This article is spoiler free!
If you’re like me, when the Game of Thrones episode “The Longest Night” started this past Sunday you wondered, “What is wrong with my TV?”
Instead of smooth gradations from the darkness of night over the fields outside Winterfell to the torchlight on the troubled faces of the army awaiting the fate of humanity, the sky was full of blocky artifacts. Banding surrounded the bright lights in the darkness. I had a new TV in for review and thought, “there’s no way this is all because of the display.”
So what can you do to fix, or at least minimize, the problem on your end? The simplest things are make sure you’re watching in a dark room, adjust some basic menu options, and watch at off-peak times. Any lights on in the room, or even leaking in from the hallway, can make it difficult for your eyes to see any shadow detail that’s there. You could adjust your display’s brightness, backlight settings, or change the level of local dimming (or any combination of the three).
Waiting until the equivalent of the population of the Netherlands has finished watching will help significantly. HBO app streams looked drastically better the next day, when everyone was online complaining about the darkness of the episode instead of online streaming it.
For the long-term, the best solution is to calibrate your TV. Even some OLEDs have black crush problems before calibration. It costs a few hundred dollars, as you’ll want to hire a professional that has the equipment and knows what they’re doing. And, obviously, the Blu-ray release will offer much higher quality once the show is available for home entertainment – but that doesn’t solve the issue while the final season is airing week to week.
Or it’s possible you didn’t experience any of these issues. You might have a great TV, or didn’t watch at peak times, and it looked fine (although maybe still a little dark for your taste).
As I watched the episode again at different times throughout the following day, although the issues might not have been as blatant as Sunday night, they were still there. The compression is at the root of the issue and is only exacerbated by low bitrate streams and/or poor TV calibration. In the future we hopefully will see HBO improve its compression delivery. But as we say to the God of Death: Not today.
For more on Game of Thrones, check out why “The Long Night” was so disappointing for reasons that had nothing to do with darkness, how George R.R. Martin’s books handle the “Long Night,” our trailer breakdown of episode 4, and the clues we found in the next episode’s photos.
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