/ 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.


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?


As an critical audio enthusiast I understand perfectly where you are coming from in relation to viewing George but ,if I am perfectly honest I would rather view full screen . I was one of the early buyers of full HD flatscreen viewing as ,because of the screen size ( 42 inch ) the definition wasnt too good but I am quite happy with that and,at present wont be buying a 4K screen. My “beef ” is with the abject rubbish audio of many flatscreen systems , sqeeky , extremely limited frequency response , especially in the low frequency end as ,try as they may they have never completely overcome physics by producing a flat 20 Hz to 20KHz frequency response in a minute sized loudspeaker . Add to that the lack of spatial response , cramped limited 2D signal produced . What a world of a difference when the original high quality wav signal is directed through a high quality amplifier and high quality loudspeakers , certainly not cheap but a DVD takes on an new life . All of a sudden you are swept away by the rumbling wheels of a wagon , the gurgling of a stream, the crack of thunder in the sky , the sound of nature in an outdoor movie . No wonder many SF movies fall flat on their face when transferred to a small screen , I get the full atmosphere of the cinema , the roar of rockets , the heavy wide sound background giving an overall intense rumbling atmosphere to the movie ,every small sound is reproduced you actually feel –you –are taking part in the film , truly awesome !


I’ll admit that I do enjoy the full screen experience – it can be a joy to behold, but if it means losing out on information that was originally intended and seeing crew members in the shots then I have no problem living without it!

At least this only really applies to older TV shows – it’s just unfortunate for me that my taste in TV is somewhat before its time!


Not sure why your post merits a thumbs down.

I completely agree with you on sound. We have an early 42″ plasma that actually has reasonable sound quality, but feeding Dolby Digital through a receiver and getting the surround sound effects is another world of sound, a door banging behind you, a helicopter flying across the room, being in the midst of the action.


Thank Alfa some think I should have restricted myself to commenting on the actual video formats but the convo is also about your enjoyment of what you watch , that needs sound unless it is a pre- 30,s movie you lose out big time on the actual enjoyment of the film/DVD . I will give you a “thumbs up ” to see how people react.


I agree with Alfa and have neutralised the scoring.

Alex Atkin says:
24 September 2016

TV sound has gotten poorer because people wanted them thinner and thinner plus any audio enthusiast is expected to be using a surround receiver anyway.


The debate about To crop or Not to crop has been taking place for as long as there’s been cinematic transfers. But if I can start by correcting some of George’s assumptions, when he says “The latest releases are being filmed and edited with HD (and now 4K)” that’s not quite accurate and certainly not specific. Films, for example, have always been in the equivalent of 8K at least (they use 35mm or more commonly 70mm film which has incredibly high resolution and they use anamorphic lenses to change the format of the print to one of the several types of wide screen that exist (there are at least 4).

That said I’ve recently completed a stint of reformatting several hours of 4:3 video into 16:9 upgrading it to HD on the way. It took me several months to do it because, as you might imagine, it’s a very time consuming business. It cannot be automated, which is what I suspect Fox and Cop have done with Buffy. ‘Pan and Scan’, as the process of re-formatting is called, requires the editor to watch every frame, and as there are between 24 and 29 of these in each second of film, that’s a lot of careful watching :-).

4K is outstanding in its own right, but a huge amount depends on the quality of the original media and the director of photography (DP). Good DPs know that much more light is needed for 4K video and even more for film, but the growth in 4 and 8K media has largely come about because of the vast improvements in digital processing. But returning to the Pan and Scan debate, there’s a lack of willingness on the part of Studios to invest in carefully supervised re-formats because of the cost involved in doing it properly. Shows such as Stargate filmed all the episodes in WS, but maintained the action in the 4:3 format area, so they’ve released box sets that simply use the original format. But if the job is going to be done, and I’m unsure it should be for some films, then it has to be done properly.

Interestingly, the colourisation process used on classics such as ‘It’s a wonderful Life’ was the source of much controversy when it first became available. Now it seems, few notice it and – again – done well it can look good. The secret is taking time and spending money.


What I meant by that was more specifically on home releases for TV shows, compared with how they were being shot/edited up until the late 90s. For example, we’ll never see the likes of Only Fools & Horses, Blackadder, Red Dwarf etc given an HD Blu-ray remaster because the footage doesn’t exist – they were all shot (and subsequently edited) on video.

Hope that helps clarify!


