James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic Avatar is being remastered in high frame rate (HFR), along with his 1997 film, Titanic. That announcement comes from Pixelworks, the developers of the TrueCut Motion technology used to transform the director’s signature blockbusters for a return to theaters.
“We’re bringing Avatar and Titanic back to the big screen and looking better in every way,” James Cameron said in a Pixelworks press release. “We will be presenting both films in 4K with high dynamic range images and have worked with Pixelworks’ TrueCut Motion platform to remaster the films at a high frame rate, while retaining the cinematic look of the original.”
What is HFR?
To explain HFR, let’s first discuss frame rates and how they differ between film and video formats. Motion pictures shot with both film and digital cinema cameras are captured at 24 frames per second (fps), while TV shows such as news, sports and sitcoms are video recorded at 50 or 60 fps depending on the country .
The main advantage of displaying images at a higher refresh rate, such as 50 or 60 Hz, is that programs such as sports with a lot of fast action look clearer and more detailed. That same action captured and rendered at 24 fps will have a much lower motion resolution, with the end result that images will look relatively blurry and the action less fluid.
For example, to address this situation for movies, filmmakers like Peter Jackson in The Hobbit have increased the camera’s frame rate to 48 fps HFR. And while the HFR version of The Hobbit received mixed reception in theaters (including from this writer), the improvement in motion resolution it brought to that film’s many action scenes was undeniable.
Enter TrueCut Motion Technology
TrueCut Motion technology, according to the Pixelworks release, “allows filmmakers to set motion, at any source frame rate, shot by shot, in post-production.” The release adds that the platform “ensures that these creative choices are consistently displayed on every screen, whether in the theater or at home.”
I caught a demo of TrueCut Motion technology from Pixelworks and TV maker TCL at the CES show in early 2022. The demo gave me a chance to see HFR footage of The Hobbit again, but this time processed with TrueCut Motion.
The remastered HFR version that The Hobbit showed on TCL TV looked much better than what I remembered from my theater experience: footage retained detail in fast-paced action sequences, but more standard shots didn’t have the same sped-up “soap opera” effect. that could look unnatural at best, and sickening at worst.
To expand a bit on the Pixelworks press release, the technology, as explained to me by the company’s representatives at CES, is a “motion grading” process that allows image motion to be varied within a 48 Hz high- frame-rate (HFR) container viewed by scene. That basically makes it similar to Dolby Vision HDR grading, where the range between the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights in images can be adjusted scene-by-scene during post-production.
TrueCut Motion on TVs?
While higher-resolution versions of Avatar and Titanic are clearly in the works for theaters courtesy of Pixelworks, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be seeing the same at home.
The reason is that TrueCut Motion technology is an end-to-end process – all components in the production and presentation chain must support it. Even the digital cinema cameras used for film production can be equipped with the variable motion capture technology.
And that means your TV must also support TrueCut Motion. You can think of it as the movie equivalent of Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), an HDMI 2.1 feature included in newer TVs that eliminates “tear” of the screen and allows smoother movement while gaming — something it does by synchronizing the TV’s refresh rate with the variable output of games that are played on next-gen Xbox and PlayStation consoles.
The set used for the demo I caught at CES 2022 featured TrueCut Motion, so it’s clearly something that can be easily licensed and integrated into TVs – which is what TCL plans to do. At the time, I thought that Peter Jackson agreeing to Pixelworks’ use of The Hobbit visuals was a good sign for the future of motion grading technology. Now, with James Cameron fully on board, the chances of making it are in the best 4K TVs looks even better.