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'Filmmaker Mode' Bows for Better TV Movie-Watching, Gets LG, Panasonic, Vizio Support

LG, Panasonic and Vizio are the TV-brand "launch partners" supporting "Filmmaker Mode," said the UHD Alliance, which will own the trademark. It's the uniformly named, ease-of-access TV picture setting free of the TV image processing that creators disdain for rendering their movies and “episodic” TV shows in the living room as if they were shot on high-speed video rather than film, said UHDA. “Specific product and implementation plans will be announced by each company at the appropriate time,” it said of the three TV brands.

UHDA convened Tuesday with Hollywood studios and creator luminaries, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, to debut Filmmaker Mode at an event in Los Angeles (see 1908100001). Filmmaker Mode as a consumer deliverable culminates a collaboration that began a year or more ago among the CE industry, the studios and, “most importantly, the filmmaker community,” UHDA President Mike Fidler told us. A “mutual desire to deliver what the filmmaker intended” when rendering movies in the living room is what drove all the parties together, he said.

The project included UHDA outreach to the Directors Guild of America and The Film Foundation, said Fidler. It “extends into unprecedented support with personal engagement and promotional support elements from some of the most preeminent and respected filmmakers in the industry,” he said. Besides Johnson, who was expected to speak live at the event, directors Paul Thomas Anderson, Ryan Coogler, Patty Jenkins, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan were among the project’s prime movers, said UHDA. Nolan, Scorsese, Coogler and others were expected to appear on video at the event, said UHDA.

Scorsese started The Film Foundation in 1990 “with the goal to preserve film and protect the filmmaker's original vision so that the audience can experience these films as they were intended to be seen," said the Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver director in a UHDA news release. “Most people today are watching these classic films at home rather than in movie theaters, making Filmmaker Mode of particular importance when presenting these films which have specifications unique to being shot on film."

The technical specs for Filmmaker Mode have “two main components,” said UHDA Chairman Michael Zink, vice president-technology at Warner Bros. First, it’s “clearly defined” in the specs “what the mode is supposed to look like in order to have consistency across different manufacturers,” he said. The second is “making access very easy for consumers,” sparing them need to navigate cumbersome TV menus to deactivate the processing features that render the soap-opera effect many find objectionable for movie-watching, he said.

Today’s TVs “have amazing capabilities, but sometimes, these capabilities can override the choices made by the filmmaker,” Zink told us. “With that in mind,” Filmmaker Mode disables the TV’s motion-smoothing, sharpening, noise reduction, overscan and other image-processing features, he said. It “puts the TV in a mode where the content is displayed as the director intended it, without inadvertent changes that might result from the TV’s technical capabilities,” he said. “It is the filmmakers’ desire to retain the cinematic film quality that consumers see in theatrical presentations and replicating the color-grading done for their films for distribution to the home.”

Filmmaker Mode also maintains the content's "correct aspect ratio,” plus the proper frame rate and the “correct white point and color temperature to make sure the pictures look as close as possible as they were seen” when they were color-graded, said Zink. The mode is “equally applicable” for standard dynamic range and HDR content, he said.

TV makers have the option to build automatic Filmmaker Mode activation into their sets “through metadata that’s embedded in the video signal,” said Zink. The TV detects that metadata, “realizes it’s film or television content and switches into that mode,” he said.

Single Name 'Really Huge'

Filmmaker Mode also can be implemented through a button so named on the TV’s remote “to make it very easy for consumers to get into” manually, said Zink. What’s “really huge” is that “we all agreed on a single name” for the feature, he said. “Having a consistent naming across different manufacturers is something that’s really big, really new and something very different from what’s happened in the past.” UHDA’s May 17 application to register the Filmmaker Mode name and logo as certification marks is winding its way through the Patent and Trademark Office, agency records show.

How a TV would notify a consumer that the set switched automatically to Filmmaker Mode through metadata detection will be subject to “specific manufacturer implementations,” said Zink. “It’s not something new that if a certain type of content is detected, televisions today already switch into specialty modes and usually provide some type of pop-up indication. Others may bring up some sort of prompt and inform the consumer that this is happening.”

Qualifying a TV for Filmmaker Mode certification won’t be “overly burdensome,” said Zink. He doubts additional metadata detection would be needed beyond what’s already built into the TV for Filmmaker Mode to work, he said. “Certainly, additional triggers” would be required in the set, he said.

Nothing in the technical specs precludes manufacturers from providing additional Filmmaker Mode “access paths” in a TV, such as through voice activation, said Zink. But it’s “mandatory” that they provide at least one of the two basic access means -- automatic metadata detection or manual activation, he said. Whether Filmmaker Mode when activated through the button on the remote stays activated once the movie is over will be an “implementation-specific” question that individual manufacturers will address, he said.

TV makers will self-certify their sets for Filmmaker Mode in “pretty much” the same way brands qualify for the authority to put UHDA’s Ultra HD Premium logo on their TVs, said Zink. One difference is that the Ultra HD Premium program requires TV makers to submit their products to “third-party verification because the specifications are a lot more intricate,” he said. “Filmmaker Mode, however, still requires manufacturers to go through a certification process, and then provide that documentation back to the UHDA.”

