/ 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?


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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.

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I agree with Alfa and have neutralised the scoring.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. !!

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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.

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.

I bought the TNG Blu-rays and loved that the picture was true to the original; a worthy investment.
However I’ve seen a few of the Buffy ‘HD’ episodes and colour me distinctly not impressed. I’d be more than willing to fork out a couple of hundred (£’s) for a similar quality BtVS (way bigger fan of Buffy than trek) but the Fox version is absolutely awful. I’ll stick to the DVD’s until someone treats Buffy with respect.

Recropping Buffy is similar to what they sometimes do to grand masters’ painting so that they can fit them into standard poster size, or releasing the early Beatles in stereo, or tampering with the original Star Wars by adding special effects where there were none: horrible, commercial nonsense, the opposite of artistic endeavour.

A better definition version of Voyager, what a dream that would be.

I agree with you Sophie. Just because the technology enables something to be done it doesn’t mean it has to be, especially where it is not an improvement.

You are not “a HD snob”, though you may well be “an HD snob”.

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But many of the junior members of our population pronounce the letter ‘h’ as ‘haitch’ instead of ‘aitch’, so what the ‘eck!

We use “a” before a consonant and “an” before a vowel, and before words beginning with “h” when it is not pronounced. So technically I suppose we say a high definition tv, or an HD tv. Aitch is the noun for the letter H.

I ope that’s clear to hall.

Crystal! . . . Except for those who have a ‘haitch dee’ TV.

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I would refer you to my last comment before the one above, Duncan. I don’t think it’s the upper classes who pronounce ‘h’ as ‘haitch’, nor do they drop their ‘aitches’. They are more likely to drop their ‘gees’ as in “huntin’, shootin’, ‘n’ fishin’ “, but I pay little attention to how other people speak or write so long as they make sense.

and they live in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire. I dislike “could of” and “nucular” – the latter particularly from people in the States whose finger might be on the button.

I’d prefer to see decent TV programmes in any definition before I worried too much about 4K. Whilst I don’t want us to go back to just 3 channels, we have far too many at the moment that would still be rubbish even in 4k.

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Perhaps if the button was marked “nuclear” in high definition we’d all be a bit safer? (on the basis they/he/she would not know it was the one to press)

Oh – they can spell it. They just can’t pronounce it. Bit like Bicester, I suppose.

Or laboratory – they can spell that too but say labratory…

Yes, that’s the American pronunciation, more like ‘lab’ra-tory’. The English usually pronounce it ‘luh-bOra-try’.

Duncan – I think the President of America and our PM have to have both a “nucular” finger and a “nucular” thumb on both hands as there are two keys to turn in order to send the command that activates the delivery process [unless they have already turned on one-click ordering, of course].


And let’s not forget Aluminum… They even changed the spelling 🙂

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Yes, Duncan – that’s a good safety procedure. So long as we don’t just launch a Trident on receipt of an instruction from the Pentagon, though, without checking first with No. 10.

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A couple of posters have mentioned they can’t see a difference between SD and HD.

When we got our 42″ HD ready TV, and switched to Sky HD, the picture was nothing like we had seen in the showroom. We got Sky out to check it and they said there was nothing they could do and we had the best picture we were going to get. They refused to change the old analogue cable as they said it would make no difference. We bought new rather expensive cable and laid it out so all Sky had to do was connect it. Then we had an excellent HD picture.

We also have a booster in the loft that gives us an excellent HD picture through the aerial.

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WX100 is the bare minimum for Sat cable feeds. Makes a serious difference to picture quality.

Even ten metres of the best cable will not be the most significant item on the installer’s bill by a long way!

🙂 True…

As we were paying for HD and not getting HD, Sky didn’t charge us for the visits. When the last engineers came, they didn’t believe the cable would make any difference, but they were amazed at the before and after pictures.

It is easy enough to do yourself if you don’t have heights to contend with and you can reposition your satellite dish which is why we got Sky to do it as they have the equipment. When the dish had to be removed for work on the roof, I used mirrors to reflect the tv so I could reposition the dish. It took a while as you have to wait in between adjustments, but it is possible with patience and without specialised equipment.

But I do agree call-outs are not cheap these days.

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That was my point, Duncan – make sure the best cable is used: the price difference will be insignificant on the aerial installer’s bill. Good firms will use the most suitable cable – it might be for an aerial not a dish. If the customer isn’t happy with the picture they should not pay. The length of cable required will obviously affect the cost as well as the time to do the job. I doubt if many people have the impressive set-up that Duncan has at his international monitoring station. He truly is the spider in the world wide web. 🙂

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The leaves are now beginning to fall from the protected tree in my neighbours garden which has blocked the signal reaching my satellite dish since April and I am looking forward to the return of all of the HD channels on my TV set After 5 months of watching in DVB, HD is truly amazing 🙂

Lots of off-topic chat in this conversation.

IMHO a film/tv programme should NEVER be reformatted into a different ratio and I will not watch anything so ruined, even historical doc footage on TV. Look at the mess they made with the DVDs of Kung Fu, 4:3 to 16:9, alright if you want heads and feet missing. The original Star Trek series was reformatted into 16:9, similarly atrocious. In the days of 4:3 TVs, the notorious pan-and-scan meant that only cinema-goers actually saw a film they way it was made. I remember watching How the West was Won on TV and wondering what was going on – the dvd/bd discs are actually wider than intended, 2.89:1 rather than 2.59:1. Still, better than it was.

Many would also argue that soundtrack conversion to surround is as bad as colourisation. Personally, the latter is OK when restoring original elements such as silent film tinting, otherwise unacceptable, although there is a very nice one of a Fireball XL5 episode. Don’t get me started on re-dubbing.

The issue of original ratios is interesting, just look at the complicated history of the original Jungle Book. Dr Strangelove is worth checking out for a multi-ratio film.

Yes Shugg – I share your thoughts. Thank goodness for off-topic chat at times.