Movie post-production monitors are better than our TVs. and it’s a problem

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We return to the walk. The seventh episode of ‘The House of the Dragon’ has triggered the same controversy that we experienced in 2019 after the broadcast of ‘The Long Night’, the third episode of the eighth season of ‘Game of Thrones’. Both chapters share very dark images that have caused many fans of these series to complain about not having been able to enjoy them as expected.

Those responsible for this HBO Max production have argued that it is a creative decision that seeks to reinforce the tone of this part of the story, and yes, it is clear that they must have the freedom to make the creative decisions they deem necessary. However, when there are so many fans who complain for the same reason, something is wrong. And those responsible for this series, headed by Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, should take good note.

This problem has not exploded due to a single reason. The compression of the video that serves us through streaming HBO Max, the clearly improvable calibration of the televisions that a good part of us users have and the need to mask some special effects that may not be as refined as would be desirable explain to a certain extent the origin of this problem, but there is another reason that It is worth noting that we do not overlook: the difference in image quality of professional monitors used in the post-production of movies and series and our televisions.

Luma range makes a difference (in favor of mastering monitors)

During the last few years I have witnessed on several occasions a direct confrontation between a professional mastering monitor and a state-of-the-art, high-end television. The most revealing of these tests took place during the spring of 2019, and I was able to compare the picture quality of a Panasonic GZ2000 TV equipped with a high quality OLED panel and fabulous image processing with a professional monitor Sony BVM-X300 V2 Trimaster EL 4K OLED.

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The Panasonic television came out of this head-to-head duel well, but even so, did not match overall image quality of this monitor, which is one of the most used in the post-production of films despite the fact that it is already discontinued (it has been replaced by the BVM-HX310). And that the Panasonic 2000 range is a marvel of image quality, especially when these televisions must deal with cinematographic content.

The accuracy and richness with which the reference monitor reproduces color is staggering, a must-have feature considering that professional colorists use it to perform colorimetry correction. In fact, what surprised me the most was that these mastering monitors manage to maintain color consistency throughout the luminance range, something that is beyond the reach of most televisions.

Mastering monitors manage to maintain color consistency throughout the luminance range

In addition, these monitors have a spectacular brightness delivery capacity. Sony’s BVM-HX310 in particular can deliver 1,000 nits at full screen while maintaining a native contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. This feature is also beyond the reach of any television, however sophisticated and expensive it may be. However, what allows a mastering monitor to recover a great deal of detail in the shadow regions is its luminance range. This is, in all probability, the most important reason why the last chapter of ‘The house of the dragon’ looks so dark on our televisions.

A simple, though not entirely rigorous, way of understanding what is luminance It consists of interpreting it as the luminous intensity or the amount of light that a surface is capable of projecting. When we refer to the concept of “luminance range” in this context, we are describing the ability of a television to provide us with a set of levels of different light intensity. Or a lightness scale with a specific gradation.

The dynamic range of a television is greater as the distance that separates the intensity of the darkest areas of the images from the intensity of the brightest areas increases. This allows us to intuit that the minimum and maximum brightness delivery capacity that a television has matters a lot in this context because it conditions the ability with which it is capable of reproducing HDR content.

But not only is the brightness delivery capacity of a television important; so is the number of brightness levels with different intensity that it manages to reproduce. The more levels with different brightness delivery capacity we have between the minimum and maximum levels, the better. A higher number of levels will help the TV be able to retrieve more information both in the darkest areas of each frame and in the brightest, also known as highlights.

Most TVs don’t have anywhere near the same luminance range as a professional mastering monitor costing upwards of $35,000.

The clues given to us by those responsible for making the creative decisions for ‘The House of the Dragon’ invite us to intuit that on the professional monitors on which they have carried out the post-production of this series, the darkest scenes give us a sufficient level of detail. However, most televisions does not have a luminance range not remotely similar to that of a professional mastering monitor that costs more than 35,000 euros.

Probably the solution to this problem requires that those responsible for the movies and series that we enjoy on our televisions bear in mind this difference in quality and carry out the pertinent tests to check how the images are seen on a wide range of televisions, including entry-level models. They shouldn’t just be satisfied with assessing their aesthetic preferences on the gorgeous, overpriced professional monitors they use in post-processing. I don’t think this is asking too much.

We return to the walk. The seventh episode of ‘The House of the Dragon’ has triggered the same controversy that…

We return to the walk. The seventh episode of ‘The House of the Dragon’ has triggered the same controversy that…

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