button on the remote, or
  • Automatic display device switching based on Metadata in the video bitstream

Additionally, devices are encouraged to implement other user-friendly access methods, such as touch screen, voice control, etc.

UHD Alliance chairman Michael Zink on Filmmaker Mode

What progress this would represent if widely implemented by the entire CE display industry!

As I said before, it’s so hard to explain to people that their new TVs are set-up wrong, especially because even improperly calibrated their new 4K TV still looks better than their old one. But if you can show them what you’re talking about, they go: “Oh! Wow, I get it.” With Filmmaker Mode, you can finally do that as quick demonstration. Once they see it, they’ll likely never want to go back. And by simply implementing the mode, they never have to think about it again.

Speaking personally, I think Filmmaker Mode is the most exciting development for watching movies at home since 4K and HDR.

Every consumer electronics manufacturer in the 4K display and projection space should adopt Filmmaker Mode as soon as possible. This is a no-brainer... especially if you’re serious about giving your consumers the best movie viewing experience at home in 4K.

Our message to Bits readers is this: If you’re cinephile, an A/V enthusiast, or a home theater buff... or even just a casual movie viewer in the market for a new 4K TV... look for the Filmmaker Mode logo before you buy. And demand that your favorite display brands adopt it as soon as possible.

I’ve now seen the Filmmaker Mode demonstrated up close, watching it instantly adjust an out of the box Vizio 4K consumer display to line up with a $30K Sony reference monitor used widely by directors to grade their films. It’s stunning how well it works.

Sony, Samsung, Hisense, TCL, RCA, Toshiba, Sharp, SunBrite, Epson, JVC... it’s time to get on board.

For those of you who want to learn more, the UHD Alliance has created a new website to promote Filmmaker Mode. Be sure to check it out.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned...

-Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)


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