Why did The Walking Dead look like crap on my new 50 inch LED HDTV?
March 19, 2013 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Finally replaced our old dinosaur television and the first thing we did was watch The Walking Dead. It looked unbelievably awful in a way I find hard to describe - maybe like watching The Littlest Hobo in the 90s. Can some settings be changed to fix this?

The model we bought is the LG 50LS4000 50" 1080p 120Hz 2D LED HDTV. Yeah, it's a cheap model, but...good god! I never expected a show to look so terrible. It made the production look really cheap, as I said, kind of like The Littlest Hobo or Coronation Street. Maybe the effect also made everything seem kind of flat, lacking depth (and I don't even know if I mean that literally or figuratively). Characters seemed shorter and squished. I find it hard to describe, but the difference was very pronounced to me and creeped me right out. Googling, I think maybe part of this is what people may be calling this the 'soap opera' effect, although I don't get that not having watched a soap for at least 15 years. Some suggest it's the refresh rate. I don't understand any of this. I just want my tv shows to look more like they did on the old tv.

Can anyone please explain why this is happening and which setting-types might improve it? I know almost nothing of pixels and HD and all that jazz. I guess I thought the image would be bigger, not different, and perhaps I'm an idiot for thinking so...
posted by kitcat to Technology (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You need to turn off motion interpolation (also called de-juddering.) On your TV it will probably be called "TruMotion."
posted by griphus at 10:04 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: First of all, you're sure you're watching the actual HD version, right? Most cable companies have an HD and non-HD version of every channel. And you have the cable box or DVR or whatever hooked up with HD cables (HDMI - a single cable with a flat-ish connector, or component - 3 cables in red/green/blue plus more for audio)?
posted by primethyme at 10:05 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

It looks like the motion interpolation setting for your TV (without getting into it, this is what causes the 'soap opera effect') is called Trumotion -- I would try disabling that.
posted by GriffX at 10:05 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: I know EXACTLY what you mean, and I've found this article to be extremely helpful.
posted by Rewind at 10:05 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not sure about the 'shorter and squished' part. That sounds like some issue with the aspect ratio. You might be able to switch through different aspect ratios to see if that looks better. But Griphus is right on about motion interpolation and the 'soap opera effect'. It makes motion look much smoother than you are used to which oddly enough makes the entire experience look cheap.
posted by rocketpup at 10:07 AM on March 19, 2013

Oh, the squished thing is probably an incorrect aspect ratio. Check your remote for an 'aspect ratio' button and hit it a few times until things look right. Depending on how you use your TV, you may need to switch aspect ratios when watching TV and when watching DVDs. If you want, you can read up on how aspect ratios work and which is the Correct one for what you're watching but, honestly, in your case you can just hit the button a few times and stick with the image that looks the most correct.
posted by griphus at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2013

...or what rocketpup said.
posted by griphus at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, I believe there is a TruMotion setting; I will try turning that off tonight. No, we were not watching the HD version. We don't have many HD versions of channels. Does that matter?
posted by kitcat at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2013

It matters for the aspect ratio. SD (regular) TV and HD TV run at two different ones. So you have to switch aspect ratios between SD and HD channels, otherwise either the former will look squished (because HD is wider than SD) or the latter will look stretched.
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

No, we were not watching the HD version. We don't have many HD versions of channels. Does that matter?

In my experience, it matters greatly. SD on an HD system looks terrible--significantly worse than SD on an SD system.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:14 AM on March 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Ah, so if you were watching the Walking Dead in standard def, the transmission was formatted for 4:3 aspect ratio. If you were looking at it in true 4:3 on your TV you'd see black space to the left and right of the picture on your screen. If they letterboxed the wide screen version, you'd also see black above and below. If you instead were set to one of the widescreen aspect ratios you'd see everybody stretched out horizontally. Again, if it were letterboxed, you'd still see black above and below the picture, but not to the left and right.

As far as picture quality, the difference will be noticeable between SD and HD, particularly up close. But I don't think that's your primary problem.
posted by rocketpup at 10:15 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

The HD version also will have a MUCH better picture quality on your HDTV. When watching the SD channel, your TV probably stretched the image to fit. You can turn off the stretching if you want to keep watching SD channels, but you won't get the quality you are looking for until you watch it in HD.
posted by sgo at 10:15 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: You probably also need to calibrate your new TV. TVs look different under the bright lights at Best Buy than they do in your house and manufacturers can't really force Best Buy to adjust the sets they put on display. Instead, they set every TV to look good under the bright lights in the store out of the box.

Rewind's link has a lot of good info. At the end, they mention a calibration DVD which you might want to get. In the mean time (or forever if the picture looks good enough for you) you can grab almost any DVD with a THX logo on it and access a quick calibration program on it. That should help the colors look better. Just try to make the lighting conditions in the room be close to the conditions in which you'll be watching TV most of the time.

If you were watching the SD version, did it take up the whole screen or were the black bars on the side? It sounds like you were watching an SD version in a 4:3 aspect ratio and the TV was converting it to 16:9 (so it filled up the whole screen), which stretches the picture and makes people look squished. There is a setting to change how it deals with that and/or a button on your remote to change it.
posted by VTX at 10:19 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, what rocketpup said. Your TV is stretching the picture to fill the screen, which is why everyone looks too short.

