For the last week, I’ve been reading articles with people complaining that the third episode in the eighth and final season of HBO series Game of Thrones, which aired on Sunday, April 28, was too dark. The first three things that immediately came to mind were 1) people are watching their TVs in too bright of an environment; 2) they didn’t calibrate their display; and 3) people are using streaming as their source, legal or otherwise.
First, it’s worth noting that the show’s cinematographer, Fabian Wagner, admits that the scenes were, indeed, very dark on purpose to allow for a sense of realism. In the fictional place and time period with which the massive battle scene took place, there would not have been additional sources of light as swords were thrashed around and the dead overtook Winterfell. However, in my own home theatre, I did not find the scenes to be “too dark” to the point that they were hard to be viewed, like many people claim.
Of course merely having an assumption, and going by my own experience, is not good enough. So I did some digging. I asked around in various Facebook discussion groups, called a bunch of my clients, and read various comments in social media platforms. Sure enough, after spending far too much time informally polling people and going through lots of data I accumulated, my hypotheses (albeit based on a very small sample size) were all proven to be correct. And Wagner seems to agree, as is evidenced by comments he’s since given to some of the top technology websites. He told Wired U.K. that many people “don’t know how to tune their TVs properly,” and mentioned people who (gasp) watch the show on small iPads, which “in no way can do justice to a show like that anyway.”
The biggest culprit I found from my own research was that people were indeed watching the intense and yes, dark, episode on their TVs with insane amounts of ambient light. I have witnessed this personally, too. Turn off most of your lights, please! With the lights on, you just add reflections and wash out the image. You may not want to watch TV in the dark but turn off as many lights as you can so your TV doesn’t need to “fight” the surrounding lights. Try it out. The image will pop out that much more by making this simple adjustment to your viewing room. Not to mention that your electrical bill will be a tad lower, too.
“Game of Thrones is a cinematic show,” says Wagner, “and therefore you have to watch it like you’re at a cinema: in a darkened room.”
Second, if you don’t want to calibrate your display, at least don’t use the Vivid or Standard preset. All TV manufacturers crush a display’s black levels, especially on these two presets, to create the illusion of blacker blacks. In the worst case scenario, if you don’t want to have your TV calibrated, use Movie/Cinema mode. And when available, use THX or ISF mode.
Last but not least, IPTV, which sadly includes popular services like Rogers Ignite TV and Bell FibeTV, uses very low bandwidth and highly compressed video. It’s much worse than Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. The problem with low bandwidth compression has always been its (in)capability in compressing low light scenes. The lower the bitrates, the worse the low light scenes will become. This is even worse if you use illegal services such as Apollo and many others out there.
While the third problem may be unavoidable due to the regular cable services availability in certain areas, at least the first two major culprits can be easily avoided. But if you choose to use a pirated service, or turn on a bunch of lights, or not have your TV set up properly, or any combination of the above, the problem lies on you and you alone, not the directors of any given show.