The Reel Deal with 48FPS

Kevin Veloso - 4C Software
Posted on: January 23, 2013

Last month was the worldwide premiere of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three movies in The Hobbit film series. This film series has been popularized as a prequel to his movie adaptation of The Lord of The Rings novels. One noteworthy quality coming out of these new movies is their filming in 48 FPS (frames per second). Anticipation and ambivalence have been surrounding this particular filming aspect since its announcement. For those who have yet to see it, this movie is being played in this format in select theatres, with theatres offering either regular playback (in 3D and non-3D) or in 3D 48FPS, advertised as HFR (High Frame Rate) in the box office. Before you spend your time and money watching this movie, let’s look at the various playback formats, specifically the highly debated choice of 48FPS.

Before I dive into HFR, let’s briefly explore the history of 24FPS, the current standard playback. Most movies that have been released play in 24FPS, meaning twenty-four pictures will be displayed for every second of screen play. In the past, film was quite expensive. Film makers wanted to present their films with enough frames to display smooth movement while using as few frames as possible. Early black-and-white films used less than 24FPS, resulting in jerky picture motions during playback. As film technology progressed, it became more feasible to film in frame rates higher than 24FPS. However, many people perceived these creations as having a “slow motion” effect when played back (as opposed to a jerky fast-motion effect with smaller frame rates). This effect has also been known as the “soap opera fact”, as some soap operas were filmed using less-expensive higher frame rate cameras. 24FPS eventually became the de-facto standard, providing movies with that modern cinematic look.

Enter 48FPS, also known as HFR. With this, The Hobbit would be played back at twice the frame rate of a regular movie. The argument that a lot of people had against this format is the “slow motion” effect, the same effect that other movies have when played back at higher frame rates. Others found the playback “too real that it looks fake”, which is an interesting, considering that it’s a fantasy movie. Playback has also been commented as “too distracting”, with many people having difficulty adjusting to the new frame rate. I’ve heard it takes 30 minutes to adjust, but I’ve heard others complaining that it took an hour or more to adjust. Arguments supporting the new format say that the higher frame rate would provide less eye strain, as the playback would appear smoother, and thus sharper. Some argue that with 3D playback, with more frames per second, the eye and the brain would find it easier to resolve the picture, further supporting the smooth playback argument.

If you are debating about whether or not you would like to see a movie played back at 48FPS/HFR, here are my suggestions. For those who would prefer enjoying the movie without being potentially distracted, I would suggest watching the movie at the regular cinematic frame rate (2D or 3D, depending on your comfort levels of 3D playback). If you’re feeling adventurous and want to watch the movie to enjoy the cinematic effect, or if you want to watch the movie as the director intended, I would suggest watching the movie at HFR. When I first watched The Hobbit, I watched it at 48FPS. As with others, it took me a bit of time (about 30 minutes) to adjust to the frame rate. I watched it again at regular frame rate and I definitely missed the cinematic effects that came through with the higher frame rate. Personally, I prefer 48FPS/HFR, with CGI characters such as Gollum appearing smoother during playback. However, I found the story a lot more enjoyable and less distracting during regular playback.

Take your pick: a potentially distracting cinematic wonderland, or your regular (or 3D) Middle-Earth.