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Why your next TV needs ‘filmmaker mode’

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TVs this year will ship with a new feature called “filmmaker mode,” but unlike the last dozen things the display industry has tried to foist on consumers, this one actually matters. It doesn’t magically turn your living room into a movie theater, but it’s an important step in that direction.

This new setting arose out of concerns among filmmakers (hence the name) that users were getting a sub-par viewing experience of the media that creators had so painstakingly composed.

The average TV these days is actually quite a quality piece of kit compared to a few years back. But few ever leave their default settings. This was beginning to be a problem, explained LG’s director of special projects, Neil Robinson, who helped define the filmmaker mode specification and execute it on the company’s displays.

“When people take TVs out of the box, they play with the settings for maybe five minutes, if you’re lucky,” he said. “So filmmakers wanted a way to drive awareness that you should have the settings configured in this particular way.”

In the past they’ve taken to social media and other platforms to mention this sort of thing, but it’s hard to say how effective a call to action is, even when it’s Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie begging you:

While very few people really need to tweak the gamma or adjust individual color levels, there are a couple settings that are absolutely crucial for a film or show to look the way it’s intended. The most important are ones that fit under the general term “motion processing.”

These settings have a variety of fancy-sounding names, like “game mode,” “motion smoothing,” “truemotion,” and such like, and they are on by default on many TVs. What they do differs from model to model, but it amounts to taking content at, say, 24 frames per second, and converting it to content at, say, 120 frames per second.

Generally this means inventing the images that come between the 24 actual frames — so if a person’s hand is at point A in one frame of a movie and point C in the next, motion processing will create a point B to go in between — or B, X, Y, Z, and dozens more if necessary.

This is bad for several reasons:

First, it produces a smoothness of motion that lies somewhere between real life and film, giving an uncanny look to motion-processed imagery that people often say reminds them of bad daytime TV shot on video — which is why people call it the “soap opera effect.”

Second, some of these algorithms are better than others, and some media is more compatible than the rest (sports broadcasts, for instance). While at best they produce the soap opera effect, at worst they can produce weird visual artifacts that can distract even the least sensitive viewer.

And third, it’s an aesthetic affront to the creators of the content, who usually crafted it very deliberately, choosing this shot, this frame rate, this shutter speed, this take, this movement, and so on with purpose and a careful eye. It’s one thing if your TV has the colors a little too warm or the shadows overbright — quite another to create new frames entirely with dubious effect.

So filmmakers, and in particular cinematographers, whose work crafting the look of the movie is most affected by these settings, began petitioning TV companies to either turn motion processing off by default or create some kind of easily accessible method for users to disable it themselves.

Ironically, the option already existed on some displays. “Many manufacturers already had something like this,” said Robinson. But with different names, different locations within the settings, and different exact effects, no user could really be sure what these various modes actually did. LG’s was “Technicolor Expert Mode.” Does that sound like something the average consumer would be inclined to turn on? I like messing with settings, and I’d probably keep away from it.

So the movement was more about standardization than reinvention. With a single name, icon, and prominent placement instead of being buried in a sub-menu somewhere, this is something people may actually see and use.

Not that there was no back-and-forth on the specification itself. For one thing, filmmaker mode also lowers the peak brightness of the TV to a relatively dark 100 nits — at a time when high brightness, daylight visibility, and contrast ratio are specs manufacturers want to show off.

The reason for this is, very simply, to make people turn off the lights.

There’s very little anyone in the production of a movie can do to control your living room setup or how you actually watch the film. But restricting your TV to certain levels of brightness does have the effect of making people want to dim the lights and sit right in front. Do you want to watch movies in broad daylight, with the shadows pumped up so bright they look grey? Feel free, but don’t imagine that’s what the creators consider ideal conditions.

Photo: Chris Ryan / Getty Images

“As long as you view in a room that’s not overly bright, I’d say you’re getting very close to what the filmmakers saw in grading,” said Robinson. Filmmaker mode’s color controls are a rather loose, he noted, but you’ll get the correct aspect ratio, white balance, no motion processing, and generally no weird surprises from not delving deep enough in the settings.

The full list of changes can be summarized as follows:

  • Maintain source frame rate and aspect ratio (no stretched or sped up imagery)
  • Motion processing off (no smoothing)
  • Peak brightness reduced (keeps shadows dark — this may change with HDR content)
  • Sharpening and noise reduction off (standard items with dubious benefit)
  • Other “image enhancements” off (non-standard items with dubious benefit)
  • White point at D65/6500K (prevents colors from looking too warm or cool)

All this, however, relies on people being aware of the mode and choosing to switch to it. Exactly how that will work depends on several factors. The ideal option is probably a filmmaker mode button right on the clicker, which is at least theoretically the plan.

