/ Technology

Everything looks better in HD… right?

Buffy in HD

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.

Buffy

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:

Buffy editing

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?

Comments
Guest
Will Bueche says:
24 September 2016

I’d love Buffy in HD and even in widescreen, but only if redone by a professional remastering team. It is evident that the no-name low-bidder who botched the Buffy remaster had set their recomposition software preferences incorrectly. Fox needs to sue them to recoup expenses and hire Illuminate Hollywood as they should have done in the first place.

Guest
Bishbut says:
25 September 2016

Perfection in many things along with speed has become an obsession with many people !! Perfect sound , pictures everything has to be perfect. !! Some can’t even accept the very good !!It has to be perfect in every way. !!

Guest

Very philosophical Bishbut and I cant argue with your logic . My problem is I was born with an engineering type critical brain that easily spots small flaws in man made equipment and cant help being irritated by it and wondering how to overcome it. I would love to be born accepting things as they are but not in this incarnation . Without a critical sense we would not get very far in human evolution , tools would not be envisaged , inventions would not be made , we would be lucky to get farther than the wheel. Actually I have small demands on humanity – a small cottage in a country setting with a garden and a small stream nearby, the birds singing in the trees , wildlife all around , a few white clouds in the blue sky , a gentle breeze, vegetables growing nearby . Then I woke up to reality but one of our ex posters has said he is living my dream and -yes – I am actually jealous .

Guest

When our CRT TV finally gave up in 2005 we bought a 42″ Pioneer Plasma TV – quite a shock to adjust to such a change! Terrific picture but we to received no HD channels. Then we installed Freesat and compared HD and ordinary. Frankly, the difference was not significant so we never go out of our way to watch HD. Whatever, the picture we get is perfectly satisfactory.

The trouble is, the standards we used to be satisfied with – take cars for example – become eclipsed by higher standards that we now cannot possibly do without. Annual mobile phone change for example. Personally I’m too mean to do things like that; my 10 year old Nokia does what I need and I don’t want to find out I need more. What you’ve never had you’ve never missed? But my new car has head up display, speed limiter, auto hold and parking sensors and I now want those!

Guest

I think TV is slightly different. Wide screen was the most important change, because it more closely mirrors how we see the world. But TVs are very different in the way they process the image information and what looks stunning on one TV can appear lacklustre on another.

Last year we bought a 55″ Samsung that was a top of the range model and a W? best buy. The difference between SD and HD on that set is frankly astonishing, but the set’s electronics upscale existing image feeds to close to 4K – its native resolution – so just about everything looks better. In the dining room our Bravia 46″ looks feeble by comparison, and it’s also worth remembering that images shot especially with the 4K market in mind are likely to appear stunningly effective.

The best test is Last Night of the Proms. That exposes differences in processing capabilities and sound output. We use an optical feed into our 9 Channel surround system, and that really does make a massive difference.

Guest

I’ve been thinking about the Buffy problem (revealing the crew at the sides of the frame) and I’m a little puzzled. Merely panning and scanning, however ineptly, won’t reveal images not in the original frame. So I doubt that was a result of poor Pan and Scan. That raises the next question: was the original shot in one of the WS formats and, if so, which one and why?

After a lot of digging it appears that seasons 2 onwards were shot in 16:9, but both Seasons 1 and 2 were shot on 16mm film, the remainder being on 35mm stock. So it appears Fox wasn’t entirely the villain, other than in Season 1. More worryingly, however, Fox did alter the lighting for the ‘dark’ scenes. In order to preserve detail dark scenes are normally shot in normal light and then filtered to appear dark. Somewhere along the line Fox made the decision that they were too dark. The creator, Joss Whedon, wasn’t consulted by Fox, and has expressed his lack of enthusiasm for the re-mastering.

Guest

Ian, have a watch of this if you haven’t already, it should explain everything that’s wrong with this version of Buffy specifically: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F28XcxHxH6k

The issues with it are all the more bizarre as many of them seem to be deliberate. As you point out, later seasons were shot in 16:9 (the region 2 DVDs even present this version), yet, in this HD remaster they’re actively choosing to crop even the 16:9 footage, seemingly at random. Great example here:

Guest

Yes – it’s almost a sort of artistic sabotage. I suspect we’re dealing with simple incompetence, though. Very reminiscent of what happened in the early days of shooting ST-TOS when the processing labs kept returning the negatives ‘corrected’ to what the processing team deemed accurate colour rendition. Roddenberry was shooing an Orion girl (green skin) and kept getting a normal pink human returned. But cropping of the 16:9 scenes was simply inept.