What is MEMC?

MEMC stands for Motion Estimation, Motion Compensation which is basically a fancy term to imply interpolation. While this technology is relatively new in smartphones, it has existed for a long time on the television side of things and has also been rather controversial. Filmmakers seem to hate it, while the average consumer seems to have no real problem with it. With MEMC becoming more mainstream now and making its way onto smartphones too, let’s take a look at how it works and if it is actually beneficial and if yes, in what scenarios.

How does MEMC work?

Let’s go back once again to what MEMC stands for, which is Motion Estimation, Motion Compensation. The technology does exactly what you would infer by reading this phrase. It detects the motion in a particular frame and tries to estimate what the subsequent frames might look like and accordingly compensates by adding relevant frames. If that’s too much for you to process, let’s break it down to something simpler and analyze why we need MEMC in the first place.

Refresh Rate and Frame Rate

“Refresh rate” is a term we use on a regular basis while talking about displays and what it essentially means is how many times the pixels on the display refresh per second. Another term associated that you may be familiar with is “frame rate”. While the frame rate is not associated with the display, it’s more to do with the content you are viewing on the display. Frame rate is essentially the number of frames that are present in one second of a particular video clip or basically any form of moving visual that you are viewing on the display. While refresh rate and frame rate are two different terms and cannot be used interchangeably, they work in tandem to provide the viewing experience that you get out of your display. What this means is if you have a high refresh rate display, let’s say a 120Hz panel like the one on the OnePlus 8 Pro and if you are watching content shot at a frame rate of 120fps, you will be able to appreciate how smooth the visuals are. However, even if one of the values is higher than the other, you will not be able to experience the content in the way it was meant to be. For example, if you’re watching a video shot in 120fps on a 60Hz display, you will not enjoy the true 120fps experience because your display cannot refresh 120 times in a second to display as many frames. On the other hand, if you are watching a 24fps video on a 60Hz display, you will encounter slight jitters as your display is refreshing 60 times a second, but your video does not have those many frames to display every second which results in choppy visuals. This problem is exactly what MEMC tries to fix.

The Working principle behind MEMC

Most of the modern films are shot at a standard frame rate of 24fps. As we explained in the previous paragraph, this film will appear jittery when viewed on your TV or smartphone with a 60/120Hz display. To fix this, what MEMC does is try to predict what the next frame would look like and add it in between consecutive frames to make up for the inadequate frames. If there are only 24 frames to display every second, MEMC adds one additional frame after every odd frame and two additional frames after every even frame for a 60Hz display and if you do the math, you will see that the number of frames is 60 which makes it perfect to be viewed on a 60Hz display. If the frame rate is higher, let’s say 120Hz, the number of added frames would be modified accordingly. If it’s that simple and it fixes the choppiness in the movie, why is it frowned upon by filmmakers?

Disadvantages of MEMC

When a director is shooting a movie, he/she wants a particular scene to be viewed in the exact way it was shot. MEMC defeats that by interpolating additional frames which makes the content look artificial. Also, because MEMC is trying to add frames that do not exist at all, there are some visual artifacts or ghosting that can be observed if you look at it closely. There is also a slight loss in detail in the picture quality because of the fact that the added frames lack structure since they are purely based on estimation by an algorithm. On smartphones, MEMC also consumes more battery than without it.

Where is MEMC useful?

So, while you don’t have to see jittery movements anymore, you lose out on the true visuals of the movie and you may notice some anomalies from time to time. However, MEMC can also be beneficial at times. If you are watching something that does not require a lot of details to be noticed and involves quick camera movements, MEMC can make things look a lot more visually pleasing. Live telecast of sports, for example, where the cameras pan from one angle to another involve sudden movements which can result in a not-so-smooth experience. With MEMC, these sudden movements are compensated for.

MEMC on OnePlus 8 Pro

Coming back to the OnePlus 8 Pro and why OnePlus decided to include MEMC on their latest smartphone, the reason here is simple – OnePlus wants every single user of the OnePlus 8 Pro to experience the 120Hz display panel to the fullest. Since most videos and movies are shot at a standard frame rate of 24/30/60fps, they won’t do justice to the 120Hz panel on the OnePlus 8 Pro. Also, most mobile games only run at a maximum frame rate of 60fps which again, takes away from the experience of having a 120Hz display. Using MEMC, OnePlus wants users to enjoy a true 120Hz experience.

Which apps support MEMC on the OnePlus 8 Pro?

OnePlus has released a list of seven apps that currently make use of MEMC technology on the OnePlus 8 Pro, and they are the YouTube, Netflix, Hotstar, Prime Video, VLC, MX Player, and the default OnePlus gallery. OnePlus says in the future, it also aims to work with more app and game developers to enable it across the board.

Should MEMC be a standard feature on all phones?

High refresh rate displays are surely the in-thing right now and most manufacturers have either made the switch or will do so in the near future. Apple too is expected to launch the new iPhone 12 line-up of smartphones with a 120Hz display similar to the iPad Pro. While the display refresh rates are getting higher, the content that you consume will remain at a standard frame rate, which is 24fps for movies and 30/60fps for most other videos. Due to this mismatch, one has to compromise on either of the two – a jittery, but natural-looking footage, or smooth but slightly artificial visuals. We believe that the best way to go about it is to provide the user with a toggle to turn MEMC on/off and let them decide what they want after experiencing both.