why does film and tv always look better?

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Quiestra
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Joined: Jun 27 2001

I am new to this so forgive my naivety, but why does film and tv productions always look so much better than anything i film, regardless of lighting or environment. Is it the recording media or is there something else to it? Also, what exactly is "anamorphic" ?

thanks for any help, Q.

Jim Bird
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Joined: Sep 15 2000

Hi,

Practice, practice, practices, and move you're camera angles about a bit and alter the composition (framing) of your pictures.

The camera gives us an opportunity to show something we have all seen for or selves differently, so film the same scene from different angles and don't leave anyone scene on the screen for to long.

Just go out, experiment, and don't forget to look at how the Pro's do it.

Look and learn and if your interested you will improve. We all look at our old footage from time to time and most of us are impressed and perhaps amazed how far we have come along the learning curve.

It takes time, patience, practice and it should be fun.

Jim Bird.

Oh. Tom enter stage left, Alan enter stage right.

We'll just have to wait and see! Anyway, get the camera ready.

[This message has been edited by Jim Bird (edited 25 July 2001).]

Quiestra
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Joined: Jun 27 2001

thanks for the reply, but i was referring more to the actual look. no matter how well directed something is, it always LOOKS diffenet, like the actual picture/colours are slightly different. i cant explain it properly; film/tv always looks richer. i thought it might be to do with the film its recorded on or interlacing (still trying to figure what that means) or this anamorphic stuff (that too!) im just pretty cluless all round right now!

Gladders
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Joined: Apr 28 1999

Try increasing the Gamma a bit when editing, to 1.3 for example. You will need to up the brightness also. This will increase the saturation.

Paul

Paul

Alan Roberts at work
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Joined: May 6 1999

Cue, enters, stage right.

Ahem (clears throat, always a bad sign, it means there's a long explanation coming up).

Right. there are lots of reasons why your footage won't look "as good" as stuff shot by professionals. The major reason is money, but, then you'd already guessed that, so you want to know what that money buys.

Video cameras have a difficult job to do. They must capture images of the scene, and try not to throw anything away. That's a difficult job for a whole range of reasons.

1 Contrast.

The most obvious reason is the contrast range. When shooting on film, the chemistry causes the film to aquire density where exposed to light, and the relationship is more or less linear. When printing back to a positive, the same thing happens, and a linear light relationship happens. By placing gain controls in this process, the original scene contrast can be compressed or expanded to tase, usually compressed, so that the output image is a good rendition of the scene with nothing missing in the scenic contrast. The same applies when negative film is scanned for television use, because the amplifiers in the telecine (TK) are designed to have a logarthmic response to density, this is difficult but it's needed so that the colour masking can be removed accurately.

Professional video cameras attempt to do the same thing (acquire the scene contrast) by applying a real-time non-linearity to the video signal from the sensor(s). I.e. a gamma-corrector. This is needed because the display (the crt) has a power law response of about 2.35, so the light output is a respjds linearly to the drive voltage raised to the power 2.35. In the camera, the reverse should happen to compensate for that effect, so the camera output has to correspond to the input via a power law of 1/2.35, 0.45 is commnoly used. But power laws, when plotted near zero, hace infinite slope (or gain) and this is impossible to achieve, so the law is modified with an offset to reduce this requirement, and a linear region is introduced near black, with a gain of, typically, 4.5. This value may be raised by special circuitry called "black stretch" which adds more realism at the expense of video noise. At the top end of the curve, the output is simply clipped, it can't go beyond 100%, unlike film, which has a soft bend to the curve at the top. Again, professional cameras (and some decent consumer ones) have a "knee" function which reduces the gain progressively as the signal approaches 100%. In the extreme, this can allow 500% overload or more to be captured within the dynamic range of the camera. That lets you shoot against a sky and still keep details of the clouds or birds flying past, ot shoot indoors and not have the windows blot out completely.

