If you’re a Roku TV owner like me, you probably know by now that satisfying our insatiable appetite for home entertainment has been an ongoing and evolving challenge – an ordeal of two steps forward and one step back. That’s certainly been my experience, as has the feeling of throwing up my arms when the latest one-step back change lands on the TV screen in front of me. The latest development is something I and a lot of other Roku TV owners have been struggling with for years: what’s called ‘motion smoothing’. Motion smoothing might be among the most corrosive to the way people watch TV. Just take a look at the debate happening between two informational resources: a noncommercial community interest group set up to enhance consumer awareness of complex TV electronics issues, and a centrally controlled corporation that manufactures TV sets. And if motion smoothing hasn’t shown up on your TV yet, it likely will in an attempt to please you in some way. In this article, I’m going to reveal how to do the one thing no one else has told you to do to stop the motion smoothing. But before we get there, let’s examine what motion smoothing is, why it’s such a corrosive feature, what your viewing experience will be like with it turned on, what users can do to preserve seeing content as it was originally produced and directed to be seen, what arguments have been made in favour of motion smoothing, what excuses there are for the way motion smoothing is sold to users, and what might have to happen before motion smoothing can lose its perverse hold on TV displays.


The Heartbeat of Viewing Pleasure

On the surface, motion smoothing seems like a boon — a feature designed to improve our experience of viewing content. It works by interpolating video (inserting frames in a video, based on MEMC algorithms) to predict and create fluid motion, smoothing out the ‘juddery’ effect of fast-moving scenes on televisions with a low frame rate.

A Double-Edged Sword

But this feature can also be a blunt tool – a sharpened sword rapidly losing its edge. Designed to smooth out juddery fast action (and sporting events) on film, when slashed across the entirety of the perceptual landscape, it can take on an unnerving dullness. Films, to a degree never seen before, are stripped of the production motion blur that cushions us against their relentless impact. All TiVo-connected televisions became capable of this ‘juicing’, just like Roku, so I theorise that this is when the soapy water really started to boil at my house. In March 2019, an internet-based Roku TV device – my latest streaming box, equipped with the latest version of the TiVo app – arrived on my doorstep. This one, like many others, came with this new, self-adjusting TV processing feature. To see it in action, select a low-quality signal.


A Recent Uproar

Motion smoothing has been a topic of passionate debate again among owners of Roku TVs, in particular TCL HDTVs with built-in Roku OS. After an upgrade to Roku OS 13, a large number of users have noticed that, apparently without their choosing or having ever turned it on, their TV started applying motion smoothing and the tech-savvy Roku owners ran for the hills, looking for a way to stop it.

Search for a Solution

This unexpected change resulted in users browsing through menus and settings, hoping to find a way to go back to normal again – until they eventually hit the dead end. They found that they couldn’t turn the obnoxious feature off in the TV’s general settings nor in the advanced settings.


A Call to Arms

Motion smoothing is such a ubiquitous problem that Tom Cruise has been motivated to speak out against it as part of a Hollywood-wide campaign to ‘Save Film’, which includes a consumer-facing appeal to shield us from this ‘feature’. The fight against motion smoothing has turned the question of how we should treat video into an aesthetic cause célèbre.

Roku's Silence

At the time of writing, Roku has yet to reply to the outcry, and users and industry watchers are waiting to see what, if anything, the company will do to fix the problem. When a company remains silent, it can felt as a slap in the faces of its users.


Finding Common Ground

The outcry has sparked a community-led search for solutions, with Roku TV owners posting potential workarounds and tips online on forums and social platforms, from enabling ‘Movie’ mode to navigating the depths of ‘Expert Settings’. It’s breathtaking to witness the collective resolve of Roku’s user base taking matters into their own hands.

The Bigger Picture

This shared endeavour calls us back to a broader discussion of user control and agency in a digital age. With the speed of hardware and algorithmic updates, the nature of the power struggle between user intent and automatic algorithmic changes has become a loaded battleground – and is forcing questions about what it means to ‘own’ a device at all.


For now, users wait to see what Roku will officially decide; in the meantime, there are things they can do to mitigate the problem. Navigating the “Expert Settings” or turning on ‘Movie’ mode are quick fixes, but they function only as temporary remedies. Until the consumer landscape changes, viewers will continue to be subjected to simulated reality, hyper-reality of the high-definition variety, whether they want it or not.


More Than Just a Setting

In closing this discussion of motion smoothing, it’s worth remembering that motion matters most when it comes to viewing in the context of how it’s bound up with the ongoing technological struggle between innovation and tradition, between automation and practice. Motion, in other words, is ultimately more than just a feature – it’s part of a dialogue about how we fit stories and narratives into our own lives.

There’s more to grasp about motion and its consequences than simply learning about MEMC. There’s a need to respect the culture of cinematic creation – the craft behind every frame – and to view with wonder and knowledge the work that goes into conjuring magic on a screen. There’s a need to remember that settings matter and pay attention to user control as it ebbs and flows in the digital universe.

In the decades to come, debates over features such as motion smoothing will no doubt shift and evolve. But the underlying issues of choice, control and cinematic authenticity will likely be there to guide us – still confusing, but still worth the journey.

Jun 13, 2024
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