Dark Screens

I’ve been having some discussions with friends online and in real life about the most recent Game of Thrones episode. The discussion taking place is that it was too dark for people to enjoy or even tell what was going on in some cases. I’d like to share some thoughts about this but first throw out a few caveats.

  • If a viewer found a show to dark to see it and enjoy it that is bad.
  • This isn’t said viewers fault.
  • There are people to blame for this but I don’t think it’s the show creators.
  • I am most definitely not saying anyone is using their tv wrong.

Okay, on to my thoughts. The general consensus is that this was primarily due to streaming compression and tv sets that aren’t properly calibrated. I’m inclined to believe this because I and many other viewers did not find the show too dark to enjoy or tell what was going on. Does this mean the experience didn’t royally suck for the ones who experienced it? Absolutely not, it totally sucks for them and I am empathetic to them. This was an episode we waited many years for and to have that happened really blows regardless of the reason.

So if I don’t blame the show creators, who should I blame? I believe that’s primarily on HBO. They run the stream. They decide the compression levels to apply when streaming the show. They also should’ve known how important this episode was to fans. They would have known this was going to be a night battle episode the creators wanted to have realistic lighting effects for it. They should’ve bumped up the quality to bandwidth ratio a little more for this episode. They could’ve even done a test pattern PSA about tv black level calibration before the show. It wasn’t too long ago we used to see these before movies on physical media we all have forgotten about. It’s not a far stretch to say many people don’t even realize their tv has never been calibrated or that they can do so, resulting in drastic differences in picture quality.

I’ve been called a TV apologist and maybe that’s true. I probably don’t have an objective perspective to rule that out in fairness. I would still like to take a moment to defend my position this wasn’t the show creators fault. If you’ll allow me to, I’m going to paint a picture that will help to explain my position.

Let’s pretend for a second we aren’t talking about a tv show. Let’s say we are talking about photography. Let’s also say a photographer took a series of night shots with natural lighting that perfectly captured the moment on his properly configured monitor where he adjusted his photos and prepared them for publishing. This photographer then uploads these photos to a photo sharing service which then serves its users a heavily compressed version that is not reflective of what he wanted to say with his photos anymore. Let’s also say those users view these on a wide variety of different screens with different levels of display quality and color/black level reproduction. To these viewers the images look terrible and the photographers vision is lost.

Is it fair for the masses to get in an uproar and say the photographer didn’t know what he was doing and took terrible pictures? I’d like to think most reasonable people would say no. It doesn’t mean the pictures don’t suck to those viewers, it just means it’s complicated with a lot of variables between the photographer and his viewers to mess up the presentation of his vision. That’s kind of tragic to me, as is this whole situation regarding the Game of Thrones episode.

Honestly there is plenty to complain about in this episode without getting stuck on how dark it was. If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on that, you’ll have to wait for the BubbleSort TV: Game of Thrones episode later in the week.

Until then, if you watched this episode and otherwise enjoyed it, aside from the darkness, perhaps you can try tuning the tv levels and rewatching while you wait. Good and bad, this was a phenomenal episode that deserves to be graded on its merits more than this tragedy of circumstances.

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