Last night a Sunday night tradition ensued and like the last few times I’ve watched on HBO Go the quality was so abysmal that it was like watching 56k Adobe Flash movies from the 90’s.
TL;DR – dark source, bad codec for the lighting, plus HBO Go serving low bitrate = horrible viewing experience. Probably no spoilers.
The advertising for other shows started and it was crisp, clean, properly lit, good frame rate, and didn’t look lot hot garbage. I checked my bandwidth, I had 850mbit down and 930 up, I checked the routes to Atlanta and NY and while not gig-speed level they were more than enough for 3 or 4 8K H264 streams.
The Battle of Winterfell started and from there on out it was a blur. Not only was I presented with the darkest unlit blotchy artifacting low light screen, the artifacting became comical with horseback riders going into the distance looking like fuzzy Pac-Mans from the Atari 2600 Pac-Man game.
As the show went on I ran a couple of speed tests and pulled up a stream on a different account for a not-GoT show on my network, worked fine. It’s not HBO Go, it’s that stream.
My guess is they’re serving up the least bits possible to avoid the buffering we’ve experienced the past couple of years during the first two hours of when GoT drops, and what we got served was lower quality than a VHS camcorder placed behind a screen in a movie theater
Interior scenes were streaked with artifacts, people walking looked like someone had put a flipbook animation over them, places where they’d been had ghosting images until the next keyframe wiped them away. Images of faces held in the air like an old plasma TV burning in until they too faded as streaked data obscured them.
The codec they’re using for HBO Go doesn’t appear to handle low lighting at all gracefully.
Interior scenes were so dark that clothing blended with the walls, faces looked comical staring out with what I’m guessing was blood or grime making them look like little splotched moons. The White Walkers looked like they were straight out of Evil Dead 2.
The scenes were dark, here’s a screengrab from a friend in CA who DVRd it. She didn’t have the artifacting issue, but you can see what the broadcast quality was working with.
This was how we watched the Battle of Winterfell on HBO Go with a fiber internet connection and a 4K TV in 2019. HBO’s other options looked great, and last week’s episode looked fine, now (but not at airing time).
At times I was reminded of the Atari 2600 game Pitfall.
The source, the codec, and the low quality they’re serving up combined to form a blocky, comical, and otherwise un-riveting experience.
Eight years of storytelling to reach the point where I’m sitting in a darkened house with the brightness cranked on the TV trying to figure out what’s happening on screen.
That’s about it. Last week’s episode is dark, but the low bandwidth artifacting of the new episodes seems gone. HBO Go’s got some ways to go.