What is Motion Smoothing on a TV, & Why Do People Hate It?

If you've just bought a new TV, you might be wondering why everything you watch feels eerily sped up and smooth, like you're watching a live broadcast all the time. You're not imagining things: Your TV might be suffering from Smoothing.

What is Motion Smoothing, and How Does it Work?

Every TV manufacturer calls their specific tech by a different name, for marketing reasons of course. Action Smoothing, TruMotion, Motionflow—these are all names for the same function: making your TV's picture feel smoother. And that's smoothing. It's also known as the “soap opera effect” because low-budget soap operas used to have cheap video cameras that produced a higher frame rate, smoother-looking video.

Most TV shows, movies, and broadcasts are filmed at 24 or 30 frames per second (fps, also called “hertz” or “Hz”), which is fast enough for the eye to perceive them as smooth video and not a choppy slideshow. However, the standard most TVs and monitors are capable of is 60 Hz and some more expensive displays clock in at 120 Hz and even 240 Hz.

But, movies and TV shows are still 30fps, which presents a problem: what's the point of 60hz displays if the content you watch only updates at half of that? The refresh rate of film isn't changing anytime soon, so this is where “Motion Smoothing” comes in. Motion smoothing tries to fix this issue by taking a guess at the 30 frames missing from each second, usually by comparing a before and after shot and attempting to find the middle ground between the two of them.

RELATED: Why Does My New HDTV's Picture Look Sped Up and “Smooth”?

Why Is It Such a Problem?

Most have trouble with motion smoothing. After all, we've spent years training our brains to enjoy movies and TV shows filmed at 24 or 30fps, and our brains have come to think of that as how a movie or TV show should look.

TV manufacturers, on the other hand, are just trying to advertise bigger numbers to consumers. 240 Hz must be better than 120 Hz and much better than 60 Hz, right? Well, sometimes it is, yes—especially when the content is designed for it.

But most consumers don't enjoy the higher frame rates on most of the content they watch. Viewing content filmed at 24 or 30fps looks especially weird on TVs that run at 120 Hz and above. The insanely smooth motion makes the video almost seem real, which breaks the immersion of cinema completely. Honestly, it often feels more like you're watching a behind-the-scenes documentary about the movie than the movie itself.

For some things, motion smoothing makes sense. Live action sports and video games, for example, have fast-moving content that could use a bit more clarity. Unfortunately, two other problems associated with motion smoothing break these two use cases as well.

  • For sports, things sometimes move so fast that the smoothing algorithm doesn't know what to do, and ends up producing a strange, often blurry image instead of a clear “in between” frame. This defect, which results in incorrect or glitch pictures, is called artifacting.
  • For video games, the extra input lag required to add motion smoothing completely ruins being able to play the game effectively. The controls feel sluggish and unresponsive, which is why most TVs offer a “Game Mode” that disable motion smoothing and other advanced picture effects.

And other kinds of content, like cable news or reality TV, can still look uncanny despite not being “cinema.”

Do I Have It? How Do I Get Rid of It?

You'd probably notice if your TV had it enabled. If you have a newer, name brand TV, motion smoothing might be enabled by default. Most of the time, the option to turn it off is hidden in the picture settings in the menu, but if you can't find it, you can read our guides on how to disable the effect for Samsung, LG, Sony, Vizio, and Roku TVs.

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