Game of Thrones cinematographer says it's your fault The Long Night was too dark

Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member

Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.

Game of Thrones Episode 3 of Season 8, titled “The Long Night,” revolved around an epic battle against the dead — wights, White Walker, Dothraki, and the like — all very exciting. The problem was the cinematographer thought it would be a good idea to film the whole battle with firelight as seemingly the only lighting (likely a result of overzealous color grading in post). The episode was very dark and not in the good GoT way.

It had watchers scrambling to adjust the contrast and brightness on their TVs so that they could see what was happening (see images). Fans were not impressed and took to Twitter to complain. Reactions were so plentiful that The Long Night became the most tweeted about television episode in history.

Of course, with that much backlash, HBO could not just sit on its hands, but maybe it should have. Instead of apologizing for the poorly lit filming, cinematographer Fabian Wagner blamed technology and viewers for the viewing troubles.

“A lot of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to tune their TVs properly,” Wagner told Wired. “A lot of people also, unfortunately, watch it on small iPads, which in no way can do justice to a show like that anyway.”

The solution: Watch the episode in the cinema.

“Game of Thrones is a cinematic show, and therefore you have to watch it like you’re at a cinema: in a darkened room,” was Wagner’s advice.

Great. Except it’s not a cinematic show; it’s a TV show — often subjected to compression for those streaming the episode. There is a fine line between artistic expression and making that art enjoyable to view. Wagner appears to have failed to consider his primary audience when making lighting decisions.

Second take (Julio):

Reading Cal's original story I felt compelled to agree with HBO's cinematographer. Maybe it's not something that everyone experiences, but delivery matters, and in some cases the screens/devices you watch and most importantly the source you watch from can make or break the experience. I get HBO through my DirecTV subscription (that I hope to cancel soon) and maybe it was the kind of compression they used but in dark scenes I even observed severe pixelation. Coming from a supposedly HD source (upscaled 720p most likely), this was terribly bad for certain scenes. Long story short, I plan to rewatch this impressive 82 minute episode once I get ahold of a 1080p or better recording.

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Evernessince

地獄らしい人間動物園
HBO is right though. If you couldn't see the show correctly your TV isn't calibrated correctly. I could see the Episode perfectly.

If you are having problems seeing blacks you need to increase the brightness of your TV. As the ambient light in your room increases, so too should your TV's brightness. A livingroom TV for example should have a high set brightness. That or you could draw the blinds when watching. If the room is only dimly lit and you are still having trouble viewing the content, you need to increase the brightness.
 

jonny888

TS Booster
Looked perfectly fine on our TV. Haven't heard a single person I know who watched it complain about darkness. Maybe just a case of "the vocal minority"?
 

wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
HBO is right though. If you couldn't see the show correctly your TV isn't calibrated correctly. I could see the Episode perfectly.
I did not see the episode, and I have little interest in seeing the series, but I agree. Most sets out of the box are really not calibrated at all and need to be calibrated to get the best possible picture.

Calibration, though, is complicated by the fact that it does vary somewhat between different sources, I.e., Set-top box, BR/DVD player, streaming app, etc.

If you are having problems seeing blacks you need to increase the brightness of your TV. As the ambient light in your room increases, so too should your TV's brightness. A livingroom TV for example should have a high set brightness. That or you could draw the blinds when watching. If the room is only dimly lit and you are still having trouble viewing the content, you need to increase the brightness.
With a properly calibrated set, IMO, one should never change brightness levels as that will throw off the calibration. I'll assume that you mean on an uncalibrated set; however, these suggestions simplify things a great deal from what is required for a good calibration process involving a reference source having "blacker than black" and using that to set the appropriate brightness and contrast levels.

Here's a reference for those interested - https://www.audioholics.com/home-theater-calibration/hdtv-calibration
The reference is a couple of years old, but the calibration disks mentioned may have 4K/HDR versions by now.

Here is another reference that I have used with good success over the years - http://www.videoessentials.com/

As I understand the ideal "home theater room," one should be able to darken the room rather than lighten the set. Barring that, yes a brighter set would be good as long as it it calibrated.