Consumer cameras, at the lower end (say below £1k), may not have a knee at all, but certainly will not let you control it if it has it), and the gamma curve may be a compromise with a slope (gain) at black that may not exceed 2.8 or 3. This allows the manufacturer to quote ever higher sensitivity because the noise near black is less amplified.

2 Colour analysis and the matrix.

A colour camera doesn't just partition the spectrum into wavelength bands and divert them to the RGB sensor(s). There should be filters to shape the spectral response. At this point, the maths gets interesting and it would take me about 2 working days to go through it all. One day, I'll post the maths in the FAQ forum or in some other place that Bob'll provide. But in the meantime, I'll sketch it out here.

The shape of the spectral filters is related to the spectral sensitivity of the "colour-normal" viewer as defined by the CIE (Commission Internationale de L'Eclairage) via a set of equations that are based on the chromayicity coordinates of the display (crt) phosphors in a reference display that defines the tv system. Ther's no leeway in this, the maths dictates how it works. The problem is that it requires the camera to have spectrally shaped filters between the lens and the ccd(s) which are positive in some waven=bands and negative in others. That means, in practical terms, that the ccd resonds positively to light over some range of wavelengths, but negatively over others, and that's impossible because they don't do that. As a compromise, a linea matrix is introduced betfore the gamma-corrector, performing equations like:

Rout = r Rin + g Gin + b Bin

where r g b are numbers, linear multipliers and Rin Gin Bin are the signals fro the ccd, and Rout is the signal that then goes on to the camera processing. So, if the colour science demands that the R signal has a negative lobe in the green wavelength region and a small positive response in the blue region, then g will be negative, maybe -0.3, and b positive, maybe +0.12. In this way, we can approximate to the required colour performance.

Professional kit has these matrices, not all of the are good, some are downright rubbish. But most consumer kit has no matrix at all. So they rely on partitioning the spectral badn. The result is often that skin tones are desaturated, and greens emphasised. It's nevcer a good way to do it, but it's cheap.

3 Lenses and Aperture correction.

The larger the camera format, the bigger the lens, and the sharper the image. Making a good lens for a 1/4" format is very difficult even though the whole assembly is small and there are some advantages to be had when the lens isn't removable as in most consumer kit.

A standard dodge to ameliorate that is the Apeture Corrector. This is a noin-linear filter that detects and emphasises edges to make the picture look sharper. It's easy to detect, just look at any contrasty edge in the picture, say white to black, and you'll see a shadow beyond the edge. It works to some extent, and, used judiciously, can mask poor lens performance. But you, the user, need to control the amount of it so that ytou don't wreck the picture. Pro kit has the controls, consumer kit doesn't. Interestingly, my Olympus C3030 still camera gives me control over aperture correction as a 3-setting switch, that's a lot more control than I was expecting when I bought it, and the pictures look good as a result.

I know that's likely to have confused more than it helped, but there's an awful lot of science in here and I can't do justice to it using words alone, I need the maths, diagrams and a lot of hand-waving.

Anyway, you did ask

------------------
alan@mugswellvillage.freeserve.co.uk. Delete village for a spam-free diet.

Gladders
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Joined: Apr 28 1999

Yes, like I said, Quiestra, try increasing the Gamma a bit.

Oh, and thanks Alan.

Paul

Paul

Quiestra
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Joined: Jun 27 2001

you guys are superstars.

thanks.

Gladders
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Joined: Apr 28 1999

Alan, I'm not trying to make you angry, by the way! How was your Scottish trip?

Paul

Paul

wulf
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Joined: Jul 3 2001

quote:I am new to this so forgive my naivety, but why does film and tv productions always look so much better than anything i film, regardless of lighting or environment. Is it the recording media or is there something else to it? Also, what exactly is "anamorphic" ?