It does indeed, but you might be surprised to see just how cunning some of the algorithms in video editing are becoming. I suspect it won’t be long before we see old, video-sourced material being refreshed at much higher definition. To a limited extent that’s already possible but video editing continues to move in bounds.


I’d be very interested to see just how much could be done on some of the old BBC shows I mentioned above. I’m sure there’s a bit more potential in the original footage they have lying around than what we’ve seen in DVD releases so far.


Adding to Duncan’s comments on sound quality we have 9 channel Dolby surround for our main TV (55″ Samsung 4K) and a smaller surround system on our Bravia – a mere 46″ HD. Those set ups bring their own issues, however, as sound design – a fairly new field in films – exploits a lot of subtleties of a 9 channel system, but the TV sound quality often lags behind, causing the sound quality to differ significantly between programmes. As domestic systems have become more sophisticated TV sound engineers have striven to keep pace and edit their productions in studios equipped to mirror ideal domestic systems. What that has done, however, is lead to a series of shows in which dialogue has become nearly inaudible.

We’ve come a long way since the crystal radio but the choices that now abound can, if not edited, delivered and reproduced well, leave a distinctly sour taste in the ears 🙂


A lot of older TV shows and films will show their age no matter how you present them.

Since a lot of this art (and other lesser material) will reflect the time when it was made, I don’t think there is much wrong with watching this sort of stuff in its original format.

At least for me, good old B&W films, e.g. Casablanca and Fort Apache (to name but two) are compelling entertainment none the less.

Lower quality material, like TV shows, tends to show greater potential for ageing. Old scifi shows like Doctor Who, Start Trek TOS (etc.) really suffer here but excellent comedy – e.g. Dad’s Army or Fawlty Towers can be timeless.


Have you seen the Star Trek original series Blu-ray remaster? It’s absolutely stunning. Some of the shots are upscaled, but the majority looks like it was filmed yesterday. That was another one they put the effort in to re-doing all the effects – there are two versions on the Blu-ray – episodes with the new CGI, and episodes with the old model shots.


It’s very good, and the US shows are normally archived in their original 35mm prints. But there’s still a big market for Star Trek.


Agreed. I was always actually a big Voyager fan. I read a while back that while it was all shot on 35mm in the same way as The Next Generation, an HD remaster is extremely unlikely due to how much of the special effects were done with early CGI tech – most of that CGI is even thought to be lost.

That and I hear sales of the TNG Blu-ray were actually quite disappointing. Given that it was infinitely more popular than Voyager and DS9 it’s very unlikely they’ll think it worth the effort and expense any time soon.


We are big fans of Star Trek and have re-watched nearly all the series and films over the last few years. Next Generation is our favourite, but Voyager, DS9 and Enterprise were even better second time around.

We have Star Trek the original series recording at the moment but not on an HD channel. Although the recordings are quite good, I think they would be even better on an HD channel. So we are hoping one of the other channels will show it soon.


I’ve been watching ST Voyager recently on Netflix. I was reminded about why I didn’t really put in in my ‘really want to see again’ category. All series take a while to hit their stride and ST Voyager was no exception. But despite doing what ST has always done well (present current moral issues in a hypothetical future setting) the background knowledge that Kate Mulgrew, portraying the apparently Bipolar Janeway, made life extremely difficult for Jeri Ryan on set because she resented a good looking (some say stunning) woman being brought in ‘to boost ratings’ changes the way I perceive the scenes which involve them both, sadly.

As an aside, ST Voyager used models and not CGI until season 3, when it moved over the CGI. In terms of overall quality I’d place ST-TNG first, ST-DS9 second, ST-TOS third and Voyager last. TOS lost both money and its way in season 3, and the egregious Shatner (unpleasant individual in real life) always seeking the limelight did the franchise no favours.


No, ST:V was the first Trek to use only CGI and no models.

And I agree Kate Mulgrew should not have treated Jeri the way she did. She was particularly upset over Jennifer Lien being fired to make room for a model to bring in sex appeal. For a show that was supposed to be progressive with regards to women, I can understand why KM was so angry, though I can’t understand why she blamed Jeri for it. Fortunately for Voyager fans, Jeri’s performance was absolutely fantastic and the character was written beautifully. They should have fired Garrett Wang instead of Kes. Kes was just coming into her own, and Harry Kim never did anything for the show except detract from it. In fact, if he had been killed off, it would have been the character’s one and only dramatic contribution to the show. But alas.

(No offense to GW, but the character was just a bunch of blah taking up space.)

