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AppleTV adds Match Frame Rate & Match Dynamic Range options (part 1)

Via a firmware upgrade, AppleTV finally offers a wonderful Match Frame Rate option, plus Match Dynamic Range, both hardware dependent.

If you have been reading my articles for the past few years, you know that I am quite into proper handling of video framerates and cadence. Most recently, I covered workarounds about how to display framerates appropriately for proper cadence in the NVIDIA Control Panel in HP’s ZBook Studio G4 mobile workstation. There is a flurry of prior examples across years of my articles. Now, although I don’t currently own any AppleTV device, I am delighted that in tvOS 11.2, Apple has added two key functions: Match Frame Rate and Match Dynamic Range, i.e. SDR or type of HDR. Both are sadly “off” by default even after you update the firmware. Ahead we’ll explore what is great, and what is still unclear.

What’s great?

It’s great that finally the native framerate and the native dynamic range of the program can be seen at its native cadence, directly or by repeating each frame. Of course, this is hardware dependent by the connected video monitor, TV set or projector. As I have covered in many past articles, not all monitors or consumer TV sets support all framerates, i.e. some in the United States are segregated, designed to reject 25 or 50 Hz sources to avoid gray marketing. Also, many lower cost models are not designed to display material shot at 23.976 or exact 24 fps natively, and can only do so with a pulldown over 59.94 or exact 60. This is different from simply duplicating the framerate, which is actually what happens in traditional movie theaters, where each frame shot at 24 fps is projected twice via a double shutter, so we actually see 48 fps from original 24 fps material. I reiterate that the playback is not 2x, but each frame is projected twice to achieve persistence of vision. Similarly, many monitors and TV sets that accept low framerates like 23.976, 24, 25 and 29.97 will repeat each frame so we see it as 47.952, 48, 50 and 59.94 but it looks quite different than original content shot at 47.952, 48, 50 and 59.94.

It is also great that SDR (standard dynamic range) footage won’t be forced to be converted to HDR, and that (hardware dependent) material prepared in one type of HDR (high dynamic range) will match the type in the monitor, TV set or projector. This can even save power and make lamps last longer, as Vincent Teoh of HDVTest in Manchester, England UK explains and demonstrates in this video (almost 24 minutes):

Here is a guide if you don’t have time to watch the entire video:

  1. Gradation – 3:06
  2. Luminance – 6:22
  3. Colors – 9:09
  4. Daytime viewing – 10:02
  5. Power consumption – 15:19
  6. Elevated blacks on LED LCDs – 16:37
  7. Noisier fan & reduced lamp life on projectors – 18:40

What is still unclear

  1. With the little evidence I have been able to get so far, it appears that neither feature is yet in the non-4K AppleTV boxes, and that they are only available in the new AppleTV 4K boxes. I wouldn’t expect the Match Dynamic Range to be available with the non-4K models, since sadly, consumer electronics manufacturers have artificially held back that feature for 4K devices only. However, that shouldn’t limit the Match Frame Rate function to work with HD-only devices. I don’t know whether this is a hardware limitation in the non-4K models, whether Apple is holding back that feature in those models artificially… or whether it will come in a future firmware update. (Thanks to Memo Sauceda for confirming that the non-4K AppleTV does not currently have either feature so far, even when connected to a TV set that official supports 24p.)
  2. It is not clear whether with the Match Frame Rate function, whether Apple is finally supporting non-integer framerates completely, or not. As I have covered in several past articles, Apple has neglected to include proper support for non-integer framerates like 23.976, 29.97 and 59.94 in Mac computers and AppleTVs, as if Apple hardware divisions were unaware of their existence, even though professional apps made by Apple —like Final Cut Pro and Compressor— support them. That’s why external boxes have been required for Macs to support non-integer framerates at the proper cadence, and that’s why —for many years— home theater forums online have criticized the lack of support for 23.976 in AppleTV, even though most films available via iTunes are at 23.976, not at exact 24. Now there is a glimmer of hope (at least for 29.97), since Apple’s tech support article of December 4, 2017 mentions that framerate in the fine print at the bottom. This is the first time in history I have ever seen Apple (hardware department) even recognize the existence of any non-integer framerates, even though we continue to use them since 1953 (way before I was born). In this case, it recognizes 29.97. It lacks to mention 23.976 (often called 23.98) and 59.94, but there is a glimmer of hope that it might support those too. Either may, you may be interested in my recent When exact 24 fps beats 23.976… and when it doesn’t.
  3. It is not yet clear which apps on AppleTV have been updated to be aware of the Match Frame Rate function. Many apps are available for AppleTV.

When I have more information, I will either update this article or publish a Part 2. Be sure to be on my mailing list to get all notifications.

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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is a bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994, Tépper has been consulting…

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