James Cameron’s 2009 Epic Sci-Fi Avatar Is Being Remastered high frame rate (HFR), along with its 1997 film Titanic. This announcement comes from Pixelworks, the developers of the TrueCut Motion technology being used to transform the director’s blockbusters for a return to theaters.
“We’re bringing Avatar and Titanic back to the big screen, looking better in every way,” said James Cameron in a Pixelworks press release. “We will present both films in 4K with high dynamic range visuals and are working with Pixelworks’ TrueCut Motion platform to remaster the films at a high frame rate while maintaining the cinematic look and feel of the original.”
What is HFR?
To explain HFR, we first need to discuss frame rates and how they differ between film and video formats. Moving images taken with cinema and digital cameras are captured at a rate of 24 frames per second (fps), while TV shows such as news, sports and series are filmed on video at 50 or 60 fps, depending on the country.
The main benefit of displaying images at a higher refresh rate, like 50 or 60 Hz, is that shows like sports with a lot of fast action appear clearer and more detailed. That same action captured and displayed at a rate of 24 fps will have much lower motion resolution, with the end result being that images appear comparatively blurry and the action less smooth.
To solve this situation for movies, filmmakers like Peter Jackson in The Hobbit, for example, increased the camera’s frame rate to 48 fps HFR. And while the HFR version of The Hobbit had a mixed reception in cinema (including from this writer), the improvement in motion resolution it brought to that film’s many action sequences was undeniable.
Step into TrueCut Motion technology
TrueCut Motion technology, according to the Pixelworks release, “allows filmmakers to dial in motion, with any source frame rate, shot by shot, in post-production.” The release adds that the platform “ensures these creative choices are delivered consistently across all screens, whether in the theater or at home.”
I caught a demo of TrueCut Motion technology put up by Pixelworks and TV maker TCL at the CES fair in early 2022. The demo gave me the chance to once again see HFR footage of The Hobbit, except this time processed using TrueCut Motion .
The remastered HFR version of The Hobbit shown on TCL TV looked much better than I remembered from my theatrical experience: the footage retained detail in fast-paced action sequences, but more standard shots didn’t have the same fast-paced “soap opera” effect it might have looked like. unnatural at best and unhealthy at worst.
To expand on Pixelworks’ press release a bit, the technology, as explained to me by the company’s representatives at CES, is a “motion classification” process that allows image movement to vary within a high-rate container. 48 Hz frames (HFR) on a scene-by-scene basis. This, in fact, makes it similar to the Dolby Vision HDR rating, where the range between the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights in images can be adjusted on a similar scene-by-scene basis during post-production.
TrueCut Motion on TVs?
While high-res versions of Avatar and Titanic are clearly in the works for theaters, courtesy of Pixelworks, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see the same at home.
The reason for this is that TrueCut Motion technology is an end-to-end process – every component in the production and presentation chain needs to support it. Even digital cinema cameras used for film production can be equipped with variable motion capture technology.
And that means your TV will also need to support TrueCut Motion. You can think of it as the cinematic equivalent of Variable refresh rate (VRR), an HDMI 2.1 feature included in newer TVs that eliminates screen “tearing” and allows for smoother movement while gaming – something it does by synchronizing the TV’s refresh rate with the variable output of games played on Xbox consoles and next-gen PlayStation.
The set used for the demo I picked up at CES 2022 was equipped with TrueCut Motion, so obviously it’s something that can be easily licensed and built into TVs – which TCL plans to do. At the time, I thought Peter Jackson agreeing to allow footage from The Hobbit to be used by Pixelworks was a good sign for the future of motion grading technology. Now, with James Cameron fully on board, his chances of becoming the best 4K TVs looks even better.