'Star Trek: Discovery' Explains Why 'Enterprise' Doesn't Communicate With Holograms

Star Trek: Discovery just answered a significant question about the Enterprise during the prequel series era.

SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 4: “An Obol for Charon” follow.

Something that surprised Star Trek fans about Star Trek: Discovery was the means of ship-to-ship communication. Starfleet vessels in Star Trek: Discovery all seem to use holographic communication devices that virtually recreate the people speaking to each other in three dimensions.

However, the Enterprise is known to have used viewscreens for communication. So why would this Constitution-class vessel, the pride of Starfleet, have such a different means of communicating?

It turns out that Capt. Christopher Pike is a bit old fashioned. In last week’s episode, “Point of Light,” Pike communicated with another Starfleet officer at Starbase 5 via viewscreen. The other officer commented that only his mother and Capt. Pike still communicate using screens.

The implication is that viewscreens are an older technology pre-dating the use of holographic communication devices. The Enterprise NX-O1 from Star Trek: Enterprise, set a century before Star Trek: The Original Series, did use viewscreen technology, so that checks out.

In “An Obal for Charon,” it’s implied that the Enterprise has had a holographic communication system installed, but that it is now causing problems with restoring the ship to working order after the damage done to it while investigating the mysterious red signals throughout the galaxy. Pike tells Number One, his first officer, to have the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise rip the whole system out, saying that they’ll just go back to communicating using “good old-fashioned viewscreens,” and noting that he never liked the holograms anyway because they looked like ghosts.

That explains why the Enterprise doesn’t have holographic communication technology either in “The Cage” or in The Original Series, which take place 10 years later.

It’s unclear if the implication here is meant to be that Enterprise is the only ship in Starfleet without that technology during The Original Series era -- Number One notes that Enterprise is the only ship in the fleet having problems -- or if Starfleet moved away from that technology on the whole by the time The Original Series begins. Some of Discovery’s prequel novels have hinted that the latter to be the case, suggesting that Starfleet came around to the idea that holographic communications takes up too much subspace bandwidth and were too easily hacked or intercepted. That would also explain why the ships of the Star Trek: The Next Generation era, a century after the events of The Original Series, still use viewscreens for communication.

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New Star Trek: Discovery episodes become available to stream Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access.