Star Trek has a history of treating its female actors poorly (Grace Lee Whitney, Gates McFadden, Terry Ferrell, Jennifer Lien) It’s too bad KM chose to make Jeri’s experience on the show miserable in response to their mistreatment of both female actors and characters.


Thanks, George, for reminding me of the Flatter Squarer Tube in our former TV sets. We all ‘upgraded’ to that and then suddenly it was yesterday’s novelty; following on, the enormously bulky wide-screen sets became popular even though every circular shape became an oval and the newscaster’s shoulders reached the sides of the screen. Now we have the flat-screen wide-format TV’s that seem to give a very good and well-proportioned picture – I sometimes switch between SD and HD and can perceive no difference in picture quality. As Duncan says, audio quality remains the Achiles heel of televisions because they are using just two speakers each the size of an egg cup.

I don’t mind black side-bars for watching different format programmes but I don’t like the letter-box format where there are upper and lower cut-offs; it is not comfortable for the eyes.

I agree with Derek P about watching timeless classic comedy – show it as it was made. Except I wouldn’t watch Dad’s Army again in any format as, unlike Farty Towels it was far too predictable. However, perhaps I am biased against Dad’s Army – we live near a town where some of the scenes were shot [now a tourist trail] and there is a bronze statue of Capt Mainwaring in the town centre, a Dad’s Army museum, a J. Jones butchers shop, a Walmington Court old people’s home, Pte Pike’s scarf on sale in a charity shop, and even Cpl Jones’s original van rolled out every weekend. So we get a bit tired of it.


I also think some directors, such as Hitchcock, used 4:3 very carefully, and panning and scanning his footage would be little short of a crime.


All movies and TV shows should always be presented in their original aspect ratio. Cropping Buffy to make it ‘fill the screen’ is extremely idiotic and it gives you less of the show than you had before, which is not an improvement. Having the tops and bottoms of the characters chopped off so they can zoom in and fill a 16:9 screen makes it look like the show was filmed by amateurs and it destroys the work of the people who originally created the show. Opening up to 16:9 is also ineffective because it will reveal unwanted crew members and equipment in the shot for shows that were not protected for widescreen. Both of those problems for Buffy could have been solved by not creating them in the first place, by leaving it in the original 4:3 aspect ratio as it was intended to be seen none of the framing issues would exist. Aside from that it just needs to be color corrected properly, the DNR needs to be fixed and all scenes need to have the proper filters restored that were originally used so they retain their correct look. If Fox cared about it’s content Buffy and The Simpsons would have gotten the proper HD treatment, but it appears Fox cares little about the final presentation and more about making money off of their content as cheaply as possible, rather than taking pride in their shows by doing a correct remaster. It’s a shame Buffy and its fans have been treated so disrespectfully in this regard and as far as I’m personally concerned I will never purchase Buffy on blu ray in this condition if Fox releases the current copy on that medium, it’s not worth my money unless the entire process is done over the right way with the right people involved in the process who know how to actually remaster a show.

Shinkansen says:
24 September 2016

I would like to add a classic film which has been remastered for Blu-Ray and is absolutely stunning. It is Laurence Olivier’s 1944 masterpiece – Henry V.

The remastering was done by ITV/Granada and is exemplary. The colour is brilliant (well, very Technicolor) and the images are sharp and detailed. It is presented in its original 4:3 format with black side bars.

The soundtrack has been left untouched and does sound dated, but we can still hear the dialogue clearly as well as the wonderful music by William Walton performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

This film allows us to see some of the fine actors of the past – including a young John Laurie (Private Fraser in Dad’s Army) and a very young George Cole.


If they’re not going to give it a proper remaster they should have just left it alone. I watched the SD version of Buffy when it was on Netflix a few years ago, and I think it still holds up well today. A good HD remaster would have been even better. But not one that makes things worse than they were in the original.


It’s just a pity that there are so many shades of Blu-ray around these days. When I first got a TV and player, the first couple of discs I got were for recent releases. The quality was excellent, so I thought oh look they’ve re-released xyz , bet that’s wonderful now, and you can imagine how disappointed I was when all it was was an original DVD printed on a blu-ray disc, Now I careful read the comments, before I buy. I refuse to help fund the project to properly re-master something, especially when they’ve made their money back several times over. It’s not my fault these companies see every step as a separate entity that needs to stand on its own 2 feet. Maybe they should offer discounts for people who already have one iteration of a programme.

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.

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. !!


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 .


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!


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.


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.


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: