/ Technology

Red Dwarf’s Blu-rays to be reissued

How good can a show shot on video tape really look on Blu-ray? As Red Dwarf fans are discovering, a transfer to an HD format isn’t without its complications.

Update 27/02/2019

Following the issues being highlighted by a vocal group of fans, I’m pleased to see that the BBC has now acknowledged the problem and will be replacing the faulty discs:

After a comprehensive review with all our suppliers involved in the manufacturing of this product we have now identified the source of the problem. De-interlacing did occur at tape to digital capture stage with one of the suppliers. This was not part of the Blu-ray authoring process as we originally had reason to believe.

The mastering of this release was a multistage process involving three separate suppliers. We hope you will understand that it would be inappropriate for us to say specifically where this fault occurred as we are remedying this with the company concerned.

We have started the process of recreating the masters and re-authoring these discs which will take approximately six weeks.

A positive outcome for everyone who bought the set and was left disappointed, and a great example of exercising your consumer rights when things go wrong! 

Original Convo 13/02/2019

When it was announced last year that one of my favourite shows was coming to Blu-ray, I was excited but sceptical.

Excited because science fiction can look magnificent in high definition, but sceptical because I knew that Red Dwarf was shot on old analogue video tape – a ‘true’ HD version just wouldn’t be possible.

Upscaling: so what is it?

What we would get then, as the official site makes clear, is an upscale of the original transmission master tapes; a process by which the pixel count is increased and extensive colour correction is added.

That’s why some serious expectation-management would be required – especially for the more casual viewer who may not be aware of the way shows were filmed.

It would be easy for some to expect the show to look as good as Star Trek the Next Generation’s Blu-ray release, which was shot on 35mm film (as good as three million years away from an old tape!)

I also felt that retailer claims, such as the below from Amazon pre-release, were not helpful:

I was pleased to see that this was later removed, with the Amazon page now only referencing the format, and dropping the ‘high-definition’ wording.

Framerate meltdown

So what did I think of the ‘new’ versions? Having spent £38 on the Blu-rays, and bearing in mind that I already own the DVDs, I have to say I was a little disappointed; I personally don’t feel that there’s enough of a difference to justify the move to Blu-ray.

But that’s the least of my worries now. Because when I, and many other fans, sat down to watch series three and five, a bigger issue came to light; nine episodes have been encoded in the wrong framerate.

What does this mean? Well, I had a chat with Ian from fan site Ganymede & Titan, who explains what’s gone wrong:

PAL Video consists of 25 frames per second, with each of those frames comprising two “fields”, splitting the picture information into odd and even lines that update alternately, which makes the motion smoother and the picture clearer. There are two ways of displaying video footage on modern TVs – interlaced, which keeps the fields as they are, and progressive, which omits half of the fields to give the picture a more filmic look, at the cost of reducing the smoothness of the motion. 

The affected episodes on this release have been rendered as progressive when they should be interlaced.

The faults on the Blu-ray are immediately apparent, and even more so when compared with the DVDs. It’s clear that at some stage in the process, an error has been made with the field settings. It’s baffling and frustrating that this wasn’t picked up prior to release.

Is the set faulty?

The issues were spotted by fans straight away, and so far efforts to draw the BBC’s attention to the problems have only received replies which state that the faults are present on the source material.

This can’t be the case, as the DVDs (and even the original VHS releases) are in the correct framerate.

Many fans have described the affected episodes as ‘unwatchable’. This might be a subjective term, but if the product isn’t as described/not of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose, you are entitled to a refund, repair or replacement under the Consumer Rights Act.

It’s my belief that the affected discs should be reissued to anyone who’s splashed out on the set. If not, then a refund isn’t out of the question.

Outside of the framerate problems this set is suffering from, do you think it’s worth bringing old shows, that weren’t shot on film, to the Blu-ray format? Would you pay for a Blu-ray box set of a show you already own on DVD?

Let me know your thoughts on the upscaling process, and whether or not you think these discs should be reissued.

Comments

I’ve done a lot of upscaling and re-framing, in particular when I once re-mastered all the ancient video I’d shot when the kids were little and moving them to a wide screen and HD format before presenting them with hours of childhood footage for a Christmas present.

There’s a limit – imposed by the original material – on just how good it can get. And I would say that it depends on which ‘original’ material was used for the Red Dwarf upscaling, since they can’t have used the true originals, as they would have been edited onto another ‘master’ tape, and there was always a loss of quality in that transfer.

Never understood the attraction of Red Dwarf myself, but then the BBC’s never been that good at ScFi.

But once digitised you can clean up a lot of the original artefacts that video tape delighted in producing. How good you can get it depends on how long you spend on the process, frankly. There’s only so much automated tools can do, and there’s a vast range of options available from sharpening, to colour fidelity, to frame rate syncing. A very time consuming process.

Now Ian, am I going to have to tell you off for being controversial? 😀

Funny you say that – I think half the charm of older TV shows is the now ‘vintage’ look of them with all their little flaws. Although don’t get me started on CGI.

