Movie fans who subscribe to the best streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney Plus could soon be getting an upgrade to the Filmmaker Mode picture preset that lets them experience movies on their TV at the same quality level as the film’s director intended.
That news came at a session held last week by LG to give TV reviewers a close-up look at the new G3 OLED TV. The proceedings included a briefing by Mike Zink of the UHD Alliance, an industry group with members spanning the consumer electronics, technology, and Hollywood production communities. While Zink mainly provided an overview of the group’s activities, he also mentioned that a Dolby Vision Filmmaker Mode is in the pipeline for TV manufacturers to implement. To understand why that’s important, we’ll first need to cover Filmmaker mode, and why it is important.
Filmmaker mode is a standardized picture preset found on the best 4K TVs from makers like LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, Hisense, and Vizio, and was developed by the UHD Alliance in response to film directors (Martin Scorcese and Denis Villenueve are among its biggest advocates) who were tired of seeing their movies poorly reproduced on TVs. Inaccurate color and unnatural motion processing were two of the major sticking points for these directors, but there were also concerns about maintaining a film’s original aspect ratio and eliminating aggressive image sharpening and noise reduction.
Filmmaker mode addresses all of those issues, letting viewers watch movies the way their directors intended for them to be seen with little effort beyond selecting a specific picture preset on their TV. And while Filmmaker mode is typically a good option for viewing all manner of programs, it has a key limitation in that it can’t be used for viewing programs with Dolby Vision high dynamic range.
When watching movies with Dolby Vision, TVs automatically switch to a Dolby Vision picture mode. A TCL 6-Series model I recently reviewed, for example, defaults to its 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 level of ambient light in the viewing environment, while Dark and Normal are fixed presets for night and daytime viewing, respectively.
Of these, the preset that most closely resembles Filmmaker Mode is Dolby Vision Dark, which uses 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 picture sharpening and noise reduction.
Dolby Vision Dark, as its name implies, is, like Filmmaker Mode, for viewing in a dim or darkened room, much like the one the director was sitting in when their movie was mastered for a home video or streaming release. But not everyone likes viewing in a cave-like setting, so that’s why the Dolby Vision Normal and IQ presets exist. In both those cases – on the TCL 6-Series TV at least – high levels of motion processing are applied, and Dolby Vision Normal further switches the color temperature to a less accurate mode. The result is a picture that would make Martin Scorcese and Denis Villenueve gag, and we’re not even going to call the situation to Tom Cruise’s attention.
Dolby Vision Filmmaker Mode… to the rescue?
We don’t yet know the details of Dolby Vision Filmmaker Mode beyond what was briefly discussed at the LG TV event. It apparently was approved in late 2022, and for that reason will not be appearing in any new sets for 2023, though 2024 is possible.
What makes a Dolby Vision Filmmaker Mode important is that the current suite of TV presets for viewing programs with Dolby Vision are all compromised to a degree. Dolby Vision IQ is a good option in that it automatically compensates for ambient room lighting, but it’s not the same as Filmmaker Mode because it adds motion processing to images. It’s true that you can adjust the settings in Dolby IQ mode to eliminate motion interpolation, but that defeats the purpose of a preset – something that, like Filmmaker Mode, viewers can simply select and expect to see an accurate, director-approved presentation.
What’s at issue here is that preset modes like Dolby Vision IQ and Dolby Vision Normal make pictures brighter, but in doing so they emphasize the judder and blur artifacts inherent to images filmed at 24 fps. Motion interpolation processing can successfully eliminate such artifacts, which is why they get applied in those modes. But motion interpolation also makes movies look like daytime soap operas – one of the major reasons why the Hollywood community pushed for a Filmmaker Mode.
Ideally, a Dolby Vision Filmmaker Mode would bring the benefits of Dolby IQ – automatic adjustment of brightness based on a room’s ambient lighting – and possibly combine it with variable frame rate motion processing — something along the lines of the TrueCut Motion tech used to create Avatar: The Way of Water. TrueCut Motion is a “motion grading” tool used in movie post-production that allows for the adjustment of frame rates on a variable basis to reduce the visual impact of judder and blur without making motion look unnatural. Having seen it in action when I caught Avatar: The Way of Water at an IMAX theater (as well as in a follow-up demo at CES 2023), its visual benefits were abundantly clear.
I have no idea what Dolby has in mind for Dolby Vision Filmmaker Mode since details about it haven’t been released beyond the technical and manufacturing communities. But if it can in some way strike a balance between accurately delivering a film director’s vision and allowing for greater flexibility in home viewing conditions, it will be a very welcome development.