The alternative is a content specification — as opposed to a display one — that allows TVs to automatically enter filmmaker mode when a piece of media requests it to. But this requires content providers to take advantage of the APIs that make the automatic switching possible, so don’t count on it.

And of course this has its own difficulties, including privacy concerns — do you really want your shows to tell your devices what to do and when? So a middle road where the TV prompts the user to “Show this content in filmmaker mode? Yes/No” and automatic fallback to the previous settings afterwards might be the best option.

There are other improvements that can be pursued to make home viewing more like the theater, but as Robinson pointed out, there are simply fundamental differences between LCD and OLED displays and the projectors used in theaters — and even then there are major differences between projectors. But that’s a whole other story.

At the very least, the mode as planned represents a wedge that content purists (it has a whiff of derogation but they may embrace the term) can widen over time. Getting the average user to turn off motion processing is the first and perhaps most important step — everything after that is incremental improvement.

So which TVs will have filmmaker mode? It’s unclear. LG, Vizio, and Panasonic have all committed to bringing models out with the feature, and it’s even possible it could be added to older models with a software update (but don’t count on it). Sony is a holdout for now. No one is sure exactly which models will have filmmaker mode available, so just cast an eye over the spec list of you’re thinking of getting and, if you’ll take my advice, don’t buy a TV without it.

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We’ve come full rectangle: Polaroid is reborn out of The Impossible Project

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More than a decade after announcing that it would keep Polaroid’s abandoned instant film alive, The Impossible Project has done the… improbable: It has officially become the brand it set out to save. And to commemorate the occasion there’s a new camera, the Polaroid Now.

The convergence of the two brands has been in the works for years, and in fact Impossible Project products were already Polaroid-branded. But this marks a final and satisfying shift in one of the stranger relationships in startups or photography.

I first wrote about The Impossible Project in early 2009 (and apparently thought it was a good idea to Photoshop a Bionic Commando screenshot as the lead image) when the company announced its acquisition of some Polaroid instant film manufacturing assets.

Polaroid at the time was little more than a shell. Having declined since the ’80s and more or less shuttered in 2001, the company was relaunched as a digital brand and film sales were phased out. This was unsuccessful, and in 2008 Polaroid was filing for bankruptcy again.

This time, however, it was getting rid of its film production factories, and a handful of Dutch entrepreneurs and Polaroid experts took over the lease as The Impossible Project. But although the machinery was there, the patents and other IP for the famed Polaroid instant film were not. So they basically had to reinvent the process from scratch — and the early results were pretty rough.

But they persevered, aided by a passionate community of Polaroid owners, continuously augmented by the film-curious who want something more than a Fujifilm Instax but less than a 35mm SLR. In time the process matured and Impossible developed new films and distribution partners, growing more successful even as Polaroid continued applying its brand to random, never particularly good photography-adjacent products. They even hired Lady Gaga as “Creative Director,” but the devices she hyped at CES never really materialized.

Gaga was extremely late to the announcement, but seeing the GL30 prototype was worth it.

In 2017, the student became the master as Impossible’s CEO purchased the Polaroid brand name and IP. They relaunched Impossible as “Polaroid Originals” and released the OneStep 2 camera using a new “i-Type” film process that more closely resembled old Polaroids (while avoiding the expensive cartridge battery).

Polaroid continued releasing new products in the meantime — presumably projects that were under contract or in development under the brand before its acquisition. While the quality has increased from the early days of rebranded point-and-shoots, none of the products has ever really caught on, and digital instant printing (Polaroid’s last redoubt) has been eclipsed by a wave of nostalgia for real film, Instax Mini in particular.

But at last the merger dance is complete and Polaroid, Polaroid Originals, and The Impossible Project are finally one and the same. All devices and film will be released under the Polaroid name, though there may be new sub-brands like i-Type and the new Polaroid Now camera.

Speaking of which, the Now is not a complete reinvention of the camera by far — it’s a “friendlier” redesign that takes after the popular OneStep but adds improved autofocus, a flash-adjusting light sensor, better battery, and a few other nips and tucks. At $100 it’s not too hard on the wallet, but remember that film is going to run you about $2 per shot. That’s how they get you.

It’s been a long, strange trip to watch but ultimately a satisfying one: Impossible made a bet on the fundamental value of instant film photography, while a series of owners bet on the Polaroid brand name to sell anything they put it on. The riskier long-term play won out in the end (though many got rich running Polaroid into the ground over and over) and now with a little luck the brand that started it all will continue its success.

