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The show known for dead people coming back to life is always figuratively dark, but S8E3 episode “The Long Night” was literally dark. There was a lot of uproar about not being able to see the scene where the living faced off with the dead in the dark. Believe it or not, the problem is your technology, not the director’s artistic choices.
Director Miguel Sapochnik shot 55 nights to create the Battle of Winterfell. The largest scale battle sequence in the show’s history was a cinematic experience perfectly executed for a movie screen. It exposed the biggest problem in home entertainment – we don’t all have in-home movie theaters.
HBO compresses the stream for Game of Thrones and all other shows to accommodate services and screens of all shapes and sizes. It’s nothing new - cable companies always compressed HBO’s signal and continue to do so when necessary. It makes the show accessible to a wide range of transmission speeds.
Your streaming provider also compresses the transmission. So, depending on the source of your HBO stream, it could be thoroughly compressed before it ever reaches you. For example, there’s a visible difference between HBO Now and HBO Go streaming at a rate of 5Mbps and Amazon Prime Video Channels streaming at 10 Mbps. You want the highest possible quality, so consider kicking off any other streamers or gamers off while you watch on Sunday nights. Or try watching the episode the next day when HBO’s servers aren’t so taxed with traffic.
The default settings often seem glaringly bright. If you’ve dialed down the brightness to achieve blacker blacks, you may be losing details. Adjust the brightness levels back up, or bump up the backlighting. If available, take advantage of cinema or movie mode presets and turn off the lights while you watch.
If all else fails, replace your LCD TV with a new OLED TV. Older LCD models have backlights that can make scenes harder to see. New LG and Sony OLED TV’s achieve perfect blacks with self-illuminating pixels.
Streaming has a lot of moving parts, and it’s not easy to control everything that affects your picture. If everything on your end is as good as it can be, you’re at the mercy of your bandwidth and your screen’s capabilities. It doesn’t help that Netflix delivers much of its content in 4K HDR, making HBO’s 1080p trickle look even worse. Hopefully, HBO will respond to the backlash by upgrading their video presentation standards.
As for me, the response to the episode reminded me of the opening from The Outer Limits:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.
We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity.
For the next hour, sit quietly, and we will control all that you see and hear.
We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits.”
Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up."
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