When you watch a movie or a television series, what you perceive on the screen is the result of a chain of still images being shown very quickly one after the other, so that your brain interprets this whole as movement. Usually movies are shown at 24 frames per second. This number was originally chosen not only because it was considered high enough to give the resulting image a sense of smooth movement, but also to allow for decent sound quality as the sound was then integrated into the film.
Television programs apply different standards. With the PAL standard (used in Europe and some countries in Asia) the frame rate is 25 frames per second, while the NTSC standard (used in the United States) has a frame rate of 30 frames per second. These figures are related to the frequency of the electrical network of each region, i.e. 50 Hz for PAL territories and 60 Hz for NTSC.
The expression “High Frame Rate” therefore refers to content that uses a frame rate faster than the cinema standard of 24 frames per second.
What content uses HFR?
The most famous HFR films to date are those of the trilogy The Hobbit by Peter Jackson which were filmed at 48 frames per second. Having more frames per second improves smoothness of movement and achieves a higher degree of resolution and clarity. The improvements brought about by a high frame rate are obvious, but the result may not be to everyone’s liking.
This is because the increased fluidity and resolution make the films more realistic, but also very different from what we are used to seeing. This is because we are used to the grain and relatively low resolution of traditional films, so high frame rate content may seem strange to us. The greater clarity places more emphasis on the quality of sets, special effects and makeup, making it easier to spot imperfections in these areas.
Ang Lee went even further with his film A day in the life of Billy Lynn in which some scenes are shot at 120 fps. Despite the very high resolution and fluidity of the movement, it also elicited mixed reactions from viewers. High Frame Rate technology is also present in the world of video games. Indeed, most of the best-known franchises, such as FIFA , Call of Duty and Forza , use 60 fps for some titles.
Currently, there is very little HFR content out there, but that could change quickly. For example, James Cameron said he intended to use the HFR for the Avatar sequels, which could well start a technological revolution, just like the first episode did for 3D technology. In addition, Netflix has tested the implementation of High Frame Rate content over the past few years. Likewise, it is possible to find videos on YouTube with high frame rates.
Do I have to change TVs to enjoy HFR?
While few movie theaters are currently equipped with the necessary equipment to display HFR content, some TV manufacturers are already starting to integrate HFR into their TV specifications.
Many 4K TVs have refresh rates of 60 Hz or even 120 Hz, and can then play content at 60 fps and 120 fps respectively. Even when it isn’t native High Frame Rate content, these TVs can improve the smoothness of videos shot in 24 fps through frame interpolation. Many Panasonic , Sony , LG and Philips OLED TVs are currently HFR compatible. Many Samsung , Hisense and TCL QLED televisions also support video content at 60 fps or even 120 fps.
If you have a TV that can handle 120 frames per second, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to watch High Frame Rate content. For example, 4K HDR Blu-ray discs, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X consoles are limited to 60 fps. Moreover, basicHDMI cables are not HFR compatible, so an HDMI 2.1 or Premium High Speed cable is necessary to watch this type of content. Complicating matters is that not all HFR televisions are necessarily compatible with the HDMI 2.1 standard and they will need to be equipped with a processor powerful enough to process the high frame rate signal they will receive.
At the moment, we are only at the beginnings of this technology. It will therefore be necessary to wait for the next generation of televisions and video game consoles for high frame rate content to really catch on.