In an attempt to actually answer your questions :)

The issues of Film vs. Video are covered extensively elsewhere, but one main reason film usually looks better is latitude of exposure, i.e. you can "get away" with a lot more in terms of lighting and exposure, particularly overexposure which can look rather nice on film (if it's not overdone) but almost always looks nasty on video. Because film is an analogue medium which reacts physically to light, you can do lots of nice-looking things with deep shadows, "noir" lighting, etc. These effects are more difficult to achieve "nicely" with video because CCDs tend to produce noise in the image when they don't get enough light...

As for TV, generally speaking, they have better cameras. Here's an article in layman's terms about camera resolution, which touches on why images from pro broadcast cameras look so much better than consumer cameras, even when the material from both is transferred to a low band medium such as VHS:
http://videoexpert.home.att.net/artic1/201res.htm

When you say that things look better "regardless of lighting", are you sure that there is no difference between the lighting you use and what the pros are doing? I have found that with really professional lighting, i.e. lighting kit that costs way more than your or my camera, I can achieve really very good-looking images that would be acceptable for broadcast (yes, honestly). However you are not going to achieve this kind of quality with a couple of cheap video lights. One trick is to slightly underexpose rather than slightly overexpose (which would be more normal with film) and, as already mentioned, crank up the gamma a bit in post (that is, your editing system). Shoot some tests so you have an idea what the final image can look like. Generally shooting in this way means the material may not look so good in the viewfinder, but will look much better when you have played with it in post. If your camera has a sharpness control, try dialling it down a bit to "take the edge off" a bit :) You might also try turning down the colour saturation a little, if your camera allows it. Again, shoot tests to determine your ideal settings...

Another way of looking at it is that, in fact, not ALL television looks that much better than a good (3-chip) consumer camcorder. Have a close look at shows like "Marion and Geoff", "Operation Good Guys", "Stella Street", any of the intercut material in shows like "Changing Rooms" etc. when the main crew have gone off to the pub. It doesn't look THAT great, most of it looks like it's been done with VX1000/2000s or PD150s. The thing is that such material only has to look as good as it does for a "fly-on-the-wall" effect...

Anamorphic (from Dictionary.com):
pertaining to a kind of distorting optical system; "an anamorphic lens"

In this case I am guessing you are referring to "anamorphic widescreen". This is where a special lens is used to "squish" a 16:9 widescreen image into a regular 4:3 ratio image area (such as a normal DV camera would have). This way you get to shoot widescreen without losing any of the resolution of your camera, only problem is that the image will look "squished" on a regular TV unless it has a 16:9 mode. In a NLE system (such as Final Cut Pro etc.) you can set a flag for anamorphic widescreen, so that the image will be "unsquished" automatically when played back on a compatible system.

Hope this helps!
Wulf


wulf

Jim Bird
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Joined: Sep 15 2000

Hi,

In reality, you must use your camera well, i.e. shoot good footage (pictures & sound) with good content.

Then try to inform, educate and entertain.

Then your audience won't have any reason to compare or criticise your work.

Jim Bird.

Quiestra
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Joined: Jun 27 2001

The most sound advice i've heard in a long time!

Thanks guys

Keitht
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Joined: Jan 8 2001

I was reading somewhere recently that recordings for broadcast are created uncompressed. If that is true will that not also improve the quality. Also I would guess that a 'beginner' is using a single CCD camcorder and the potential quality differences between 1 & 3 CCD has been covered before

Regards Keith

Alan Roberts at work
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Joined: May 6 1999

My Scottish trip was hard, wet work. Long hours on a mountainside in belting rain, trying to fix problems with kit that was working last week. We got there though, and the shoot's no up and running happily. For fairly obvious reasons, I can't tell you what it is or when you'll see it. Yet.

Two more observations that others have rasied about film and video. Although this wasn't really the original question it does raise interesting points.

