There's no excuse for bad frame rate conversion now. So why do we keep seeing it? [opinion]

Written by Chris Foreman

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What’s wrong with this picture? The move to predominantly watching TV via streaming services has meant the emergeance of new problems. And not all of them are easy to spot for the lay person, or to solve.

Streaming services don’t get it right all the time. I often write about streaming and picture quality issues, sometimes combined and this time I’m writing about another related issue, something I’m finding more and more, and that’s poor frame rate conversion. Let me elaborate.

The other week, I decided to watch the newly released James May, Our Man in Japan on Amazon Prime. So I selected the title in Amazon’s somewhat confusing tile interface (don’t get me started) and sat back to watch it. However, my enjoyment was soon diminished when I spotted a problem within seconds of seeing the opening drone shots of James walking along the snow-laden Japanese coastline. Something that I had come across years before with a Netflix title: frame skipping.

At first, I thought it just might be a buffering issue on my end, so I skipped forward a few minutes and let the stream play for a while, …nope, still there. I closed the app and rebooted my TV (a 2019 Sony model), yet the problem persisted. I checked my internet connection (300Mb/s); no issue there. With my troubleshooting hat firmly secured, I then proceeded to check two more TVs and a couple of Apple devices, all showing the same issue. I thought that it might be about time to try and talk to someone at Amazon about this, but my schedule was already suffering from this extended troubleshooting session and I hadn’t gotten to watch this programme yet, so I thought the better of it. Having contacted Amazon once before for an issue with The Grand Tour, I knew it could suck up a lot of my time.

Try, try, and try again

Later that day, I tried to watch this series again, no luck; the same issue was there. I tried to see if anyone else was seeing this problem on various forums and I did discover that someone had seen it and thought it might be an issue with their TV. At least I wasn’t alone.

I decided to try again a few days later as I had seen that the thumbnail for the programme had changed and, yes, I was happy to see that the problem had in fact been corrected. Part of me was ever so slightly disappointed to see that I had no hand in it. Anyway, the solution had been found and the problem solved.

Well yes ...and no.

In the post-Christmas and New Year lull, I decided to have a look at one of Amazon’s stand-up specials, Rob Delaney-Jackie, and guess what I found. Yes, within a couple of seconds, I could see that this had the same problem. It was a little more difficult to spot this time, due to the nature of the shots, but it was there.

This then got me thinking. I think there’s a common denominator here: UK crews or at least UK-based production companies. Oh no, not the old 25p to 30p conversion issue, surely that’s not rearing its ugly head again? So, I checked some more titles and I found another, yet again a stand-up special shot in the UK, Jayde Adams - Serious Black Jumper. So there was a trend, although not all titles I tried that seemed to fit this pattern exhibited this issue. At least, they were the exception. To date, I’ve not spotted any other similar issues in other Amazon content yet, but then again most of it is shot at 23.976 or 29.97. Although that’s not to say other titles might not exhibit the problem. I just haven’t seen any more yet.

So what did I do?

I thought I’d see if Amazon could help.

I thought that, maybe, I could do this via online chat whilst I was working on something else. Let’s just say I got passed around a bit. They then asked me the usual questions, what was I watching, how fast was my connection, had I tried logging out and logging back in again? In the end, after about 20 minutes, I told them to call me later so I could explain what I thought the problem was. However, no call came and the same day they sent me an email asking for some more detail about how I was viewing, on what device etc. I did give them some pertinent info, but they wanted a little too much in my opinion and then they wrote back saying they would investigate. It’s been over a week now and I’ve not heard anything more and for my due diligence I’ve checked both titles and they haven’t changed.

How did this happen? I have a feeling that the QAR process is not carried out at the delivery point of the stream, otherwise this would have been picked up before the content went live, as there seems to be an issue with the conversion process for some titles.

What I’m also a little disappointed by is that more people aren’t seeing these visual hiccups as problems. Have we got to a stage where they are just seen as normal? Come on Amazon, you spend millions on the content, but if I can’t watch it without getting a headache something is wrong. After all, I could have missed out one of the funniest sequences in years with Robohon, if Bim’s series hadn’t been fixed.

Header image: Shutterstock

Tags: Studio & Broadcast

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