HFR or “High Frame Rate” is a term that came into common use because of the introduction of 48-3D (96fps) and 60-3D (120fps) presentations to improve 3D by making fast moving action appear more smooth and thus reducing the likelihood of headaches. The real meaning, as indicated by SMPTE Committee members, is any content with a frame rate higher than 24fps in 2D or 3D (i.e. 25, 30, 48, 60, 96 and 120). The more general acceptance of the term is frame rates faster than typical frame rates in common use today (48, 50, 60, 96 or 120 in 2D or 3D)
Why It’s Important to Exhibition
The first thing to understand about HFR is its major importance to exhibition. As has been demonstrated by the moves to sound, colour, widescreen, digital audio and stereoscopic 3D, exhibition is always looking for a point of difference. Most importantly, one that can only be seen in cinemas.
HFR is suited to fill this need for several reasons. For a start, HFR works well for 2D as well as 3D, with problems with current 3D greatly improved by HFR. As HFR in the home is problematic, it is likely to take long time to appear in the hem, thus giving exhibition a reasonable window where HFR can be a cinema- only experience.
There is demonstrable demand for HFR as exhibitors doubled the number of HFR screens in the course of the last year, as cinema goers clearly want HFR when offered it. Most digital cinema installs (Series 2 Projectors onwards) can do 48/60fps 2D HFR today.
By way of contrast in the home, DVD cannot support HFR and BluRay (BD) support is questionable. (BD is supposed to support HFR at 1280×720 as a standard, but this is not implemented on many BluRay players). The industry would not consider it a serious or reliable way to distribute films. The implementation of HFR as a domestic SMPTE standard would most likely take a very long time, especially after the efforts of doing it with 3D failed. Optical discs as a distribution medium for HFR content is anyway in doubt with streaming (Netflix et al) coming on strong, meaning that such a standard may never happen.
Streaming HFR, like 4K is not really viable as it requires too much data and is too limited a market to really bother. HFR and 4K for the home are in a limbo. The result is that HFR in domestic and home is a long way off while in cinema we have it today.
Is HFR popular? (Pros and Cons)
In its first cinema appearance HFR was universally slammed by “Movie Critics”, while the long term movie industry community appeared uncomfortable with the ‘change’ that it represented. Hobbit 1 was too much ‘change’ all at once for cinema aficionados. Yet this changed when it came to the second Hobbit films.
As quoted in the Variety article “Peter Jackson: High Frame Rate 3D Look Improved on ‘Smaug’” the director is quoted as admitting that he took some of the criticisms of the first film to heart:
“It was interesting to try to interpret what people’s reaction was,” he says. He concluded the problem was that the image looked like HD video, and was simply sharper than people are used to in cinema. “So what I did is work that in reverse,” says Jackson. “When I did the color timing this year, the color grading, I spent a lot of time experimenting with ways we could soften the image and make it look a bit more filmic. Not more like 35 mm film necessarily, but just to take the HD quality away from it, which I think I did reasonably successfully.” ??
“The film speed and the look of the picture are almost, kind of, two different things,” he says.
Despite this initial backlash, Warner Bros’ President of domestic distribution Dan Fellman claims that HFR screens “overperformed” on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This is backed up by the fact that exhibitors installed near double the number of HFR screens for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug due to high demand – US Hobbit 1 was 426 screens in HFR, while for Hobbit 2 demand raised total HFR screen count to 812. Add to this that HFR screens have a higher screen average box office takings and it is clear that patrons want HFR. HFR is particularly popular with younger audience, in part due to 60fps being the norm for computer and console game playing.