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Only Fools & Horses on Blu-ray: how much will actually be HD?

Five episodes of one of the UK’s most cherished TV shows are heading to Blu-ray for the first time – but how much of it can actually be remastered in high-definition?

When an older TV show gets a Blu-ray release I expect the majority of people automatically think it’ll be a fully restored, glistening high-definition affair – where the picture sparkles with detail and depth on a modern TV – the content fully justifying spending a little extra to upgrade those dusty old DVDs and VHS tapes.

But to achieve that sort of quality it needs to have been shot on film in the first place, so I’m always a little sceptical when older British classics arrive on Blu-ray. Why? Because a lot of them were filmed in the studio straight on to video – meaning standard definition (SD) is as good as the picture is ever going to get.

Video Nasty

While that’s true for the majority of Only Fools & Horses, these five 1980s specials are different. I was pleased to see the new set carrying the following disclaimer:

“These episodes have been restored and remastered using the existing film where available, with any standard definition content upscaled during this process.”

John Sullivan’s south London sitcom remains one of the UK’s most loved and most popular TV shows of all time – more than 24 million people watched the 1996 special Time on Our Hands, which was expected to have been the finale at the time.

The Second Time Around

Given the show’s huge popularity it had always surprised me that the BBC hadn’t attempted a remaster of certain episodes. But now it has arrived, just how much of it will (or can) actually be in HD? And, as so many people will already own these episodes in one format or another, will it be worth spending another £34.99 on?

I asked BBC Studios what people could expect. A spokesperson told me:

“The Only Fools and Horses 80s specials included in the Blu-ray release were mostly shot on film and on location. In over six hours of material more than 50% is originated on 16mm film which has been carefully brought out of the archive, cleaned and rescanned to HD standards using the latest film scanning technology.

The studio filmed video elements have also been digitally reprocessed to create the best possible match for the restored film. This marks the first time fans will see Only Fools & Horses footage in such detail, with richness of resolution and colour providing the best possible viewing experience.”

With the set’s run time clocking in at 7 hours 31 minutes, that means people will still be looking at more than 3.5 hours of upscaled standard definition content – do you think that’s enough to make the upgrade worth it?

Little Problems

I’ve always felt strongly that when remasters of old films, TV shows and games are released as new products they need to have had the time, care and effort put into he restoration process that they deserve – especially as people are being asked to shell out more money for them.

I don’t think there’ll be any issues in this case as the original 16mm is being used, but I’ll always be inquisitive as to the source material after the Blu-ray release of Red Dwarf that we discussed in 2019.

And then there’s what went wrong with the HD transfer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while the video game series Grand Theft Auto has been in the news lately after remastering attempts of its early-2000s PlayStation 2 games appear to have been riddled with errors.

Homesick

In some of these cases, the original versions of the show or game can then actually be removed from streaming services and digital media libraries – meaning the ‘new’ versions effectively replace the originals.

So unless you own those old DVDs or original game discs, you won’t be able to see or play what was originally intended.

How do you feel about older versions being replaced online by modern makeovers? For me, it represents quite a big problem if the product has been substantially altered from the original experience – should they let Sleeping Dogs Lie? Or what’s stopping both versions being made available, giving the consumer the freedom to choose?

Happy Returns

But back to Fools & Horses – I’m glad this one’s happening. Even if just over half of the footage can actually be HD, I still think it’ll be brilliant to see it. As you can probably tell, I’m a pretty big fan having been brought up with the show. Restoring the film that’s available is something I’ve always wanted to see happen – it’ll be very interesting to see how it all gels together.

How do you feel about remastered releases of older shows? Do you think the remastered HD content will work well alongside the upscaled SD segments?

Let me know if this one will be on your Wanted list for Christmas or if, for you, it’s a case of Yesterday Never Comes.

Comments

I hadn’t given any thought to this. I enjoy watching many old sitcoms; they seem simpler and more straightforward than those of today, like Porridge, The Good Life, To the Manor Born and, particularly, Dad’s Army. It is probably a generational thing and what you are brought up with, nostalgia.

The picture quality of Dad’s Army, particularly the older episodes, is not that great but gets overlooked. It seems to be in keeping with the themes of the episodes. Would I buy a “remastered” version. No; I’m quite happy with the atmosphere of the original.

I admit to enjoying old films, whether fiction or documentary, for their portrayal of life gone by. Those in 4:3 format on a modern TV show slightly oval wheels and wider bodies on people. This can be corrected, sometimes automatically and otherwise manually but normally I cannot be bothered to do that. Mostly the distortion can be overlooked.

I’m also in two minds about colouring old b+w films. I always feel the outcome may not be true, although it certainly adds detail.

Cushty! [or, Lovely Jubbly!, according to taste].

If you’re going to buy it make sure you get it from a genu-wine markit trader and it’s not a hookie knock-off.

Nice picture above. In my wardrobe I still have a whistle like Del Boy’s and a smart Paisley-pattern peckham.

Marie McKenniff says:
25 November 2021

There are websites that review Bluray releases from a technical point of view and hence give you a good idea of the quality of the image and the sound of a particular film or program. All restoration use software which alters the original image. The restorer makes a judgement when applying the software as to how much the graininess of the original is preserved or softened. Giving the premium demanded by sellers of Bluray products its a good idea to read reviews before parting with your hard earned money.

I see this as nothing more than a marketing exercise. Popular programmes etc. are remembered because of their content and not their technical quality.

Dene K says:
30 November 2021

“The studio filmed video elements have also been digitally reprocessed to create the best possible match for the restored film.”
This sends a chill down my spine. If they have ‘filmised’ the studio videotape it will ruin the atmosphere of Only Fools.
Fantastic to see the filmed material re-scanned in HD, but the VT should be kept as is. It’s standard def and will always be standard def.

Dene K says:
1 December 2021

To Hull and Back is indeed all film so fingers crossed that one will look fantastic. A Royal Flush is mostly film–all but a couple of scenes in the flat.

BBC Studios brought out the 1981 serial “The Day of the Triffids” last year and whilst the film looks great, unfortunately it annoyed purists because they filmised the VT (around 40% was made in the studio).

See the reviews: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Triffids-Blu-ray/dp/B08FF9RQH4/ref=sr_1_2?crid=9RARNIILR5FH&keywords=day+of+the+triffids+blu+ray&qid=1638362204&qsid=261-6179614-2481059&sprefix=day+of+the+triffids%2Caps%2C201&sr=8-2&sres=B08FF9RQH4%2CB0030T0YD6%2CB00KATQF2S%2CB09DDMQ4H2%2CB0992TDR5H%2CB07SRF34B2%2CB07WFJB11B%2CB0722KJM5M%2CB000G6BMLY%2CB09892L37V%2CB00NHVC0YS%2CB00I7T0038%2CB00ZJYJCPQ%2CB01M1GJQWF%2CB07FH8BT16%2CB00IYJFB2G

There is a fear that they’ve done the same with Only Fools. I hope not. 625 line colour VT still looks really good. There’s no need to touch it.

Dene K says:
1 December 2021

Thanks George.

Thanks for the article and for talking to BBC Studios, that was really useful info.

Yeah–I agree, “To Hull and Back” is the one I really wanted on Blu-ray so at least we’re getting that with no issues over the film/VT divide.

The later 3 specials are, at a guess, 50/50 film and studio so it will be interesting to see what film they located.

Not long now to find out!