That said, HDR would probably help, too, but most sets these days do not have the 4,000 nits peak brightness levels to take advantage of what HDR can really do.

Maybe someday, sets will all be something like Crystal LEDs, or materials scientists will come up with brighter OLED materials.
 
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rrwards

TS Addict
He has a bit of a point in regards to mobile device streaming. But the real issue/problem is the horrid HBO streaming. No HDR and no 4K. Regardless of how good he thinks he made the episode, until they let me get a proper stream, none of it matters. I personally think the color grading is still ****. Watched on an LG OLED and then again on a Samsung OLED monitor. It's still too damn dark.
 

Johnf80

TS Rookie
I was using Apple TV hbo now app on a calibrated oled tv and I thought it was slightly on the dark side with way too much motion blur. Maybe a little less motion blur? Also the stream may not have been as good of a quality over a direct feed with cable. I don’t have cable so who knows. I would say it was alright but could’ve used some more specular highlights here and there instead of totally grey and black scenes at times. And dark movies like Harry Potter look amazing and are done better than this was. It was just okay. But maybe a direct feed was better than the streaming one. I’ll have to wait for Blu-ray to find out
 
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VitalyT

Russ-Puss
Wow, this is exactly what I thought about that episode. Even a high-quality 1080p couldn't do it justice, it needed HDR badly, but none available for this episode yet. Maybe some time much later, like it took years before the 1st season was released in 4K.

Seriously, I tried watching it on regular 4K TV, and on HDR monitor, and couldn't see jack during the first third of the movie. This is one episode that should have been done in HDR from day one.
 
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Nobina

TS Evangelist
It's easy to do it on a PC in Nvidia settings and it helped a lot. Still, this isn't a common issue with videos so it probably is a bit too dark.
 

Julio Franco

TechSpot Editor
Staff member
This was added to the original story shortly after publishing...

Second take (Julio):

Reading Cal's original story I felt compelled to agree with HBO's cinematographer. Maybe it's not something that everyone experiences, but delivery matters, and in some cases the screens/devices you watch and most importantly the source you watch from can make or break the experience. I get HBO through my DirecTV subscription (that I hope to cancel soon) and maybe it was the kind of compression they used but in dark scenes I even observed severe pixelation. Coming from a supposedly HD source (upscaled 720p most likely), this was terribly bad for certain scenes. Long story short, I plan to rewatch this impressive 82 minute episode once I get ahold of a 1080p or better recording.
 
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Waikano

TS Rookie
Watched it 2x once Live over HBO Cable and the next day over HBO GO....there was a big difference in quality on same TV without any calibration between viewings. 55" Samsung 1080p. Yeah it's an "older" TV, but HBO GO was easier to see on those Dark Scenes, I suspect the HBO live cable wasn't being broadcast at 1080p.
 

yRaz

Nigerian Prince
Watched it 2x once Live over HBO Cable and the next day over HBO GO....there was a big difference in quality on same TV without any calibration between viewings. 55" Samsung 1080p. Yeah it's an "older" TV, but HBO GO was easier to see on those Dark Scenes, I suspect the HBO live cable wasn't being broadcast at 1080p.
I have the opposite problem. I have a 4k Samsung 65MU6300. HBO go looks HORRIBLE but on cable it looks great. However, HBO go on my brothers computer looked great. The blacks were grey, no HDR support. I also noticed the Amazon prime videos look bad on my TV but Netflix and Hulu look great.

I don't really know what's going on but I assume it must be some type of DRM on the side of the app. It's really frustrating because I paid good money for a TV that looked great only for the content providers to screw it all up for me. I would say the I'm better off pirating stuff and watching it on my TV through my laptop, but the upscaling built into my TV is WAYYYYYY BETTER than what VLC or anything else I can find can do. So I can either watch stuff with artifacts or I can watch it with crap colors.

