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.
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.
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.