I’m not really up with some of the technology. I thought that Blu-ray was something that lightsabers produce?

Lightsabers in the Star Wars canon are colour coded: blue/white for goodies and Red for baddies.

That made me literally laugh out loud. I got very odd looks from @patrick and @oscarwebb.

And purple for Mace Windu because what Samual L Jackson wants he gets!

Thanks Ian. I’ll go quietly and not take the Convo off-topic again. Well, probably not. May the farce be with you. I did go to see Star Wars.

This topic reminded me that I hadn’t transferred my Blu Ray copy of the greatest SciFi film ever made (2001) to our media server. It was originally shot on 70mm negative and the blu ray quality is simply stunning.

So last night I transferred it and watched the first hour this evening. Okay – there are a couple of teensy weensy flaws: the scene in which the Moon shuttle captain comes to natter to the solitary traveller in the micro G environment of the shuttle’s lounge he leans on the back of the chairs. That aside, given they had no CGI whatsoever and had to use models they certainly changed the SciFi movie game for ever.

DerekP says:
13 February 2019

In, general, I’m not a Blu-ray fan and prefer to buy DVD’s.

It also turns out that I’m not the world’s biggest Red Dwarf fan, but I can enjoy some of their episodes.

So what’s wrong with CGI, then, Abby?

At the risk of going way off topic…

I feel the CGI has gone too far to make things so hyper real it just all seems weirdly flat. Does that make sense? One day they will remake some of the 80’s kid classics but with CGI and that will be a sad day.

I’d agree that some of the less sophisticated CGI attempts aren’t that wonderful, but they’ve been getting hugely better for some time. They’ve now almost cracked water – the hardest thing to do in CGI along with people – but without really top quality CGI we’d be missing a lot of good Sci Fi.

The ‘hyper real’ observation is one that the best CGIers are aware of. It probably originally occurred because they used only technicians and not artists; artists know how something should appear, warts and all, and early CGI work often left out the warts.

But the latest CGI houses are producing stuff that’s well nigh impossible to distinguish from reality. They’ve learnt to include that which the subconscious absorbs but which the eyes don’t see, as it were. One example of this (and it’s germane to this topic) is movement.

Because of the way film cameras work (there’s only an image on the cinema screen for slightly less than half the length of the movie) each frame has a slight amount of blurring. CGI on computers doesn’t have this, and so packages were developed to apply blur to otherwise perfect images.

It’s a similar issue with frame rates. Film runs at 24fps (frames per second) but projectors used twin or three bladed shutters, to give 48fps or 72fps. It’s our brain that makes the image appear to be moving, because the frame rates are too fast to see each image. and so we run them together.

This works as long as you don’t have something in the film which rotates at a similar speed to the frame rate: in old cowboy films it was the wagon wheels, and they’d appear to be going backwards as the wagons changed speed.

As digital projectors replace film the industry has been moving towards making video truly life-like. But audiences are used to seeing things on a cinema screen as slightly different; if it’s too ‘real’, they don’t like it as much. A good example of this was Jackson’s Hobbit movie.

So, yes; early CGI wasn’t wonderful, but what’s appearing now is so good it’s indistinguishable from reality.

George Martin said: today 12:26

My main CGI issue is that it was better in the 90s. Would take the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park over any of their counterparts in Jurassic World, for example.

Yes; a lot depends on who has done the CGI. Lucasfilm, who virtually pioneered the technique, have four teams which they call their A, B, C and D teams. The A team produced JP. But there are examples of the other teams’ work and you can see the joins.

I have a Blu-ray set of the Star Wars films – except the last, recent, one. One lap top plays these after a struggle to get started and the main “posh” DVD player refuses altogether complaining that the discs are not readable. In the distant past, they were, and I haven’t damaged them. I have had them for some time so am not able to send them back. Like Ian, I never really took to Red Dwarf, feeling that Sci Fi and zany comedy didn’t really mix. However I do believe that the writing is clever and one person’s taste doesn’t represent another’s. How’s that for diplomacy, George?

Vynor: BluRay specs change a great deal, and the answer is to do what I do: copy them to a media server. That way they’re always playable and the originals are kept safe.

By the way, there are now 10 Star Wars films…

Ah! Yes, I have six plus three bonus discs so I have to do some catching up.

I’m impressed by that diplomacy!

Vully says:
16 February 2019

In DVD terms, I thought 1080P (all the frame shown at once ( not missing out every other line ) – equipment power/specification permitting ) was better quality than 1080i ( interlaced or interleave, with alternate parts of the frame being shown ).

Not yet played my BR Red Dwarf discs vs my DVD versions so wait to see.

For years Doug Naylor said we wouldn’t get a BR version of at least the first 6 seasons of Red Dwarf due to the initial footage quality.

1080p is the better format; you’re right.

Interlaced scanning was used in the vast majority of cathode ray tube TVs in order to reduce flickering. Progressive scan was a much more expensive option. With LCD and LCD TVs interlaced scanning is not needed. The ‘p’ in 1080p denotes progressive scan.