This clip indicates that it is just a wall. And admittedly, what you want to look at may not be right in front of you. But why would you ever just have a wall showing?

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    You mean all those moving stars? It's a screensaver. – Wikis May 2 '15 at 11:18
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    This looks pretty legit – Daft May 2 '15 at 11:41
  • It reminds me of that little room that Picard takes Lily into. It can only be accessed via Jefferies tubes. It has a console and a window, but instead of glass there's a force field. The room has no point, it's just something the writers needed for the scene. Here's an extensive analysis. The writers didn't consider why you'd have that on a starship. I'm pretty sure that's the same answer for the holoscreen, someone thought it would look cool. In universe? It was an experiment that didn't work out. – Schwern Aug 14 '15 at 0:22
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    They're watching old episodes of Enterprise, which is a work of fiction within the Star Trek universe (also available in 3D on the Holodeck) – Gaius Aug 14 '15 at 12:07
up vote 8 down vote accepted

This part of First Contact always seemed jarring to me. I'm not going to provide a list of examples but, empirically, every time I've seen the viewscreen on the bridge of any Hero Ship in a Star Trek series, it's shown a generic starfield. To me this implies a default view of looking forwards, with the command "on-screen" suggesting a re-focusing, or re-orienting, towards a specific goal. This may involve panning and/or zooming.

I have no evidence for this. However I also cannot think of any other situation in which the viewscreen simply showed a blank wall, and I agree that this would be a somewhat ludicrous default view, if only psychologically. I mean, c'mon: being in the middle of deep space is bad enough, right?

Even more vaguely speaking, I can imagine a writer's meeting involving a discussion of that First Contact scene, with someone saying "c'mon, we have a movie budget now; let's show the screen activating!" then someone else wondering out loud how to visualise that. If you just transitioned from a starfield to a battle then the audience is going to wonder what the frak view it was previously; if you have the battle up already then "on-screen" doesn't make any sense. So I do see this line and the accompanying visual effect as, essentially, a pandering to movie-goers. And a somewhat flat one at that.

Also, consider that not just Riker and Picard but also Data and Hawk were already practically gazing at the viewscreen before it was activated, as if it were already showing something a little more interesting than a solid grey wall. Frankly even this is enough for me to write this entire incident off as nothing more than a production frak-up.

Based on watching a random selection of TNG episodes (Deja Q, A Matter of Perspective, Tin Man, Best of Both Worlds Pt I), the answer is that the viewscreen generally shows an un-zoomed view out of the main window, a flat starfield if they're sublight and a moving starfield if they're at warp.

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I'm writing this because although there's an accepted answer, it's not entirely correct.

The default view is actually based on the type of ship we're talking about - the ship's class. In the case of TOS, TNG, and VOY, the default view is a starfield, representing the forward view from the ship. It's supposed to function as a window would (and for all extents and purposes, may actually BE a window, although this isn't proven in the TV series from what I remember.) This applies to the Enterprise C and D.

The Enterprise E is actually a special case. In the E's debut movie, First Contact, it was decided that instead of a screen - the window-type thing we're used to seeing - the main viewer would actually be a holographic projection. As such, the main viewer wasn't always in use and would actually show the bulkhead behind it. That's why, in the referenced clip, we see the bulkhead before the image materializes - it's because the main viewer is provided by the holographic projection.

In the later films they scrapped this idea, claiming that the bridge didn't feel the same without the giant viewscreen as it was a distinguishing feature. Thus, we never say the holo-viewscreen again (and in fact, in Nemesis I believe, the screen is actually shattered - showing that it is, indeed, a window.) Edit: I'm wrong on this one. Troi crashes the Enterprise (again) and the front half of the saucer is destroyed, along with the front wall of the bridge, so this doesn't prove that the main viewer is actually a window.

In the Abrams universe, the Enterprise main viewer actually is just a window; it's very thick glass, and from the bridge, we can actually see the saucer hull (which is different than all of the previous portrayals of the main viewer). Images are superimposed onto the glass.

So to answer the original question: "Why would you ever have a wall showing?" This was a deliberate decision for the Enterprise E in First Contact; it had a holoscreen that was deactivated when not used. No other ships had this feature, and the Enterprise regained its traditional viewscreen in later films.

Edit: There's a link to Memory Alpha (which is better than my limited memory) here, which explains the main viewer types better than I did. http://en.memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Viewscreen

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    I never claimed that it wasn't a deliberate production decision, but I don't buy it in-universe. Do you really think the bridge crew were gazing at a blank wall the whole time before the holoscreen activated? That Memory Alpha page is purely in-universe which is why it doesn't address this fully (read en.memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Leslie for a giggle!), but it does point out that at least Voyager also had a holo-viewscreen. Yet Voyager always shows a starfield. It's a weird contradiction and I'm still happy calling it a production error. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 13 '15 at 21:40
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Honestly? They probably were gazing at their consoles. It would make sense if the bridge were more like the CIC from Battlestar Galactica. The only problem is, the bridge layout begs the question; why are all the consoles facing that specific wall? :P I don't think I'd go so far as to say it was a production error; the effect is there so that the audience knows the main viewer is a holoprojection. That said, it was definitely an error in judgement, one which was rectified in the later movies (and replaced with many more bad judgement calls). – lunchmeat317 Aug 13 '15 at 22:22
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    @lunchmeat317: I think we're just using the term "production error" differently. I don't claim it was an accident or anything like that, just that it was indeed a terrible decision that (presumably inadvertently) created a bunch of inconsistency and nonsense. Following from that I choose, basically, to consider it non-canon. So, yeah :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 13 '15 at 22:26
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    @Schwern It is a flat screen, but I always thought that there was a forward-facing window on the bridge on the exterior of the ship. I might be wrong about this. As for the 3D - technically, no, but many accepts that it's a holodisplay in-universe because of some of the camera angles used in TNG. It's just a can theory based on what the audience sees. (I'm not sure if this was ever confirmed in any manuals or anything like that.) – lunchmeat317 Aug 14 '15 at 22:00
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    @Schwern The most obvious example of this effect is in this clip, in The Defector. It's really just a case of Trek fans trying to justify (warning: TVTropes) Hollywood Webcam. – lunchmeat317 Aug 14 '15 at 22:12

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