Why Fireworks Look Really Bad on Your Fancy TV

As any seasoned TV watcher will tell you, firework displays don’t translate well to television. From a report: In fact, they look terrible. The colors are washed out, the concussive boom of the explosion is dulled into a ridiculous pop, and they have an uncanny knack of looking like CGI. “It’s a great torture test of the whole system,” says Jeff Yurek of Nanosys, a manufacturer of quantum dot television displays. “There are two problems,” explains Tim Brooksbank, a veteran of the audio-visual industry who studies how television displays and transmission work. “The fundamental problem is the dynamic range,” says Brooksbank. Dynamic range is the ratio between the largest and smallest levels of colour, light and sound — as well as time — that recording, transmission and display equipment are expected to attain. Fireworks test all dynamic ranges to their limits. They’re bright, colourful, fast, loud explosions on a black background — which causes havoc with technology.

“Fireworks need a large dynamic range that exists in nature and — within reason — exists in our eyesight,” says Brooksbank. “But the whole system within television isn’t designed to cope with that range.” Take light, for instance. Until recently, digital stills and video cameras have struggled to take decent night time footage, because you’re asking a lens to capture intensely dark and intensely bright images in the same frame. So the source footage struggles to accurately represent the brightness and the full colour of a firework. “They’re too colourful, they’re very bright, and they’re very contrasty,” explains Yurek. The chemical compounds most commonly used in fireworks emit wavelengths that aren’t within the physical possibility of being seen by many TVs.

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