1 Film vs video. Film is really a digital recording system, because each grain is either exposed or not exposed, there isn't any half-way house. It works because there's an awful lot of grains in each pixel (when scanned for tv, that is) and only some of them are exposed. Anyway, film works as though it's analogue. The transfer characteristic is logarithmic over around 8 stops, then tails off gracefully at each end of the range so that very high and very low exposure levels are both dealt with in a sanitary way. Video goes from 0 to 100% and stops, so there has to be a way of coping with the end effects. That's normally done with "black stretch" and "knee", most consumer kit has neither, most pro kit has both and has lots of controls to customise it. That's what you pay for.

2 Compression. You'll go a long way before you find any tv signals that haven't been compressed at some stage in the production. Digibeta is the UK standard format for video, and that's 2:1 compressed. A lot of production happens in DVCpro, and that's about 3.5:1. Editing is mostly in Avid, and that's 3:1. Even HD production is in HDCAM, 7:1. Each of these compressions is unique, they don't talk to each other, so a transfer from one format to another involves decompressing and compressing into the new format. Final programme delivery is from Digibeta as well, back to 2:1. A programme that you see on air may have gone through three different forms of compression, and be 5 tape generations old, each of which involves a recompression. All these compression systems as intra-frame based, they don't take motion into account. But the final playout system is probably a server running MPEGII at about 8Mb/s, even for the PAL terrestrial services. And then there's the ON-digital/ITV-digital/Sky MPEGII compression as well.....

tom hardwick
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Joined: Apr 8 1999

Tom at last enters stage left to say splendid answers folks, and I particularly appreciated Jim Bird's reply. Go for content, content, content and you won't go far wrong with any audience.

Learn to use your camera in the manual mode to overcome the "intelligent idiot" that the automation brings to the party. Vary your
viewpoint, focal length, scene length, audio volume and anything else you can think of.

Surprise and delight your audience.

tom.

Alan Roberts at work
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Joined: May 6 1999

Good stuff Tom, and one more point.

Get the lighting right, and you can easily get your camera to outperform itself. One of the great costs in making good pictures is the lighting. If it isn't right, the pictures won't be right.

Since your camera probably has lowish gain near black, you'll find that shadows are crushed, so light them with reflectors or filling lamps, or place the scene so that the shadows aren't deep to the eye. Use any mix of natural and artificial light that works for your camera. Avoid overloads, so don't point it at the sky if you want to sdee details on the ground as well. Above all, be critical, spend real time looking hard at your pictures and asking yourself (and anyone else who's interested) what you could do to improve them. Don't be put off with first failures, you can only get better. I've seen some stonking stuff come out of really cheap cameras when the scene's been properly lit by an expert.

Good luck, keep trying, don't give up. Don't be mislead into believing that all this is hard, the science is complex, but when all's said and done, it's only what meets the eye that matters.

[This message has been edited by Alan Roberts at work (edited 26 July 2001).]

Anonymous
Quote:
Originally posted by Quiestra:
[B]I am new to this so forgive my naivety, but why does film and tv productions always look so much better than anything i film, regardless of lighting or environment. Is it the recording media or is there something else to it?

There is no mistery to this, it is in fact quite simple.

The Beeb have about five million pounds worth of top end Sony Digital Beta SP gear and top notch Avid editing suits, and most importantly, guys who know how to use it properly, and professional camera men.

Take my word for it, I know that what they use is DV, but believe me it makes mini DV look like a pile of shite. If you put a top end Sony Digital Beta machine up against a Canon XL1 for instance, the Canon would look like a pixlevision in a side by side test.

Don't even attempt to get the same results as they get, it will never happen. They have the professional knowledge and experience and a shit load of very expensive equipment.

End of story.

Jim Bird
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Joined: Sep 15 2000

Hi Morse,

---------------------------------------------
The Beeb have about five million pounds worth of top end Sony Digital Beta SP gear and top notch Avid editing suits, and most importantly, guys who know how to use it properly, and professional camera men.

---------------------------------------------

The Beeb are loosing out big time to Sky and other digital companies, we all have our problems.

Jim Bird.

