Tuesday, December 22, 2009

why i love 60hz

editor's note: this post is unnecessary and overly technical. however, our lead writer is a man possessed of impassioned opinions about certain subjects and, like a mississippi leghound, sometimes it's best to just let him finish.

jeff gustafson

sheep go to heaven

a few weeks ago, our layout team lead had invited us to his place to watch chungking express. we'd discovered that all of us on the layout team were fans of the movie and decided to invite other animation students come watch it with us.

shortly after the movie started, a few of the girls asked what was wrong with the picture, since it looked like a shaky camcorder home movie (granted, chungking express is a verite-style handheld movie, but that's not what they were seeing). my friend started explaining that it was because it was a on a blu-ray player and so the higher definition made it look that way and that a lot of directors disliked the blu-ray technology for that reason.

we were not watching a blu-ray movie and it had nothing to do with blu-ray.
it was because the tv was set a 120hz instead of 60hz and it drives me nuts everytime i see it.
and in the world of best buys and hd tvs, it is becoming a problem.

i am a visual guy. a few years ago, my sister's apartment borrowed my casablanca dvd from me. i stopped by the their place on night while they were watching it and had a mild coniption. their tv had the contrast turned all the way down, so that the grey scale from the darkest black to the brightest white was not very different. for my neurosis and for the beauty of rich black and white cinematography, i showed them how much better it would look with the contrast at a more normal level.
i'm not an audiophile. i had a roommate once explain to me the difference between a movie's dolby digital soundtrack and a dts track. a day later, i couldn't tell you which was which. i have surround sound speakers, but just set the somewhere behind the couch and left it at that.
but i see night and day difference between blu-rays and standard dvds.

since the introduction of sound, film has been run through a movie camera a 24 frames per second. because the film is held in front of the open shutter for 1/48th of a second, there is a slight blurring of objects moving fast enough. this motion blur isn't something we notice, but it's something our brain knows is there. more importantly, it's part of what we associate with movies. cinema.

video cameras shoot at a different frame rate (that's a mess of a topic alone) and, in the past, have projected the image 60 times a second. this produces a much crisper look as there is less motion blur. this is one reason why soap operas don't look as good as jurassic park.
in the past ten years, video cameras have advanced in quality enough that they started becoming viable options for shooting feature-length movies.
one of the biggest hurdles was getting that 24 frames per second look, that motion blur. this is a big, messy mess that actually started because someone didn't feel like making a change back in the days of radio and haunts editors to this day.

why? why so much headache and research into softening the image just a bit, to trying to capture motion blur? because movies have that. movies are shot on film. but they are also shot with big actors with great scripts and very talented cinematographers and production designers, all who work to make the whole production excellent. and that excellence has been coming to us for decades on film at 24 frames per second.

what doesn't have motion blur? what is crisp and smooth? daytime talk shows. sitcoms. telemundo. and even if you can't pinpoint it, you know there's a difference when you see it.

so, the soft motion blur of movies looks good. we like that.
and, following the great advent of the dvd, where movies were now offered in the same widescreen aspect ratios that they were shown in theaters, we are now offered wide screen tvs. blu-rays offer high definition resolution and the tvs come in 1080p to match. it's a cinephile's golden age.

the dark side is that, in the ever-escalating race to progress technology, companies have been so caught up in whether they could that they didn't stop to ask whether they should. tvs come with the option now to project their picture at either the standard 60hz or twice as fast at 120hz.

and this is what this all boils down to: a scan rate of 120hz show the image twice as often in the same amount of time. it removes the motion blur. every movement is incredibly crisp. it doesn't look like a movie anymore. up now moves like a video game. the dark knight looks as if it was shot on your neighbor's handycam.

there are even tvs that do 240hz. why? what is the point of it all? i've heard it argued for sports, and i can see that. naturally, sports are shot on video in the first place, and the crystal clarity of 120hz or even 240hz (wow) would be better for watching the cougars make a 40-yard pass.

nearly every tv in best buy, costco, wherever, is set to 120hz, advertizing the amazing clarity of hd and blu-ray. the quality of high difinition tvs and blu-ray players has nothing to do with setting the refresh rate at 120hz. they try to sell people on that, and it must be working. still, the girls sitting next to me at my friends house could soon tell that chungking express looked wrong, and i hope that they aren't the only ones.

post script: like my editor noted, this is superfluous. this has nothing to do with political reform, bringing water to africa, or proclaiming the restored gospel. please don't think that i consider it of any greater import than my pet peeve regarding the settings on television.


Brooke said...

Mississippi Leghound?? LOL! I about choked on my drink when I read that! Too funny! I just had to comment, because I Could, more than if I Should. :D

Em said...

Way to open the pandora's box of could v shoulds in media technology.....

Mark A. said...

I agree that watching shows like the office just look wrong in 120hz, but watching football is SO much better in 120 than 60. Can you guess which one I would buy? :)