Worst of all is that I'm actually PAYING for this content and it is not being PROVIDED as advertised. I have a lot of money tied up in legally watching some of these programs and just to get a free prostate exam from the content providers.
 
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amstech

IT Overlord
A lot of LCD/ LCD LED HDTV's for many years, even expensive Samsungs, LG's and whatever else, have terrible blacks. I still rock an older 60" LG Plasma (got the model # at the house), and while its got the 600hz sub-field drive and some other crap, the contrast and deep blacks still put newer HDTV's to shame.
Since we watch a lot of space/low light related stuff, this is utterly important.
The only annoying thing is the glare from the glass on a Plasma.
People bite on the dynamic contrast sales pitch but you want a real good native contrast, dynamic means jack sh!t.
I've been researching QLED/OLED and I'll probably end up with the Samsung QN75Q6FN.
Samsung said:
The 75" QN75Q6FN uses these atom-sized nanocrystals to produce some of the purest, most vibrant colors yet seen on a TV screen. QLED TVs can reproduce over a billion total shades.
That's right boys...nanocrystals! Right from Crytek.
I still need to research more on its dark image quality though.
 

TomSEA

TechSpot Chancellor
The popularity of this show is nuts - just look at the comments here.

At any rate, I didn't have a problem seeing it on my TV either, although there really was too much darkness overall for my taste. Every scene from the outside to the clouds to the cellars to the library to the hallways to the Heart Tree - just dark, dark, dark. Would have been nice to get out of that even just a little with a sunrise ending. Thought the prevailing darkness "theme" detracted from the story and battle.
 

Panda218

TS Evangelist
I watched it 2 times on different displays. It looked much better on my fully calibrated monitor, but I still found it to be a bit too dark.

1) 60" Vizio LCD
2) ROG Swift PG27UQ 27" monitor
 

wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
I have the opposite problem. I have a 4k Samsung 65MU6300. HBO go looks HORRIBLE but on cable it looks great. However, HBO go on my brothers computer looked great. The blacks were grey, no HDR support. I also noticed the Amazon prime videos look bad on my TV but Netflix and Hulu look great.

I don't really know what's going on but I assume it must be some type of DRM on the side of the app. It's really frustrating because I paid good money for a TV that looked great only for the content providers to screw it all up for me. I would say the I'm better off pirating stuff and watching it on my TV through my laptop, but the upscaling built into my TV is WAYYYYYY BETTER than what VLC or anything else I can find can do. So I can either watch stuff with artifacts or I can watch it with crap colors.

Worst of all is that I'm actually PAYING for this content and it is not being PROVIDED as advertised. I have a lot of money tied up in legally watching some of these programs and just to get a free prostate exam from the content providers.
At least part of what you describe is part of what I was talking about with regards to source - it goes down to each broadcaster and the broadcast means. There is substantial variability from source to source - including broadcasters and broadcast means.

That is what lead Joe Kane in "Video Essentials" (one of the links I posted) to quip that NTSC means "Never Twice the Same Color." :scream:

That said, while you can calibrate to one source - like a reference disk or other reference material, it would be virtually impossible to calibrate to every single broadcaster, streamer, etc.
 
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Waikano

TS Rookie
I have the opposite problem. I have a 4k Samsung 65MU6300. HBO go looks HORRIBLE but on cable it looks great. However, HBO go on my brothers computer looked great. The blacks were grey, no HDR support. I also noticed the Amazon prime videos look bad on my TV but Netflix and Hulu look great.

I don't really know what's going on but I assume it must be some type of DRM on the side of the app. It's really frustrating because I paid good money for a TV that looked great only for the content providers to screw it all up for me. I would say the I'm better off pirating stuff and watching it on my TV through my laptop, but the upscaling built into my TV is WAYYYYYY BETTER than what VLC or anything else I can find can do. So I can either watch stuff with artifacts or I can watch it with crap colors.

