What are Netflix-Calibrated Mode and Filmmaker Mode?

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

With 4K HDR television having rapidly become the industry standard and the difference in quality at higher resolutions being basically imperceptible to the human eye in most domestic scenarios, TV manufacturers are now beavering away to find ways to differentiate their high-end, oh-so-pretty products from everyone else’s high-end, oh-so-pretty products.

One of the key battlefields to emerge is authenticity of audience experience - are you, as a viewer getting what the filmmaker intended? Not simply the best possible visual experience out of your home theatre set up – is what you’re seeing on your box as close as possible to the original cinematic or televisual artefact? 

To this end, some manufacturers have begun incorporating into their offerings viewing modes beyond the usual Cinema, Sports, Dynamic, Vivid, and Standard – modes designed to give you, the viewer, the same visual experience that the director and his team had when mastering any given film at the end of the production process.

Right now the two main competitors are Netflix-Calibrated Mode and Filmmaker-Calibrated Mode. But what do they mean to you, the person sitting on their couch thumbing through a streaming menu?

Netflix Calibrated Mode

Although the technology was originally introduced for Sony’s high-end Bravia Master series of OLED and LCD TVs in 2018, Panasonic is now getting into the Netflix game, with the recent announcement that all their 2019 OLED television sets will feature Netflix-Calibrated mode. This is not the first time Panasonic have partnered up with another company, having previously worked with Dolby to bring Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos to the home market. 

The idea is simple: to deliver “…picture quality approaching that of a master monitor used for standard reference in motion picture production studios…” which ostensibly means the precise colour, brightness, and contrast standard to a 4K editing monitor. It’s worth noting that this preset package does not vary from program to program – whether you’re six episodes deep into the murky and murderous Mindhunter or marathoning Matt Groening’s colourful cartoon Disenchantment, the settings remain the same.

It’s also exclusive to Netflix, and only when you’re watching Netflix through the TV set’s native app. That means no Netflix Calibrated Mode for Stan, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, or any other streaming service or media.

Filmmaker Mode

Just to muddy the waters a little, Panasonic, along with LG and Vizio, are also part of the UHD Alliance. They’re introducing another premium quality setting on their upcoming TV models: Filmmaker Mode.

If you’re a dedicated follower of film, you’ve no doubt dug into the settings on your television and turned Motion Smoothing firmly off, never to be employed again. If you have a film fan friend, they’ve almost certainly implored you to do the same, probably while watching an action movie and taking up valuable couch real estate next to you.

Motion Smoothing effectively inserts additional “frames” in-between the actual frames to remove the subtle flicker/shutter effect that footage of rapid action can cause – but in doing so it gives everything a kind of glossy, old school TV sheen that can rob movies of their texture and grit. 

Filmmaker Mode is turning off Motion Smoothing, only moreso – when activated, it kills all in-unit post-processing, including Motion Smoothing and changes to brightness, colour and contrast. Even more impressively, it will apparently react to metadata embedded in media, making sure it’s presented preserving in the correct aspect ratio and frame rate, and adjusting picture settings in a way specific to precisely what’s being watched. Exactly how this will be implemented and how pre-existing media will interact with the new technology is an unknown quantity at this point, but a number of notable directors, including Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Ryan Coogler, Rian Johnson, and Christopher Nolan, have given Filmmaker Mode their endorsement. 

What’s the Difference?

In terms of intent, very little.

Both Netflix-Calibrated Mode and Filmmaker-Calibrated Mode aim to replicate as closely as possible the director’s intent in the home space, the idea being to match to the nearest possible degree what the creative team saw when mastering the film or series in the studio. The exact bells and whistles employed to do this are unknown in each case, but the end result is comparable.

The biggest difference for the consumer is that Netflix-Calibrated Mode only works when you’re watching Netflix – in an increasingly diverse streaming market, that’s of somewhat limited utility.

While Filmmaker Mode-capable TVs aren’t in the wild as yet, it seems that they will be platform-agnostic, working with multiple media formats, not just streaming and not just Netflix. Unless you’re a Netflix purist, that’s quite an edge.

Should I Care?

That is an excellent question, and the answer is a firm “maybe”. 

Are you the sort of person, mentioned above, who has already fiddled around in their picture settings to disable motion smoothing, or spent a goodly amount of time tweaking contrast, brightness, and colour to get their viewing experience just right? In that case by all means, add these new picture modes to your list of things to consider when it's time to upgrade your screen.

On the other hand, if you’re not particularly concerned with getting the “perfect” picture experience when you’re binge-watching the latest Netflix offering, or you’ve never given much thought to exactly how Martin Scorsese wants you to experience The Irishman, is this new technological wrinkle likely to have much of an impact on your TV time? Doubtful.

It’s also worth remembering that there’s a degree of subjectivity to what you see on your screen anyway, depending on age, eye health, and what have you. Add to that the differences in set up, ambient lighting, viewing distance, and watching habits, and there’s no real definitive answer here.

If you spend half your time on your phone when watching Mindhunter, maybe don’t sweat replicating what David Fincher saw on his editing monitor. On the other hand, if you’re a serious home cinephile, the notion of slamming exactly what Christopher Nolan intended into your sensorium probably has some merit, so have at it.

Just keep in mind that the value of these modes is very much in the eye of the beholder.

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Tags 4K4K TVsHDR TVsFilmmaker Mode4K HDR TVsNetflix-calibrated mode

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Travis Johnson

PC World
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