Benfrain
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Joined: Feb 23 2001

I am probably re-iterarting what othera have said but I'm trying to simplify. Two very important reasons that film looks aestetically different to video is that

a) Film is shot on film which has about 11 stops in it.

Stops are the gradients between complete black and white. Video on the other hand has about 5, HD video has about 6, maybe 7. Therefore the tonal differences film can achieve are far higher. Something with a lot of light and shade tends to not look as good on video. For example a film like Seven would look poor shot on video because there is so much detail in the shadows.

2) Frame rate - film uses 24 complete frames of imformation every second to create the moving image you see in the cinema. Video on the other hand uses fields. Typically there are 60 fields (half frames) ever second to make the moving image you see. The creates a very different aesthetic to film. A way around this is to shoot in progressive scan mode (which takes 25 frames complete frames per second), especially if you ever wanted to transfer a DV source to film stock at a later date (very expensive).

I know I said 2 but another thing has just occured! Resolution. Fim has a resolution of around 3K which makes editing uncompressed material near impossible on a standard PC/Mac. DV has a PAL resolution of 576x720 which is obviously much lower.

HD is the most interesting new medium as the resolution is much higher, frame rate can be set to 24fps (gives a more cinematic feel) and in a couple of years most PCs will be able to cope with the footage (currently need dedicated hardware and a very fast SCSI disc array).

Hope that helped more than it hindered!

Independent Film
www.spiralfilm.com

Paul Rossi
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Joined: Jun 15 1999

Great thread this guys, and so much information.

What books are available (and recommended)for people like me who want to learn more about this sort of stuff? I have often searched through Amazon but never know what exactly to search for.

Alan and Tom - you'll know a good book or two I'm sure.

Regards,

Paul

You can't edit what you haven't got.

Alan Roberts at work
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Ben, you're right about the exposure range of film, but I'm managing to get 10 to 10.5 stops exposure range on HD kit these days. The menus in these cameras allow a great deal of tweaking, and I've managed to get a setup that makes the camera look and feel like film, in that the colourist doing the post-prod grading can use an HD Spirit in exactly the same way as he would if he were scanning 35mm, and do the same things to the picture. The secret's in the spectacularly low noise level of the new kit, plus the huge flexibility in the setup.

I can't go into more details than this without revealing some secrets that I'd rather not let out here. But, if you're interested, I'm happy to talk "off-line" at home.

------------------
alan@mugswellvillage.freeserve.co.uk. Delete village for a spam-free diet.

[This message has been edited by Alan Roberts at work (edited 30 July 2001).]

PerryMitchell
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Joined: Apr 1 1999

A couple of points that seem to have been missed (I only did a very quick scan mind):
1) Film is a subtractive media, video is additive. This means that with film; more colour means less luminance whereas with video more colour means more luminance. The result is that film tends to have a lot more colour (or 'richness') in the shadow areas. Now I know that you have to get the film onto video to see it on the box, but this is done in a telecine suite which these days has the cream of technology and operators ('colourists') who try to preserve some of this 'richness'.
2) Most of what you see on film is coming out of Hollywood or at least with similar production values. You've got (VERY expensive) photogenic actors with hoards of make-up support, and set and wardrobe design to match. This is all optimised to look good on film, NOT necessarily to look real.

In other words the whole caboodle is an optical illusion that needs an army of crew support and pots of money to pay for it. You CANNOT do this for next to nothing on video!

Alan Roberts at work
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Joined: May 6 1999

Perry, I agree 100%. What you see looking good on film or tv has had a lot of money spent on it. That's why it looks good. It's the attention to detail and the care in setting up evry shot, getting the lighting right, then employing a good grader to get shots to match. That's where the technical money goes. You can't do it on the cheap.

[This message has been edited by Alan Roberts at work (edited 20 August 2001).]

Ed VH
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OK lots of detail but I think there is a fundamental weirdness in film that is not explained. Film dosen't look real! I have seen film shot alongside a high end broadcast camera. The broadcast camera looks real (what you would see with your eye) the film looks like.. well like a film not reality. Can this be preduced without film? Is this what is explained in the emails above??