Worst of all is that I'm actually PAYING for this content and it is not being PROVIDED as advertised. I have a lot of money tied up in legally watching some of these programs and just to get a free prostate exam from the content providers.
Just out of curiosity, what browser did you use to watch the streams? Or did you use the Smart TV apps? I'm not sure what resolution those stream in. Chrome as an example only streams at 720p, I hate that I have to, but Microsoft Edge streams at 4k, but I only have 1080p, and I don't think HBO GO is streaming at 4k. There is a noticeable difference between Chrome and Edge on my setup. Streaming through a laptop that's connected via HDMI to TV.
 

wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
A lot of LCD/ LCD LED HDTV's for many years, even expensive Samsungs, LG's and whatever else, have terrible blacks. I still rock an older 60" LG Plasma (got the model # at the house), and while its got the 600hz sub-field drive and some other crap, the contrast and deep blacks still put newer HDTV's to shame.
Since we watch a lot of space/low light related stuff, this is utterly important.
The only annoying thing is the glare from the glass on a Plasma.
People bite on the dynamic contrast sales pitch but you want a real good native contrast, dynamic means jack sh!t.
I've been researching QLED/OLED and I'll probably end up with the Samsung QN75Q6FN.
Samsung said:
The 75" QN75Q6FN uses these atom-sized nanocrystals to produce some of the purest, most vibrant colors yet seen on a TV screen. QLED TVs can reproduce over a billion total shades.
That's right boys...nanocrystals! Right from Crytek.
I still need to research more on its dark image quality though.
Lest you be disappointed, continue that research and never forget that it is the job of every marketing department to come up with flowery words that make their products seem as if they are the next greatest innovation since perforated toilet paper.

Here is a site with extensive forums and knowledgeable participants who love to answer questions https://www.avsforum.com/
 
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yRaz

Nigerian Prince
What you describe is part of what I was talking about with regards to source - it goes down to each broadcaster and the broadcast means. There is substantial variability from source to source - including broadcasters and broadcast means.

That is what lead Joe Kane in "Video Essentials" (one of the links I posted) to quip that NTSC means "Never Twice the Same Color." :scream:

That said, while you can calibrate to one source - like a reference disk or other reference material, it would be virtually impossible to calibrate to every single broadcaster, streamer, etc.
It seems like a low bitrate problem as I see banding in the blacks and colors seemed washed out.
Just out of curiosity, what browser did you use to watch the streams? Or did you use the Smart TV apps? I'm not sure what resolution those stream in. Chrome as an example only streams at 720p, I hate that I have to, but Microsoft Edge streams at 4k, but I only have 1080p, and I don't think HBO GO is streaming at 4k. There is a noticeable difference between Chrome and Edge on my setup. Streaming through a laptop that's connected via HDMI to TV.
My brother used chrome, but I can confirm the chrome does, I deed, stream 4k from a multitude of sources. I use the app on my TV and my brother watched it on his computer in the other room through the browser. His cheap TN panel looked better than my 65" 4k when watching it. Neither of us believed it so we went back and fourth pausing at the same spots and comparing.

The colors look great when I watch using VLC but upscaling to 4k leaves what look like jpeg artifacts. The blurays only half work. Something can decide it doesn't like my TV or surround sound and it will just refuse 5.1 or even play at all.

It would be one thing if I paid for all this tech and it worked, but the fact that I paid for all of it and I fight with it to work all the time is just unacceptable
 
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amstech

IT Overlord
Here is a site with extensive forums and knowledgeable participants who love to answer questions https://www.avsforum.com/
Yeah AVS ain't bad.
Couple knowledgeable guys on overclock.net too but I haven't used that site since they switched to the new format.
My dig at the Nano stuff was making fun of their sales pitch..and ya know, Crytek, or the Crysis game with nano tech? Anyone? No? I'll shut up now! Haha.
 
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McMurdeR

TS Addict
My TV is calibrated and has a decent enough screen. It would have been fine if Sky weren't still only offering Sky Atlantic in SD on their basic package. In 2019 no less. The compression artifacting was horrific in the darker scenes. I'm sure the master version is just fine, and I can't wait to see the blu ray version, but Sky made it look like a YouTube video from the late nineties.
 
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