I'm not sure how Walking Dead is broadcast in SD -- either it's broadcast "letterboxed" with black bars on the top and bottom, or in 4:3 full-frame. If it's letterboxed, your TV probably has a "zoom" or "cinema" screen mode that will fix this. Otherwise you want it in 4:3 mode (with black bars on the sides, to simulate a conventional TV).
posted by neckro23 at 10:20 AM on March 19, 2013

If you were watching the SD version, you were doing the equivalent of watching a grainy VHS from the early 1980s on your brand new TV. There's no way to not have it look like crap.

Watch the HD version, either by subscribing to AMC HD, or by watching it via Amazon Prime or Netflx.
posted by ellF at 10:21 AM on March 19, 2013

Response by poster: SD: The black bars were on the top and bottom.

Rewind's link is fantastic. This is exactly what I was feeling:

Filmmakers were not content to make movies with video cameras until those cameras could shoot 24p, because video, with its many-frames-per-second, looks like reality, like the evening news, like a live broadcast or a daytime soap opera; whereas 24p film, by showing us less, looks somehow larger than life, like a dream, like a story being told rather than an event being documented. This seemingly technical issue turns out to have an enoumous emotional effect on the viewer.

These days, any TV you are likely to buy, will, by default, have technology enabled that completely changes the emotional quality of the movies you watch. This is a cinematic disaster.

posted by kitcat at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Watching SD content on a 50" HDTV is a disaster.
posted by Oktober at 10:27 AM on March 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

Good points about aspect ratio and watching SD on HD.

One more thing... if the cable from your cable box to your TV is a standard coaxial cable, you should change to HDMI cabling. The video quality will be much improved.
posted by rsol44 at 10:32 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're not using an HDMI cable between your cable box and your TV and find yourself horrified at the cost of these cables, take heart. You can purchase them at a reasonable price for a cable. (Google Search)

The top natural (not paid) result is what you are looking for. I know it can be sketchy to post shopping links in AskMe, but I think reference to a source of non-grandiose cables is appropriate to the question.
posted by rocketpup at 10:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, this is what happens when you shun new technology and don't bother to learn about it.
posted by kitcat at 10:46 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't feel bad, OP :). We bought a HDTV a few years ago and had asked the salesmen at the store, "We're not ready to upgrade to a HD DirecTV box, does that matter?" They responded with a resounding, "No, it'll be great!"

1 week later we had them come pick up the TV and the stand because they were liars. It's counter intuitive that SD TV would actually look worse on a HD Monitor.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:56 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: It may also be worth it to note that HDMI cables handle both video and audio, so you don't need separate audio cables to pipe sound through your TV speakers. So don't keep separate audio cables attached if you are using HDMI. It's one and done.

If you plan to use a sound bar or stereo for audio, there are a host of options to further connect your TV to that device including the standard audio cables you're used to, optical cables (most common for this purpose), etc. Probably the source for another AskMe. :)
posted by rocketpup at 10:59 AM on March 19, 2013

Try turning off all the smoothing and noise reduction. When we got a new TV I found the NR gave SD channels a really weird "impressionist painting" look: lots of smeared blobs of colour everywhere.
posted by pharm at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2013

You should not have black bars on the top and bottom if you are watching the HD version on an HD TV. My guess is you are stretching out a 4:3 signal.
posted by travis08 at 11:53 AM on March 19, 2013

Or you are on the HD channel but not using an HD cable.
posted by travis08 at 11:59 AM on March 19, 2013

You can also buy HDMI cables at places like Big Lots and Family Dollar (assuming you live in the US.) It's not as cheap as ordering one (maybe $10-$15) but not Best Buy/electronics store crazy prices.
posted by thylacine at 1:33 PM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: The issues others have raised are all likely to be significant but there are plenty of others that might still come into play once you are watching the HD channels, via an HDMI cable, with truemotion disabled, and with the proper aspect ratio.

Also look for settings that "enhance" the picture, these will often include options like Movie or Theater mode as an option. You'll probably need to do some experimentation before you find a setting that looks right. Though i think I usually end up on "normal" or something relatively minimal that works for pretty much everything.

There are also often similar settings for enhancing the audio. At the very least you need a setting appropriate to your speaker situation (choose "2 channel stereo") if you are just using the built in speakers. Even then, the TV might default to simulated surround sound, or spatial enhancement or some other garbage. Disable that shit. The automatic gain control to boost quiet sounds can sometimes work well, but I think it often adds to things sounding wrong.

Also, on your cable box and anything else, like a dvd or blueray player or Roku box that sends stuff to the TV, you might also need to make similar tweaks to send the most appropriate, least molested source signal to the TV.
posted by Good Brain at 7:13 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

The "aspect ratio" Wikipedia link goes into greater detail, but I think all the variations in picture sizes can be another common source of confusion and annoyance (similar to printing digital photos).

If the TV (and cable box) are set up correctly, most widescreen shows should fit the TV perfectly (1:78:1 ratio). Most movies on DVD/blu-ray will still have black bars on the top and bottom, though not as extreme as on a regular TV. So a lot of people will get HDTVs thinking they'll be rid of those, when that's not quite the case. (Cable airings of movies often do some cropping to fill in the TV.)

So the wider the movies were in theaters (typically from 1.85 to 2.35:1), the less vertical space it'll take up when you get to watch it on TV, because the TV's width is fixed.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:10 AM on March 20, 2013

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