I’m a big fan of high definition. It transforms the viewing experience, making TV and film glisten with vibrancy and depth. In fact, I struggle to watch standard definition these days (unless I have no choice!). Perhaps I’m a bit of a HD snob…
The latest releases are being filmed and edited with HD (and now 4K), but still one of the best things about the Blu-ray format is reliving your old favourites – it can be like watching them for the very first time.
A good example of this are the HD remasters of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The studio could’ve simply upscaled the show to HD; instead they gave it the love and attention a HD remaster of a classic show deserves. Using the original 35mm negative film stock, they digitally recreated the show’s special effects so they would stand up in HD.
Crucially, they also opted to maintain the original 4:3 aspect ratio (those black bars at the side) – TV shows of the era were framed to fit the square size of TVs at the time. A heroic effort and the results are outstanding – the show had been restored and preserved for future generations.
It’s great to see studios investing in HD remasters, bringing these classics back to life for a new audience, but as you’ve probably guessed, it doesn’t always go to plan. There’s investment, love, and attention to detail… and then there’s what Fox is doing.
Fox’s HD remasters fail
An HD ‘remaster’ of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been released to Netflix internationally after airing on the US TV channel Pivot and, later on, French channel ‘6ter’. To say that there are issues would be an understatement, and some fans of the show are rightly outraged.
In fact, a social media campaign is trying to force the studio to rip it up and start again. The campaigner, Kévin, kindly shared the images, which include cropping decisions, colour changes, and the bizarre choice to convert the series to 16:9 widescreen format, despite the show not being protected for it.
In this example, the green area shows parts of the picture completely lost to cropping/zooming in the HD version, compared with the region 2 DVD release. The red indicates picture gained by the new frame.
Most of the cropping will be because of the 16:9 switch I mentioned earlier – studios seem to think people want their TV screens completely filled, rather than having those black bars either side of the screen.
This means either cropping significant amounts of information from the original shot, or using the original 16:9 footage (rather than the 4:3 frames) instead. What’s wrong with that? I hear you ask. Well, with older shows like Buffy, it means things like this happen:
Is it just me, or does having the production team standing at the side of the show completely ruin the viewing experience? And that brings us back to investment – unless you’re going to digitally remove these 16:9 errors, leave the show in the format it was intended for.
These are just three cropping examples of the many issues that Kévin shared. Others include brightness/colour choices (some night-time scenes now look as if they were shot during the day!). All the issues can be found on the Facebook campaign page.
It seems that Fox, which has declined to comment, has a bit of history here, also choosing to crop old episodes of The Simpsons in order to deliver a 16:9 HD format. I’ve spotted a few of these airing on Sky One, and it’s a real shame to see these old shows treated in this way.
Blu-rays can be expensive – HD remasters should be a definitive version that’s worth paying the extra money for. If studios are opting to do it on the cheap and butcher the art of these much-loved classics, that, for me, is a big problem.
Do you think, like me, HD remasters should be done properly, or not at all? Or do you prefer viewing without the black bars framing your picture, regardless of the original content?