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NYU makes face shield design for healthcare workers that can be built in under a minute available to all

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New York University is among the many academic, private and public institutions doing what it can to address the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) among healthcare workers across the world. The school worked quickly to develop an open-source face-shield design, and is now offering that design freely to any and all in order to help scale manufacturing to meet needs.

Face shields are a key piece of equipment for front-line healthcare workers operating in close contact with COVID-19 patients. They’re essentially plastic, transparent masks that extend fully to cover a wearer’s face. These are to be used in tandem with N95 and surgical masks, and can protect a healthcare professional from exposure to droplets containing the virus expelled by patients when they cough or sneeze.

The NYU project is one of many attempts to scale production of face masks, but many others rely on 3D printing. This has the advantage of allowing even very small commercial 3D-print operations and individuals to contribute, but 3D printing takes a lot of time — roughly 30 minutes to an hour per print. NYU’s design requires only basic materials, including two pieces of clear, flexible plastic and an elastic band, and it can be manufactured in less than a minute by essentially any production facility that includes equipment for producing flat products (whole punches, laser cutters, etc.).

This was designed in collaboration with clinicians, and over 100 of them have already been distributed to emergency rooms. NYU’s team plans to ramp production of up to 300,000 of these once they have materials in hand at the factories of production partners they’re working with, which include Daedalus Design and Production, PRG Scenic Technologies and Showman Fabricators.

Now, the team is putting the design out there for pubic use, including a downloadable tool kit so that other organizations can hopefully replicate what they’ve done and get more into circulation. They’re also welcoming inbound contact from manufacturers who can help scale additional production capacity.

Other initiatives are working on different aspects of the PPE shortage, including efforts to build ventilators and extend their use to as many patients as possible. It’s a great example of what’s possible when smart people and organizations collaborate and make their efforts available to the community, and there are bound to be plenty more examples like this as the COVID-19 crisis deepens.

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Marine species ‘relocating towards the poles’ due to rising temperatures

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Marine species are moving towards the Earth's poles to escape the warming oceans (Getty)
Marine species are moving towards the Earth’s poles to escape the warming oceans (Getty)

Marine species are relocating towards the poles due to rising ocean temperatures, scientists have said.

The researchers, including scientists from the universities of Bristol and Exeter, looked at data on over 300 marine plants, birds and animals spanning more than a century.

They found a ‘general pattern’ where species showed increasing population densities towards the poles but declines in numbers in the habitats near the equator.

The team believes its findings, published in the journal Current Biology, indicate rising temperatures have led to widespread changes in the population size and distribution of marine species.

Martin Genner, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Bristol and senior study author, said: ‘The main surprise is how pervasive the effects were.

‘We found the same trend across all groups of marine life we looked at, from plankton to marine invertebrates, and from fish to seabirds.’

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The world’s oceans have warmed by an average of 1C since pre-industrial times, the researchers said.

To find out how this temperature change has affected marine life, the team reviewed 540 published records of species abundance changes – their occupancy trend over time.

Climate change is warming the Earth's oceans (Alexis Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
Climate change is warming the Earth’s oceans (Alexis Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

They found certain species to be thriving well in the cooler regions of the oceans, with rising temperatures opening up previously inaccessible habitats.

For example, the researchers said, the populations of Atlantic herring and Adelie penguins were both declining in abundance near the equator but increasing in abundance towards the polar regions.

But they found conditions of habitats near the equator were too warm to tolerate.

Louise Rutterford, a study author based at both Exeter and Bristol universities, said: ‘Some marine species appear to benefit from climate change, particularly some populations at the poleward limits that are now able to thrive.

‘Meanwhile, some marine life suffers as it is not able to adapt fast enough to survive warming, and this is most noticeable in populations nearer the equator.

‘This is concerning as both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem.’

VINCENNES BAY, ANTARTICA - JANUARY 11: Giant tabular icebergs are surrounded by ice floe drift in Vincennes Bay on January 11, 2008 in the Australian Antarctic Territory. Australia's CSIRO's atmospheric research unit has found the world is warming faster than predicted by the United Nations' top climate change body, with harmful emissions exceeding worst-case estimates. (Photo by Torsten Blackwood - Pool/Getty Images)
Warming is predicted to increase throughout this century (Torsten Blackwood – Pool/Getty Images)

With warming predicted to increase up to 1.5C over pre-industrial levels by 2050, the researchers said species are likely to undergo further shifts in population distribution in coming decades.

Mr Genner said: ‘This matters because it means that climate change is not only leading to abundance changes, but intrinsically affecting the performance of species locally.

‘We see species such as Emperor penguin becoming less abundant as water becomes too warm at their equatorward edge, and we see some fish such as European seabass thriving at their poleward edge where historically they were uncommon.’

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Source: Metro News

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