What Is MEMC? Does Your Smartphone Need It?

There was a time period when the difference between one smartphone model and the next was so vast that people felt compelled to upgrade. Now, the differences are more subtle, and manufacturers are searching for more nuanced ways to distinguish their devices.

MEMC, or Motion Estimation Motion Compensation, is one of the newer innovations making its way to the latest generation of handsets. This is one acronym whose name doesn’t tell you much about the technology. So, what is MEMC and is it worth upgrading for?

What Is MEMC?

MEMC is a technology aimed at making videos and video games display smoother by matching the content’s frame rate with your screen’s refresh rate.

So, before we dive into MEMC, let’s first define “refresh rate” and “frame rate.”

The Difference Between Refresh Rates and Frame Rates

A screen’s refresh rate refers to how many times the screen can refresh, or change, images per second. A 60Hz display, which has been common for a long time, can display 60 images in a second. A 90Hz smartphone can display 90 images in a second. A 120Hz one can display 120.

Content, such as movies and video games, consists of a series of visual frames. Traditionally, movies were filmed at 24 frames per second. This is the film's frame rate. Many video games, on the other hand, move at 60 frames per second. That's the game's frame rate.

Related: Frame Rate vs. Refresh Rate: What's the Difference?

For the optimal experience, you want the content you're watching to match the capabilities of your display. In other words, a video game displaying 60 frames per second looks great on a 60Hz display. If you’re watching a film at 30 frames per second on a 90Hz display, then you won’t notice an improvement from having a phone with such a high refresh rate. Likewise, if you’re watching a fast-paced video recorded at 90 frames per second on a 60Hz display, you won’t get to experience the video fully. You'll be limited to 60 frames per second.

How Does MEMC Work?

MEMC inserts additional frames into your video and estimates how those frames would look, so that your movie that originally had 30 frames per second now plays at 60 frames per second.

Some phones use a dedicated MEMC chip to handle the constant processing, such as the OnePlus 8 Pro. Since 2015, some phones with MediaTek processors have had a feature called Clear Motion that performs the same job without a dedicated chip.

While this technology is still making its way to phones, it’s not exactly new. Televisions, particularly high-end ones, have had this functionality for a while now.

Why the appearance on phones? Because a growing number of phones have screens capable of displaying 90 or even 120 frames per second. But just like on TVs, there just isn’t that much content produced at a high enough frame rate to justify such a high refresh rate. MEMC bridges the gap.

If There Isn’t Much Content, Why Bother?

That’s a fair question. Turns out, having a smooth video isn’t as simple as a math formula. Fast-paced content can produce problems. Fast action can result in motion blur when newer frames are appearing faster than older frames can go away. Similar conditions can also produce screen tearing.

Screens with high refresh rates alleviate such issues. They don’t present much or any benefit when streaming the latest blockbuster, but they can provide a smoother experience when playing a sports title, racing game, or fast-paced first-person shooter.

Downsides of MEMC

Okay, so now you know why you might want MEMC. What are the costs? Well, like any predictive technology, there can be errors. MEMC is taking a guess at what additional frames might contain. Since these frames were not actually produced by the content creator, they can slightly distort a picture.

This is particularly noticeable when playing a video in slow motion while MEMC is active. Unlike regular frames, the “guessed” frames added in do not hold up well on their own, with clear blur or distortion. These are frames intended to transition between frames, but it ultimately means you have an algorithm injecting weird frames in between your picture-perfect ones.

Related: How to Play Video Smoothly on Your PC: Here's What You Need

The end result can be so problematic that some people have purchased TVs and thought there was something wrong, not knowing about this feature. Some deride the change in picture quality as the soap opera effect.

Using MEMC also means relying on more processing power. That means your phone’s battery life can also take a hit. MEMC requires additional power for what may be a slight improvement, if it's perceptible at all.

Even if you decide you’re all-in on MEMC, that doesn’t mean the apps you wish to use are. Some video streaming services may be supported on your device while others aren’t. The same is true for games. You can’t yet simply enable MEMC and watch all of your graphical content become smoother.

Is It Worth Buying a New Device for MEMC?

For the overwhelming majority of people, no. Most of us, frankly, don’t notice the difference between a 720p display and a 1080p display on a phone unless we’re explicitly told and start pixel peeping. Likewise, most of us will not notice the difference MEMC offers without actively making the effort to try to see it.

But, what about those of us who place a premium on visual fidelity? Then you have a question to ask yourself. What are you after? Do you want the smoothest picture or for a video to be true to the source? Are you a gamer who regularly notices motion blur and screen tearing? Do you even consider the changes to the picture an improvement in the first place?

Even if you don’t upgrade explicitly for MEMC, we may reach a point where the feature just comes standard on phones. At that point, the question becomes whether or not you enable it. Do you want the smoothest picture or would you rather eke out longer battery life? Ultimately, there’s no clear-cut answer here that applies to all cinephiles or gamers. But, if you spend a substantial amount of time playing fast-paced games on your phone, or your phone is your primary way of watching sports, then you might be among those with the most to gain from MEMC seeing wider adoption as time goes on.

Author: Bertel King

Source: Bertel King.” What Is MEMC? Does Your Smartphone Need It?”. Retrieved From https://www.makeuseof.com/what-is-memc-does-your-smartphone-need-it/

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