Roku update enables hated motion-smoothing feature, no off button

Movies are shot at 24 frames per second, with plenty of motion blur, a centuries-old technical and artistic compromise that defines the aesthetic of cinema. The folks at TV and streaming box maker Roku know better, and have rolled out an update that adds the “missing” frames, a technique known as interpolation but more clearly as motion smoothing. It makes everything look like a soap opera shot on videotape and is widely despised, but quality is no match for quantity when it comes to sellable numbers. “Dear Roku,” writes William Joel, “you have ruined my TV.”

If you’re someone who doesn’t notice or really care about motion smoothing, imagine if your ebook suddenly updated so that all the fonts were three times as big. Or if your phone decided to play all video and audio at 2x. Some people might find that more comfortable, but it should be a choice. Forcing a device to change the way a user experiences content in a way that’s different than expected, without the ability to undo the change or disable it, is bad. That much should be obvious. Not long after the update rolled out, other Roku TV owners (mostly TCL, but also Hisense) began posting about the issue on the Roku community forum and on Reddit. Because I’m The edgeI told our team about my issue. We reached out to Roku for comment and got no response. We wrote about the issue. Commenters on that post agreed: it sucks. Yet Roku remained silent. …

This whole experience strikes me as something truly wild. If you’re making a product that plays movies and TV shows, you need to be aware of how divisive a feature like motion smoothing is, and how filmmakers feel about it. If your slogan is “happy streaming,” then making streaming hell is a bad thing.

Motion-smoothing makes me weird, and I’m not a cinephile. It would be interesting to know what played a role in the decision not to turn the switch off. I think there are two obvious hypotheses:

1: Roku operates with such large numbers these days that every decision is a fly-by-wire corporate abstraction, far removed from the bare metal of the user experience. This means that upgrades and features become an unstoppable internal force, and the only thing that can stop them is the immovable object of financial results months or years down the road.

2: Roku is essentially a home appliance company with no internal culture cultureso it just never came up and now they’re dealing with all this stuff that they didn’t know had anything to do with what they were selling. Trying to explain shutter angles to the person at Roku who’s responsible for them would be like trying to explain unexpected internet connection usage to the person at St. Jude Medical who decided your pacemaker needed one.

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