Ed

Alan Roberts at work
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Joined: May 6 1999

Hmmm.

Broadcast cameras, in the right hands, can produce very spectacular results, and in the wrong hands, dire ones. It all depends on how it's set up. Studio-based (i.e. live-action) cameras have a control panel and a trained operator to keep them working at best, cameras used in the "portable single camera" mode have lots of menus to set them up before shooting. Either way, it takes a few years experience and a grounding in perception sciences to get the best out of them (hint: I've been doing this for years and years).

With film, you put the film in the camera, and shoot. The clever part comes later when a "colourist" adjusts the telecine on replay to get the best from it. He/she is then doing the same job that was done in setting up the camera, but has the luxury of being able to make mistakes and go back and correct them.

There's nothing inherently different about it though, each can mimic the other's performance tolerably well. Film is claimed to have a higher exposure tolerance range than video (10.5-11 stops) but I've been setting video cameras up to get 11 stops range for many years now. The latest high end cameras get there easily.

The biggest difference is that film limits gracefully in overload (e.g. clouds don't get wiped out) whereas video inevitably has a cut-off point. I can make it approach that cutoff gently, but it's still there.

Now that high end video cameras will work in frame mode and deliver proscan images, there's no longer that difference. Video can give the same dreadful lumpy jerky motion portrayal that film has. It seems to be wanted by drama producers, so I have to accept that it's "a good thing", but it'll never make me like it.

The modulation transfer function (MTF) of film isn't that of video though. This is the ability of the medium to carry contrast expressed in spatial frequency terms. Film tails off gracefully at high frequencies and keep going for much higher frequencies than tv can delver. Video has a Gaussian response which delvers higher contrast at middle frequencies and then goes out like a light near the transmission band edge. This difference alone means that video looks sharper, and is more accurately representing the scene, up to the transmission band limit. Since video has more middle frequency content, the aperture correction can be done better (but is usually done much worse) giving a more natural look to the image.

None of this washes with film/drama people though. They want a "veil of separation" between the programme and the viewer to remind him that it's not real. They spend fortunes on scripts, actors, costume, set, makeup, rehearsals, etc., then tray to remind us that it's not real. I suspect it's actually just a fashion and they'll grow out of it eventually.

But you're right, film and video don't usually look the same. Which you prefer is just up to you.

[Rant mode off]

Benfrain
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Joined: Feb 23 2001

I think the point is that eventually it comes down to the aesthetics and conventions of a genre.

I watched a very interesting episode of "X Files" weeks ago which was a kind of mock up of the "cops" show in America (fly on the wall documentary following Cops around LA beating people up etc). Instead of the usual cinematic feel, everything was shot on miniDV, handheld etc - The result was WEIRD!

Although I could tell the performances where as they always are, they seemed "wooden" and amateur. This way basically just because the aesthetics actually made it "real" - the camcorder footage was more accurate it recording "reality" as seen by our own eyes - but the effect this had was to make the episode seem poorly made because it watered down a very important aspect - "suspension of disbelief".

Because film has been around for so long (in a drama narrative sense), our minds are still tuned to accept anything which looks like it and question anything that doesn't.

One is not better or worse, just if you are trying to create a drama, for the most part you don't want anything to oppose people becoming embroiled in the story you are telling - therefore anything major in terms of aesthetics will detract from that.

Obviously - this can be used to advantage - remember the first episodes of NYPD for example - then everyone wanted a shakey hand held drama!

Independent Film
www.spiralfilm.com

Alan Roberts at work
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Ben, human vision has been around a lot longer than film, and I didn't see a film until I was about 8. Film still looks horribly jerky to me, real life isn't like that, real motion's smooth. That's what I prefer about higher field-rate tv. But, like I said, it's all about preferences and perceptions, the science is only skin deep (i.e. I can explain it, even when I don't like it).