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"Trek" Blu - What 90's TV Could Look Like

By Garth Franklin Tuesday November 15th 2011 12:21PM

One big challenge facing studios has been the fact that much of the back catalogue of TV shows can't make the jump to high definition.

For much of the past decade American network shows have been shot on either 35mm or 16mm film and finished (ie. editing, post-production) digitally. Many in fact have now swapped over into being shot digitally as well. Thus high definition transfers are fairly easy.

In the 60's, 70's and early 80's shows were both shot and finished (ie. editing, post-production) on film and thus those original masters can also be remastered and transferred to HD without much issue.

Some shows from the 70's onward, especially certain sitcoms, were shot and edited on video and so simply won't look much better than their current DVD versions.

That leaves a fourth group, mostly consisting of shows from the late 80's and 90's. Though shot on film, many shows in that era like "The X-Files," "Buffy," "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Frasier" were finished on video.

The downside with that approach of course is that the final output was standard-definition (480i) so DVD quality is about the best we could ever expect. As a result a lot of people claimed shows from this era were essentially unsalvageable for high definition.

Yesterday came a new trailer for "Star Trek: The Next Generation" on Blu-ray which shows a minute of footage from several episodes on a sampler disc which hits in January (full season sets begin coming out from later next year).

This is important because unlike other shows transferred to Blu-ray, TNG suffered the 'shot on film, edited on video' dilemma. There was also the added issue of it being an FX-heavy series featuring a lot of optical and model effects which were added in post and which would've had to have been entirely redone.

Well the boffins at CBS Studios have begun doing it, going back to the original 25,000 reels of film footage shot, scanning them in and essentially doing the entire post-production process again on each episode. They even went the full measure of using scans of the original model effects footage shot by ILM so that we get the best of both worlds (no pun intended) - blending great models with the latest in digital computer trickery.

It's a costly and time-consuming effort but the results speak for themselves below. Screen captures comparing the original scenes (ripped directly from the DVD) and the remastered ones from the new trailer show that, even though said trailer is only 720p and has undergone Youtube compression, the difference in quality is like night and day.

Lighting, colour and contrast show dramatic differences, the detail level is significantly increased, and the effects are far superior while still retaining the look of the original shots. Even in its original broadcast, the show has simply never looked anywhere near this good. More screen cap comparisons

The experiment shows that if a studio has the will, the care and the money to do it, some great TV drama which looks decidedly aged these days, can be made to look incredible on Blu-ray - certainly far better than the upconverted and cropped SD transfers posing as HD broadcasts on various cable networks these days.

It's generally expected that Trek spin-offs "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager" will also get the high-def treatment in coming years, but excitement lies in the possibilities of what other shows stuck with the same problem could also make the jump should this experiment pay off.

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