The second season of the expensive and exhaustively painstaking remaster of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" hits Blu-ray in a few hours following on from the highly successful launch of the first season back in July.
Aside from an audio glitch in early discs, which was quickly remedied with a replacement program, the remastering job performed on the first season was met with universal acclaim by reviewers and Trek fans alike.
Post-production house CBS Digital was widely, and deservedly, lauded for their work which is amongst the best restorative work ever done on a Blu-ray title in the history of the format. Same goes for Robert Meyer Burnett and his team who have been assembling some truly incredible extras for these sets.
As a result of the quality of all this hard work, many were keenly awaiting this second season set which contains some of the best early episodes of the season. As review copies began to arrive and screen captures began to be released however, the tone of the conversation began to change on various discussion boards on both Trek and Blu-ray fan sites from Trek Core and TrekBBS to AVS Forum and Blu-ray.com.
It goes back to the compressed release schedule which CBS is sticking with in order to get the entire series out on Blu-ray by the end of 2014. Its in-house effects company CBS Digital simply can't do all the remastering in the allotted time.
As a result, they are only taking on the duties for the odd-numbered seasons of the show (1, 3, 5, 7). The even-numbered ones however are being outsourced to other post-production houses to do the recompositing and visual effects. This second season went to a company called HTV Illuminate where Dan Curry, one of the two VFX supervisors on TNG, now works.
The company is famous for grain reduction on films (DNR), too much at times it would seem as their work on the early Blu-ray for "Patton" is infamous for being one of the worst reviewed HD transfers ever done. They have also worked on some quite well-regarded titles in their time.
Now, their work on the second season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is already drawing many complaints for the visible drop in quality when compared to the work on the first season.
While most of the live-action footage still gets top marks, it's the shots that require any kind of visual effect that have come under considerable scrutiny.
For starters several of the key space shots feature low-resolution starfields and planets of such poor quality they could've come out of a 1990's video game (see example). Various shots of the ship floating in space lack any of the dynamic lighting and contrast of both the original DVD release and the remastered first season, while effects shots within live-action environments (eg. transporter effects) show overuse of DNR (see example)
In fact, some effects shots have shown elements to be completely out of alignment. This has resulted in the infamous screen cap below showcasing the kind of problems that have cropped up.
Various Blu-ray reviews have called the VFX shots for this season a mixed bag. Some, such as a digital matte of a Borg cube interior (viewable here), are well-regarded.
Others however, including establishing shots of the Enterprise in orbit such as this one from the episode "Pen Pals", are coming under heavy criticism for the low quality of their digital elements.
Part of the reason for the vitriol is because CBS Digital's job on the first season was so good, especially the planet creation and shot polishing work of Max Gabl and Eric Bruno respectively, that the effects truly were blockbuster feature quality.
HTV's work on the other hand looks to be more a case of doing only the bare minimum required, which has results in effects that sometimes are more befitting a cheap cable show than a high-profile Blu-ray release.
Case in point, the same shot of the Enterprise in orbit of a green planet. In Season One it looked like this, while in Season Two it looks like this. A blow-up of the Enterprise itself from both those shots showcases the difference in quality:
The trailer included on the second season set for the third season release (with CBS Digital's effects) is said to pointedly showcase how much the quality dropped on certain shots in the second season when the effects were farmed out. The effects in the trailer for the S3 set are said to be top notch and up to the first season's standards.
Overall reviews still call the set a worthy buy, just prepared to not be as blown away as with the first season. For whatever reason, be it the outcry or something more internal, TrekCore reports HTV will NOT be involved in the remastering of the fourth season. However, the effects on the fourth season are still being farmed out to another post-production house rather than staying within CBS Digital where, given more time, we know they could do it right. Whomever has scored the gig, know that fans are watching very closely.
For people who can't get enough of visual effects and their creation, check out this FXGuide TV special interview with CBS Digital showcasing how they did the visual effects for the first and third season remasters, along with all the different software employed.