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We’ve explained why green screens are, well, green, and even explained how weather forecasters know where to point during presentations on the sheets before CGI is created.

But a full 12 years ago, a Redditor on the subreddit r/explainlikeimfive asked a different, more fundamental question: “Why do TV shows and movies look ‘different’?” the site user asked.

I was wondering the same thing and came across this thread. The author put it this way: “I can’t explain exactly what I perceive as the difference, but I can almost always tell when something is a TV show and when it’s a movie. Something about the colors, etc.”

So what’s going on?

Partly it is due to the different technology they both use.

“NTSC is an acronym for National Television Standards Committee, named after the group that originally developed the black-and-white and later the color television system used in the United States, Japan and many other countries. An NTSC picture consists of 525 lines of interlaced scanning and is displayed at a rate of 29.97 frames per second,” Sony writes.

Phase Alternate Line (PAL), “the video format standard used in many European countries,” consists of “625 interlaced lines and is displayed at a rate of 25 frames per second.”

Sequential Color and Memory (SECAM) is used in other parts of the world but has the same interlace rate and frame rate (fps) as PAL.

Many films are now shot at 24 fps, although the technology exists to shoot them at up to 60 fps. This means films may look slightly different on screen.

Is that all that’s going on?

No. YouTuber and film lover James Hayes said in a video on the subject: “One of the big differences is the aspect ratio of TVs, which is usually always the same… 16:9, which is the standard for any HD picture.”

However, with movies, the choice of aspect ratios is wider and film footage tends to use a wider dynamic range (HDR, which captures details from different picture situations without having to combine two images together).

“Since the film is exposed at the lowest rate of 24 fps, it gets the maximum exposure time… which also means the target (the film) gets the maximum color saturation,” wrote one Redditor under the original post, adding that the work of the cinematographer can really change the look of a film.

Add to that the fact that television and cinema can rely on very different sets and the budget for a single film is likely to be very different than for several episodes in a season. So it’s no wonder that you notice the difference as soon as you turn on the television.

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