Why Trek’s DS9 & Voyager Will Never Be HD

When it comes to restorations of film and TV, there are gold standards – and then there’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. The most popular of the “Star Trek” spin-offs, TNG underwent a $12 million multi-year restoration that saw every episode of the entire series effectively undergo post-production again.

Most shows pre the mid-1980s were shot, edited and finished on film and thus restoring them is a fairly standard process of taking the prints, scanning them, cleaning them up and you’re done. Everything after the mid-2000s has pretty much been filmed digitally or on film with HD in mind so doesn’t need restoration work – which is why “Star Trek: Enterprise” is on Blu-ray.

All TV in between though is a much trickier prospect. For those shot on video, there is no way to improve them and so SD is the best you’ll get. Many shows though, like TNG or “The X-Files,” were shot on film but then edited and had post-production done in standard definition on video.

With those shows the only way to do it is to essentially scan in the negatives of the original dailies and effectively reassemble the shots from a list. It’s time consuming, tricky and expensive but doable for shows without any visual effects elements – the results can be seen with the remastered likes of “The Wire,” “Friends” and “Freaks and Geeks”.

When VFX shots come into play though, it becomes a whole lot trickier and most costly – especially if there’s CG involved as that has to be rebuilt from scratch. Some, such as “Farscape” and “The X-Files,” simply up-rez the standard definition versions for those shots. It’s a rough compromise, those shots being noticeably blurrier and less defined than the live-action material.

TNG didn’t compromise – those involved went through the longest and hardest process, but the result is a wonder and makes the series feel like an entirely new show. Understandably fans have wanted the same treatment given to the two last “Star Trek” spin-offs not available in HD – “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager”.

DS9 in particular is now seen by many fans as the jewel of the “Star Trek” crown – easily the darkest, most heavily serialised and adult of the ‘Trek’ shows – it seems the kind of series ripe for restoration.

Robert Meyer Burnett was the key man behind the special features on the TNG restoration Blu-ray sets and this week has given an incredibly lengthy interview with Trek News in which he explains why, sadly, we’ll never see it.

He says the only way to do both shows would be to effectively undergo the same process as TNG did and it would “require at least the same amount of time, manpower and money”. In fact as both shows made extensive use of CGI for their visual effects, especially in the later seasons, all of those would have to be recreated which again would shoot up the costs.

That would bring the price tag to around $20 million dollars per series to remaster them along with up to four years of work on each. Unfortunately the TNG restoration hit Blu-ray right as streaming was taking off leading to disappointing Blu-ray sales for the series. As TNG was always considerably more popular than DS9 or Voyager, spending more on shows that would sell less makes little sense.

Burnett adds that CBS All Access streaming service probably won’t be the impetus for CBS to remaster those shows either as the success of those services depends upon enough exclusive content to convince viewers to sign up. For the full and fascinating interview, click here.

Fans of the franchise, including some VFX artists who previously worked on the shows, have done some CG test shots in recent times showcasing what some of DS9’s famed starship battles could look like were they recreated using current CG. Check those out below.

Both DS9 & Voyager are getting new DVD releases shortly, while the TNG remasters remain on sale on Amazon and on some streaming services such as Netflix.