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When I watched The Walking Dead on my 1080i HDTV, the special effects looked seamless. In other words, I knew what I was watching was fake, but it was hard to tell.

When I upgraded to a 1080p HDTV, the show looked more like a Soap Opera and the Special Effects were not as impressive; mainly because the scenes containing CGI stood out like a sore thumb.

Early black and white films with special effects have always seemed this way to me. However, I've only watched them on Television.

If I were sitting in a 1950s movie theater, would my naked eye be able to distinguish real from fake using the technology from that era?

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This question will only benefit from actual experiences and/or citing reviews of movies of old. –  TylerShads May 4 '12 at 12:33

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The recent film "Hugo" references the urban legend of contemporary audiences of 1896 watching the Lumière Brothers "L'Arrivée d'un train en care de La Ciotat" (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Stations) where the audience supposedly became overwhelmed at the approach of a train because it was shot in a manner that made people believe it was headed mostly towards the audience.

Further, there is the fact that people acclimate to effects in the films. The 1950s film "The Tingler" used mild shocks in the theatre that people weren't accustomed to and thus heightened the sensory reaction. One can say that effects have to improve because audiences grow to find the old effects common-place.

Quoting Arthur C. Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

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Am I mistaken in thinking that quote was at the beginning of The Prestige? –  TylerShads May 4 '12 at 13:25
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It is a major trope of the film: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThePrestige –  Andrei Freeman May 4 '12 at 14:06

Could you be experiencing the "Soap Opera" effect of newer HDTVs with higher refresh rates? This is fairly well documented in avsforum

Essentially by ramping up the refresh rate, often referred to as auto-motion plus on Samsung TV's, it causes the movie/video to look hyper-real, much like video used for Soap Operas, hence the name. Just a guess though.

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Many people today know a lot more about the details of how movies and television are made than did people 100 years ago or even 50. In one of Thomas Edison's films shows a depiction of a beheading, there is a slight but noticeable jump where the action was stopped and a dummy substituted for the victim. I would expect many audiences would probably recognize that nobody was actually beheaded during the making of the film, but many would probably have figured that the jump was a result of the film having damaged and spliced, and that the effect was accomplished by something like a fake head worn by a short actor. I don't think people would have even considered the possibility that the film before and after the jump might have been from separate takes.

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