Video Frame Rate – how a fortunate technological accident is on the verge of being ‘corrected’ (Part 4)


What could this possibly have to do with a music web site? Guest contributor Ray Purchase explains:

The Hobbit - High Frame Rates Don't Work for Cinema

Here's a recent case that highlights that choice of frame rate is critical.

The director of the film The Hobbit decided to try higher frame rates in the cinema. His experiments were received negatively, probably quite justifiably, because cinema needs the low frame rate to create the slightly unreal look that people expect. But while the writer of the above piece acknowledges the otherworldly effect of movie frame rates, he makes the mistake of thinking that it is an almost universal panacea for all cinema and television with the exception of categories that obviously feature fast motion. He says, dismissively:

High frame rates belong on bad TV shows and perhaps sports.

In the online forums where programme makers and video technicians congregate this seems to be a common sentiment.

Play Safe: Use Film Effect for Everything

My fear is that any sensible programme maker would heed these messages and resolutely determine to use only 25 frames per second for everything they made. Why wouldn't they? Clearly high frame rates have bad associations and make your production look 'cheap'. From now on, no one will ever lose their job for choosing film effect over straight video, but the other way round they just might. Without any more subtle analysis it's a no-brainer.

Over the years some formerly-gripping programmes with a 'live' theme have gone over to film effect video and then been rapidly killed off. Scrapheap Challenge and Time Team are two of them. I would speculate that part of the reason for their demise was a sudden flatness and lack of 'buzz' that the audience and programme makers attributed to over-longevity and over-familiarity, but could well have been a lack of connection between programme and audience due to something as arcane as the frame rate.

Attempts have been made to 're-master' programmes originally shot on 50i video by literally discarding every other video field or blending the two fields and displaying the result at 25 frames per second, the idea being to give the programmes the film effect. The result is the worst of all worlds: what was made in a way that responded to the visual directness of video becomes strangely detached, and either the vertical resolution is halved leading to unpleasant jagged diagonals and strobing patterns, or a smeary effect is produced on movement. A notable example of this was the supposed 'digital re-mastering' of Red Dwarf a few years ago In fact this technique is quite common, and can sometimes be seen being applied to current programmes, presumably in an attempt to retrospectively make them look 'more expensive'. It even has a name: 'filmizing'

The BBC still broadcasts panel games and some 'retro' sitcoms (e.g. Miranda) at high frame rate, but are they doing it for the right reasons? Or are they doing it purely because of its cultural associations rather than because they think it works better than film effect in some situations? Are they, perhaps, thinking of sneaking the film effect into all non-current affairs and non-sports broadcasting gradually over time? Some 'live' stand-up comedy, for example, is now broadcast in film effect video, and to my mind it doesn't work at all. The audience may be puzzled by why it falls flat, but you can guarantee that the last thing on their mind will be to blame the frame rate! And the same goes for the programme makers, I would bet.

Continued tomorrow:

Leave a Reply