12 March 2009

Sony's misleading advertising 1

The new Sony Bravia LCD TVs boast 200Hz Motionflow technology and claim to have "the smoothest picture ever". Unfortunately, some of the explanations given for the technology are simplistic, or just downright misleading. They show pictures of a footballer with added frames, and have a little video on their website showing a flickbook with lots of frames looking smoother than one with fewer frames. All very convicing, and well, wrong.

The bottom line is the broadcast signal you are watching was only recorded at up to 50 Hz to 60 Hz or fields per second. That's all the information there is. There's nothing between those frames and no amount of post processing by the TV after the event will change that. What the Sony sets (and others) are doing is looking at two of those frames and making up other frames in between them by averaging the two actual frames. They're not real frames, so these sets aren't really giving you 200 Hz, they're just interpolating between the actual frames to smooth the transition that the eye sees.

Now if you look closely at the deepest explanation that Sony gives, you'll see them describe that interpolation process accurately enough. They say "the sharpness of each image frame is boosted by Image Blur Reduction before its contents are analysed and three 'in between' frames are added between it and the next frame. This spreads two frames worth of motion across five frames". So far so good until they conclude "so effectively 50 frames per second becomes 200". No, sorry, that's wrong. These are made up frames. It is not at all the same as a genuine 200 Hz frame rate and neither does it look it.

So even Sony's most detailed explanation has been hijacked by the marketing boys and made into an untruth. But of course, the evils of marketing don't stop there. Most explanations aren't even that detailed, and as the ideas become more and more like sound-bytes, so any attempts at accuracy become the first casualties.

This kind of deception is pretty inexcusable, not only because it's playing fast and loose with the truth but also, and perhaps worse, because it insults the consumer. It attempts to reduce the issue to a 'numbers game' at point of sale and as such it's deliberately aimed at the consumer who doesn't know better. Rather than educate, it's an attempt to befuddle with meaningless numbers, rather like the battle for megapixels in digital cameras.

But the good news is, this technology does actually improve the picture. Sony's new 200Hz-interpolated sets do have the smoothest motion I've seen on an LCD. Is it the smoothest picture ever? No, because a good plasma set still looks better by a reasonable margin to my eye, but these Sonys are the first LCD sets I might be convinced to watch sport on.

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