PSA from Tom Cruise: Your television's default settings are garbage

To cleanse the palate, a watershed moment in celebrity public service announcements. This is simultaneously the most trivial, and most useful, PSA to come out of Hollywood in decades.

And it’s not annoying! Until today I couldn’t have imagined what it’d be like to watch an A-list actor speak didactically about a Matter of Concern and not come away highly irritated. “When’s he going to get to the part about climate change or impeaching Trump?” I kept thinking.

Never. The answer is never. He’s too busy worrying about the factory settings on your OLED.

Everyone knows what he’s talking about, I assume, because new HDTVs are now so cheap that virtually everyone has one or will soon. The “motion-smoothing” feature is what makes film look like live television. Film is shot at 24 frames per second; motion-smoothing adds frames artificially to “smooth” out the image. The result is actually crisper and more true-to-life than film is. But there’s a problem. When you’re using it to watch film, the picture on the screen is a distortion of what the director intended you to see. Imagine watching “The Godfather” through a filter that makes it look live or video-recorded. That’s not Coppola’s vision. That’s Samsung’s vision.

Which would be fine, I guess, if motion-smoothing somehow improved the film-viewing experience. It doesn’t. Our minds have been trained through decades of experience to interpret 24 frames per second as “what film looks like.” Mess with that and it takes you out of the experience psychologically. Once I was in an electronics store and saw “The Avengers” playing on a bank of big-screen TVs with motion-smoothing on. It was absurd. It felt like an “SNL” sketch. Giving it the look of “live” TV made the production seem low-budget and amateurish because that’s what our expectations are for “live” dramatic programming on television relative to Hollywood blockbusters. As silly as it may sound, it’s true: Motion-smoothing transformed a movie about superheroes battling monsters into something, er, ridiculous.

Now America’s ultimate leading man is here to save the day. Just one question: Who’s the target audience for this? What sort of TV owner is sophisticated enough to maintain a Twitter account that makes them reachable by this viral vid but not sophisticated enough to pull up the settings menu on their TV and toggle things on and off until that weird “live” effect they’re seeing goes away? Eh, I guess that’s not the point. The point here isn’t really to instruct viewers on how to change the settings, it’s to publicly shame manufacturers into changing the defaults. You’d think in 2018 a TV-maker could program the unit to turn on motion-smoothing by default when it detects live sports and turn it off for everything else.

Cruise did a sufficiently good job with this that I hope he tries his hand at other PSAs. Humble suggestion for the next one: “Go get your flu shot, dummies.”

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David Strom 9:21 PM on February 02, 2023