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Frame Change

18 Jun, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

Higher frame rates are set to hit theaters and home entertainment

James Cameron and Peter Jackson could change home entertainment.

The two directors are the first to latch on to the idea of films shot at a higher frame rate than the 24 frames per second (fps) that has been the standard for films since the mid-1920s. Cameron wants to shoot Avatar 2 (2015) at as high as 60 fps, while Jackson has been filming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 13) completely at 48 fps.

But when these films eventually make their way to home entertainment, the studios will have a minor Blu-ray Disc issue on their hands: The Blu-ray specification allows for up to 720p resolution for 60 fps, and the maximum frame rate for the highest resolution available, 1080p, is 30 fps.

While for about 85 years 24 fps has been the standard, new developments may force a change in Blu-ray specifications. The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) already is aware that a serious discussion about higher frame rates, Blu-ray and HDTVs is on the way.

“It’s a bit early to say how high frame rate (HFR) content will be presented on Blu-ray, but we expect the studios will use the various options currently available in the Blu-ray format, and it’s safe to assume that any HFR film will represent a top quality master for Blu-ray,” the BDA said in a statement.
“The BDA and its member companies stay atop the latest developments in technology and filmmaking. As high frame rate content gains momentum, we expect there will be more discussion among member companies regarding how to maximize the benefits of both formats in high-resolution.”
Cameron and Jackson are choosing the higher frame rates to cut down on flicker, reduce motion blur and make the films look more like reality.

“Looking at 24 frames every second may seem OK — and we’ve all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years — but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or ‘strobe,’” Jackson wrote to fans in April 2011, when he announced the decision to film The Hobbit at 48 fps.

“Shooting and projecting at 48 fps does a lot to get rid of these issues,” Jackson said. “It looks much more life-like, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3D. We’ve been watching Hobbit tests and dailies at 48 fps now for several months, and we often sit through two hours’ worth of footage without getting any eye strain from the 3D.  It looks great, and we’ve actually become used to it now, to the point that other film experiences look a little primitive.”

But when it comes to home entertainment, that 48 fps would likely have to be down-converted to 24 fps to allow for 1080p resolution. And most HDTVs aren’t designed to handle a 48 Hz signal, most running at 60 Hz or 120 Hz instead, and the image wouldn’t display as intended, according to home theater experts.

“According to the specs, the only way to encode the video at a frame rate higher than 24 fps is to either make it in 720p or 1080i (i.e. lower resolution),” said Adam Gregorich, administrator with the Home Theater Forum. “People with displays that can’t handle 24 fps are using 3:2 pull-down to get that frame rate, and that is not something you want to do, as the cure is worse than the disease — it introduces a lot of problems.”

He points out that most consumers probably don’t have their Blu-ray players set up to display 24 fps on Blu-ray in any case, and are already playing content back at a frame rate of 30, 120 or 240, depending on the display.

“Most displays will do 120, which can take multiples of 24 and 30, but not 48 and players can output 24 or 30, but I have never heard of an option for 48,” Gregorich said. “They might think about coming up with a way to do something, but I think they are asking for trouble if it doesn’t play back correctly on most existing hardware, so they will just go with a standard encode.”

Ben Drawbaugh, high-def editor with Engadget.com, points out that 3D Blu-ray is sent at 48 fps — 24 fps for each eye — but “the extra frames are used for the second image in 3D instead.”

“Now 3D content at 48 fps [per eye] is a different story entirely,” Drawbaugh said. “The good news is Blu-ray has so much storage potential, it’s just a matter of the BDA releasing another spec and us replacing our Blu-ray players, and maybe even our HDTVs.”

That may be the only way to go to truly see in the home what directors such as Jackson and Cameron intend. Jackson has said that higher frame rates will one day be the standard, similar to when “vinyl records were supplanted by digital CDs.”

“The interesting debate is what consumers will think of 48 fps,” Drawbaugh said. “The film buffs balked at it, but I bet consumers will eat it up. I still remember the early days of HD DVD and Blu-ray where we’d debate in the forums HD video versus film. Some would argue that video looked better, while others would argue it looked too cheesy.”

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