Film fans subscribe to the best streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney Plus could soon be getting an upgrade to the Maker Mode picture preset that allows them to experience movies on their TVs at the same level of quality as the director intended movies.
The news came at a session held by LG last week to bring TV reviewers closer together. look at the new G3 OLED TV. Among the events was a briefing with Mike Zink of the UHD Alliance, an industry group with members that include the consumer electronics, technology and Hollywood production communities. While Zink mostly gave an overview of the group’s activities, he also mentioned that Dolby Vision’s Movie Maker Mode is in the pipeline for TV manufacturers to implement. To understand why that’s important, we’ll first need to cover the Filmmaker mode, and why it important.
Filmmaker mode is a standard picture preset found on the Best 4K TVs from manufacturers 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 are among its biggest proponents) who were tired of their poorly reproduced film on televisions. Inaccurate color and unnatural motion processing were two of the main sticking points for these directors, but there were also concerns about maintaining a film’s original aspect ratio and doing away with aggressive image sharpening and noise reduction.
Filmmaker mode addresses all of these issues, allowing viewers to watch movies as their directors intended them to be seen with little effort other than selecting a specific picture preset on their TV. And while Filmmaker mode is usually a good choice for watching all kinds of programs, it has a key limitation in that it can’t be used to watch programs with high dynamic range Dolby Vision.
When watching movies with Dolby Vision, TVs automatically switch to Dolby Vision picture mode. The TCL 6-Series model I recently reviewed, for example, defaults to its Dolby Vision IQ mode, although 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 day viewing, respectively.
Of these, Dolby Vision Dark is the closest preset 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 methods that add motion interpolation (the source of the “soap opera effect”) and high levels of both picture sharpening and noise reduction.
As the name suggests, Dolby Vision Dark, like Maker Mode, is for viewing in a dark or dark room, like the one where the director was sitting when his film was mastered for home video or streaming release. But not everyone likes watching in a cave-like setting, which is why there are Dolby Vision Normal and IQ presets. In both cases – at least on the TCL 6-Series TV – high levels of motion processing are applied, and Dolby Vision Normal shifts 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 point out the situation to Tom Cruise.
Dolby Vision Movie Maker Mode… to the rescue?
We still don’t know the details of Dolby Vision’s Movie Maker Mode beyond what was briefly discussed at LG’s TV event. It appears to have been approved in late 2022, so it won’t appear in any new sets for 2023, although 2024 is possible.
What makes Dolby Vision Movie Maker Mode important is that the current set of television presets for watching programs with Dolby Vision is to some extent. 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 presets – something viewers, like Maker Mode, can choose and expect an accurate presentation, approval by director to see.
The point here is that default modes like Dolby Vision IQ and Dolby Vision Normal make pictures brighter, but in doing so they emphasize the judder and blurring artifacts inherent to images filmed at 24 ffs. Motion interpolation processing can successfully eliminate such artifacts, which is why they are implemented in those methods. But motion interpolation makes movies look like daytime soap operas – one of the main reasons why the Hollywood community pushed Filmmaker Mode.
Ideally, Dolby Vision’s Movie Maker Mode would bring the benefits of Dolby IQ – automatically adjusting brightness based on ambient room lighting – and perhaps combine it with variable frame rate motion processing – something like the TrueCut Motion technology used to create Avatar: The Way of the Water. TrueCut Motion is a “motion grading” tool used in film post-production that allows frame rates to be adjusted on a variable basis to reduce the visual impact of motion blur without making motion look unnatural. After seeing it in action when I gave birth Avatar: The Way of the Water at an IMAX theater (as well as in a follow-up demonstration at CES 2023), its visual advantages were quite clear.
I have no idea what Dolby has in mind for Dolby Vision Movie Maker Mode since details about it have not been released beyond the technical and manufacturing communities. But if it can somehow strike a balance between accurately delivering a film director’s vision and allowing greater flexibility for home viewing conditions, that development will be welcomed.