How to talk to your family about motion-smoothing without ruining the holiday season

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It’s the most divisive issue in America, ripping civil society right down the middle, pitting loved ones against each other, ruining family gatherings at its mere mention.

Yep, we’re talking about Tru- ... um ... motion-smoothing: We’re talking about HDTV motion-smoothing.

The notorious feature, also known as interpolation, comes as the default setting on most brands of HDTVs. Motion-smoothing artificially increases the frame rate of video by inserting fake frames. The purpose is to remove motion blur, which makes sense for sporting events, but makes movies and TV shows (shot at 24 frames per second) look like they were shot at a higher frame rate. The resulting video has a hyper-real quality akin to a soap opera.

This is what motion-smoothing looks like vs. regular video:

Motion-smoothing looks terrible in a way many viewers can’t quite put their finger on.

On the other hand ... actually, no, there is no other hand. It’s just bad.

“I don’t think there’s another side to it,” said HDTV-owning Omahan Robert Futhey. “I’ve literally never seen anything about its supposed benefits, other than it improves the image for live sporting events. But probably 90 percent of everything on TV is a studio recording and not a sporting event so why would motion-smoothing be the default?”

Nonetheless, families everywhere leave the setting turned on, normalizing this offense to good movie-watching and basic decency.

And Tom Cruise is not happy about it. The actor recently tweeted out a 90-second video in which he and “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” director Christopher McQuarrie explain why motion-smoothing is bad and how to turn it off on your TV. Other filmmakers, including James Gunn and Rian Johnson, have lambasted motion-smoothing in the past. Omaha-native Emmy-winner Reed Morano started a Change.org petition to remove the feature as the HDTV default setting.

“I would guess the majority of viewers watch movies and shows in a way they were not intended to be seen,” said Omaha-native filmmaker Charles Hood. “And the worst part is most people don’t even know it because the setting was turned on by default. Filmmakers put so much time and effort into their work, and it’s incredibly frustrating to see it in such a compromised state.”

Motion-smoothing is a distant cousin to an earlier home-viewing scourge: pan-and-scan. This was the method of taking widescreen-shot movies and slicing them to fit the boxy aspect ratio of TVs. The frame panned back and forth to follow the action. HDTVs, with their wide format, took us out of this dark age, but in the process created a whole new way of ruining movies.

This silent national crisis has a way of rearing its ugly head around the holidays, when people who know about the evils of motion-smoothing visit the homes of family members who don’t. Many families watch a lot of TV and movies together over the holidays, and when a TV has the motion-smoothing setting turned on, it presents a dilemma for people who know how to watch TV correctly.

Do you talk to your family about motion-smoothing? Do you change their settings?

What if they’re already too far gone? What if they think motion-smoothing actually looks good? How do you convince a loved one that their view of reality is both incorrect and possibly harmful?

To answer these questions, we sought the advice of professional counselors in the area. They helped us figure out how to best approach the issue, as well as other family conflicts (big and small) that might come up over the holidays.

Here are some suggestions and considerations to take into account when talking to your family about motion-smoothing (or politics, religion, thermostat levels or even what to watch on TV, for that matter).

1. Tone matters

“It’s really all about wording and tone,” said John Turnquist, a mental health therapist with Omaha Integrative Care. “You’re not pointing a finger. You’re not criticizing the person. You’re politely expressing how you’re feeling.”

You might say something like, “Hey, I noticed that one thing is happening with the TV. Would it be possible if we fixed the settings?”

A more delicate approach might work for other potential pressure points, as well: Asking Dad to turn up his thermostat; teaching Uncle Billy a better way of cutting the turkey.

On the flip side, Turnquist said, “if you’re a host and don’t have some interest in your guests’ comfort and well-being, I’m sorry, but you’re setting yourself up for failure.”

2. Remember: You can’t control people

“You can’t control other people,” Turnquist said. “And you can’t control family members.”

And in most cases, you can’t control their TVs.

3. Though being sneaky is an option

Ryan McCann, a therapist with Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska Inc., said his father-in-law might be tech-savvy, but “he doesn’t see that the motion-smoothing feature on his TV makes everything look like soap-opera video. It drives me crazy that he can’t see it.”

McCann, for his own sanity, clandestinely turned the motion-smoothing setting down on his in-laws’ TV. He did this with some amount of risk. In the past, his father-in-law has gotten mad when people have messed with settings on his fridge and coffee maker.

Still, McCann would recommend a “Trojan horse” approach, especially if it’s an issue with someone’s new TV. Act like you’re interested in buying the same unit.

Said McCann: “ ‘Oh, can I check it out, look at the settings? Does it have that motion-smoothing feature? Can I see if it looks better on or off?’

“Then subtly say, ‘Oh, I think that looks better off.’

“Probably not the most assertive way to handle it, but it avoids being too aggressive and starting a fight.”

4. Maybe avoid the issue altogether

Before bringing up petty concerns and potential rifts around the holidays, it’s important to ask yourself this: What might happen if I bring up this topic?

“Often, when we ask ourselves these questions, we can see whether it feels important enough an ask to risk potentially shifting rules in someone’s household and creating conflict,” said Aurora Moreno, an Omaha Integrative Care therapist. “I, for one, err on the side of letting things slide for the benefit of fostering a little bit more harmony. Know when to pick your battles. It’s OK to sit this one out, if you leave your family dinner with a happy heart instead of feeling exhausted by familiar fights that didn’t feel worth it.”

5. Recognize that this can be a stressful time for everyone

“Tension and anxiety definitely increases when families get together,” Turnquist said. “And some of that tension and anxiety is conscious and some of it is not. There’s a lot of emotional reactivity and volatility underneath the surface.”

Bringing up something as seemingly innocuous as TV settings might be the thread that unravels the whole holiday weekend. A family gathering can be a field of emotional land mines. Tread carefully.

6. Deep breaths

Whether you’re talking about motion-smoothing or core beliefs, “deep breathing is a good thing to practice,” Turnquist said.

Mindfulness might be the thing that gets you through the holidays.

7. Just show your family the Tom Cruise video

Google “Tom Cruise motion-smoothing” to find it. The man makes a compelling case in his crusade to eliminate the motion-smoothing default from TVs. In the process, perhaps, he’ll help bridge the divide in living rooms across the country, concerning the most important issue of our time.

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