UHDA is “very happy at this point in time with the huge amount of support that we have from the three brands, just at launch,” said Zink of LG, Panasonic and Vizio. “I think that is incredible, just looking at their market share and their presence in the market as well.”

LG and Vizio consistently place among the top five brands in U.S. TV market share, as they did in the year to date through July, emailed Stephen Baker, NPD vice president-industry analysis. But it’s “fair to say” Panasonic has “virtually disappeared” from the consumer TV market in North America, emailed Paul Gagnon, IHS Markit executive director-research and analysis for technology, media and telecom.

Panasonic’s global share “is down so far this year, and just 2.5% on a unit basis in the first half of 2019,” said Gagnon. “The only region they have an appreciable share is in Japan. Even in Europe, they are giving ground up, mostly in Eastern Europe. Their focus in Europe has largely been on OLED, though it just accounts for 6% of their units in Western Europe, but it is a profit center.” Panasonic for the first time in recent memory is shunning its usual IFA news conference this year, confirmed Panasonic Europe spokesperson Anne Guennewig. It's exhibiting in its customary IFA space in Hall 5.2 of the Messe Berlin fairgrounds where it will do booth tours for reporters, she said.

OLED TVs from Panasonic “are currently in use in a large number of studios and post production houses as client reference monitors,” said a statement that UHDA attributed to Akira Toyoshima, director of Panasonic's Visual and Sound business unit. “When we heard of the concerns raised by numerous directors, we were keen to work together with the UHD Alliance to make Filmmaker Mode a reality." Panasonic maintains a strong brand identity with filmmakers through its Panasonic Hollywood Lab initiative. Ron Martin, the lab's most visible point man, was a key presence on stage at the Tuesday event.

'Natural Extension' for Vizio

Being part of the Filmmaker Mode initiative is a “natural extension” of Vizio’s “brand mission, giving viewers instant access to next-level entertainment,” said CEO William Wang in the UHDA release. “We are pleased so many studios are getting involved to make sure the content they are creating is always able to be presented at the highest quality, whether it is viewed in a movie theater or home theater.” UHDA provided no quote from LG, which declined comment to us. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and Warner are among the studios supporting Filmmaker Mode, said UHDA.

Expect to see “a lot of excitement” from LG, Panasonic and Vizio, “and announcements from them forthcoming, not part of this event, because they’re going to go on their own product plan,” said UHDA spokesperson Michael Hoog. “You’re going to see some things coming out from them in their own time frames that will show they’re pretty supportive of this mode.”

The “broad support from the creative community” for Filmmaker Mode “has been incredible and continues to be incredible,” said Zink. “I think there will be a huge amount of value for UHDA member companies implementing that mode coming out of that new collaboration that never really happened before between content creators and CE manufacturers.”

The “level of commitment” from the creative community to “supporting and promoting” Filmmaker Mode is “frankly unprecedented,” said Fidler. He said he was expecting to have “incredible representation from the creative community” at Tuesday’s event in the Wilshire Boulevard screening room of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of TV and Radio Artists. “That has a lot of power in the messaging we’ll be providing” to win more set-maker support, he said. “I think that will create an incredible amount of demand.”

Technical implementation of Filmmaker Mode in a TV won’t be a barrier to set-maker adoption, said Fidler. “Manufacturers have spent a lot of time and energy on providing their multitude of modes” in a TV, he said. “Some of them are proprietary, some they work with other companies to develop.” None “really will have the kind of impact” Filmmaker Mode brings to market because of “this level of creative support and collaboration,” he said.

Sony, not among the first group of TV-brand Filmmaker Mode supporters, teamed with Netflix last year for the debut of the Netflix Calibrated Mode on selected Bravia sets. The mode “configures the TV the same way creators calibrate their monitors in post production,” said Netflix. “With one simple menu setting, our members can view TV shows, films, and documentaries on Netflix as they were meant to be seen, with precise colors, accurate dynamic contrast, and true motion so there’s no ‘soap opera effect.’” Netflix will distribute director Scorsese's next big feature film, The Irishman. It bows Nov. 1 in a limited theatrical run, before debuting on digital streaming Nov. 27.

Fidler predicts “a real groundswell of support” for Filmmaker Mode in Hollywood and among movie-enthusiast consumers. TV makers “will have to determine the impact of that, the visibility of that, the credibility of that, and then bringing that in within the context of their own product plans and product marketing,” he said.

Filmmaker Mode scored high in UHDA’s consumer testing, said Fidler. It canvassed 4,600 respondents on the importance in the TV-buying experience of having a mode to choose from, “developed and approved by filmmakers,” that adjusts the TV settings “to most accurately match how the filmmaker wants you to watch the movie.” When asked if considering for purchase two TVs with “equivalent specifications,” 88 percent answered they would buy “the one with Filmmaker Mode” over the set without it, said Fidler. Preference for the mode was even higher, 94 percent, among consumers in the sample who were 4K TV owners, he said.