‘Game of Thrones’: How to Overcome the Darkness of Winterfell By Making Sure Your TV Settings Are Just Right

Chris O'Falt

Wasn’t that a great Steadicam shot in last Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” when Jon Snow was hurtling down the corridor in Winterfell with wights — we think — dropping through the ceiling — I mean, right? It was the ceiling? — as he brandished his sword — Definitely a sword, and probably his sword, right? — en route to the weirwood to try to save Bran? Forgive our hesitancy amid our enthusiasm, but as it has well been documented — “Game of Thrones” is just too damn dark to see what’s going on.

With dp Fabian Wagner doubling down this week that it is viewers’ TVs that are the problem, not his camerawork, IndieWire decided to answer the question. What ARE the optimum settings to watch the show? How can you make the fog of war less, well, foggy?

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Resolution and Compression

We all need to accept that the shows and movies we stream have been significantly compressed — in laymen terms, large digital files have been packed into a smaller space. Some companies do a better job compressing images than others. Loss of detail from compression is most visible (so to speak) in the dark parts of frame. Higher resolution images lead to more detail in the blacks of the frame.

Chances are strong that Sunday night, with everyone at home streaming shows, creates a major drag on your internet providers’ bandwidth. We did make a pact with the devil on this front by relying on the internet to bring entertainment into our homes. However, there are a few things you can check to get the highest resolution image

– If possible, connect your Apple TV, Roku, Smart TV, computer directly into your modem. Hardwiring with a $2 ethernet cord (RJ-45), versus relying on wifi, is a more solid, faster internet connection. This will result in the best quality, least compressed file.

– Are you using a cord that allows for HD? If you are using an HDMI cord, which is great, is it super old? Or is it it new enough to take advantage of all the features on newer OTT devices?

Settings Vary: Room, TV, Device

There is no universal TV setting that is going to work for every room, TV and device. Pay attention to the light in the room. When adjusting your TV settings, are you doing it for a dark room? A bright room? Is there any light at all? Regardless of the answer to those questions, try to keep lights from directly reflecting on screen.

Not all TVs are the same. The powerful backlight of LED TVs tend to be much brighter than OLED and Plasma TVs, but the light around edges of frame on an LED can trail off.

Settings can also vary for different devices and platforms. For example, Netflix Premium offers some Dolby Vision content, which — if it recognizes your TV is compatible with Dolby Vision — will automatically switch your TV over to different settings. Those settings might be a bad choice if you then switch over to stream HBO GO. A new 4K AppleTV produces a different image than your four-year-old Apple laptop. Computers, in particular, will need different settings than your other devices.

Finding Your Right Settings

Your television almost certainly has automatic pre-sets (usually “cinema,” “vivid,” “sports”) that can be dangerous, bringing good with the bad. Some TVs have functionalities worth exploring, like HDR (Dolby Vision), but they often have bad consumer functionality as well — like Motion Blurring, which is a sin against the art of filmmaking.

When it comes to getting your TVs settings right, you can pay to have it professionally calibrated. This takes the guessing out of the equation. Local services can be found with simple Google search. If “Game of Thrones” is still too dark after you read this article, pick up the phone!

While not as surefire as professional calibration, a great first DIY step is googling your exact TV model and see what settings other home theater viewers are using. Chances are strong that your TV has a decent preset, like “ISF,” that could serve as a solid base to branch out from. Following the settings for your specific TV at rtings.com will put you very much in the ballpark, allowing you to make slight tweaks to adjust to your specific tastes and the light level in your room.

If you are happy with your TV’s settings, but are watching something that is too dark, the answer might not necessarily be to pump up the “brightness.” First turn off the lights in your room. Then adjust the TV’s light source – called different things by different manufacturers — although not all TVs have this setting. At the end, you hopefully will be able to tell what brand of undead Jon Snow is using his sword against.

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