on 31 January 2012
This is in reply to all the "It's not fair, it doesn't fill my TV... why do I have these black borders at the sides?" people:
The ratio on the Blu-ray discs is the same as it ever was for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Same as it was shot in, same as it was broadcast in, same as it was presented on VHS and the same as it was presented on DVD. Why on earth some people expect Blu-ray to magically alter this situation is beyond me, but you only have to note the two and one star reviews to see they are. The series was filmed in 4:3, a quarter of a century ago, long before anyone envisaged that we'd all have 16:9 widescreen TV's in our homes in the future. "But I could make my Star Trek TNG DVD's play in widescreen", I hear you cry. No, actually you couldn't. What you were doing was stretching or zooming the image to fill your widescreen TV. This is fake widescreen, and something purists never do, but was quite easy to achieve with a standard definition DVD, on a standard definition DVD player, over a standard definition connection. This is HD though, and stretching or faking widescreen is not really an option. "Why?", I hear you cry. Well, HDTV resolutions are either 720p or 1080i/p... 1280x720 or 1920x1080. These are 16:9 'widescreen' resolutions by default. This means that your Blu-ray player HAS to display everything as a 16:9 image. In the case of films and TV shows shot and framed for cinema or 16:9 broadcast, it will fill your widescreen TV. Sometimes with small black borders at the top and bottom if they have chosen to present the original cinematic ratio. Now, when they are presenting a 4:3 image on HD Blu-ray... this same rule applies. It HAS to be displayed as part of a 16:9 frame. Meaning the 4:3 picture displayed correctly in the middle of the screen, and two black bars, one either side of your TV's screen, which all forms the 16:9 frame. It is pretty much unavoidable.
"But wasn't there more screen information on the 35mm negatives", you may ask. Well Mike Okuda has said in some scenes there was. Not all, but *some*. However, in many of the scenes there was lights stands, bare studio, crew and other equipment in the wider frame. In other words, it was framed *purely* for 4:3 broadcast.
So zooming and pan scanning was the only other alternative. I have ONE DVD set that had this treatment out of the thousands I own. The TV series 'From Earth to the Moon'. This was shot and framed for 4:3 broadcast, and it was released in America in the correct ratio. However, when it released in the UK, for some bizarre reason, they decided to zoom the image out to 16:9. The result is not pretty... you think those black bars at the side of the screen are ugly? You have not seen ugly! From Earth to the Moon in Region 2 DVD is the most claustrophobic and fuzzy mess you will ever witness. There was also a huge public outcry when they recently did this same thing to The World at War documentary series, and people returned their box sets in droves. It literally means that in closely shot scenes, of which there many in Star Trek: TNG, that people's faces are cut off at the eyebrows, and legs are cut off at the knees. Further, it will no longer be true HD as you are zooming the image. Think passport photo blew up to A4 size. In other words, it is FAR too much of a sacrifice to even contemplate for something as cherished as Star Trek. Had they done this to Star Trek, there would have been an outrcry from fans, and they wouldn't be selling too many box sets. Of that I can assure you. Plus, the people charged to see that this franchise is represented the best way it can be, people like Mike and Densise Okuda, who oversaw this restoration, could never sanction such a travesty.
So I can only suggest you try get used to those black borders at the sides, as if you have a fondness for anything filmed for TV from this era or before, that is how your Blu-ray discs will come. It is the same for Star Trek: The Original Series on Blu-ray, seasons 1-3 of Farscape on Blu-ray... anything and everything that was shot for 4:3 broadcast. It is also true of many films, such as It's a Wonderful Life on Blu-ray, and very old films like The Wizard of Oz. All of these come with fixed black borders in HD. It isn't some sinister Big Brother forcing you to watch it a certain way, it is literally the only way they can present 4:3 without totally ruining the composition. The good news is that everyone goes through this stage when they first play 4:3 on their widescreen sets. At first you can't help but be conscious of the offending black bars. However, hand on heart, I never even see them now, and many people will tell you the same. Your brain just cancels them out. It just takes time, and a little appreciation for why this situation happens.
Back to the Star Trek The Next Generation: The Next Level on Blu-ray:
It is superb. There are details no one has ever seen before. This series may have been shot on 35mm film, but it was edited and stored on videotape. Even on DVD we were watching videotape resolution and quality. I believe one popular sci-fi magazine had nicknamed it "Blurry Trek" in a preview from before it was even broadcast. All that is in the past now, or at least it will be when we can buy all seven seasons on Blu-ray. Unlike with Star Trek: TOS Remastered, which I loved, they have not chosen to re-create the special effects scenes in CGI. Instead, they have re-composited the images from the original negatives (a far more lengthy and costly exercise than new CGI). So what we are seeing is the original effects and the original studio models in all their HD glory. Elsewhere, they have lovingly restored every last frame, freeing it of dust and debris. The grain structure is still in tact, meaning no sacrifice in fine detail from the use of DNR filtering. The result is beautiful. Colours and contrast are perfect... rich, deep blacks and vibrantly coloured Starfleet uniforms. One of the biggest let downs for me as regards the DVD sets was that they didn't try and restore the series a little back then. This meant washed out VHS quality colours. Not so here, I'm pleased to report.
The sound is impressive when listening to it in the context of the era it was made. It is not a modern summer blockbuster made with multichannel audio, it was only ever recorded in stereo. So they have fashioned a 7.1 surround sound mix from what they had. With this in mind, I am impressed with both levels and channel separation. Decent speakers will punch the air in all the right places, mark my words.
In summary, it is a huge success. Pre-orders for the complete season sets will be the easiest purchasing decisions I will ever make. This teaser disc also comes with a five pound 'cashback' voucher, to offset against the cost of the first season on Blu-ray. You send your receipt for the first season off with this voucher, and they send you a cheque for five pounds. It effectively means this teaser disc will cost you peanuts, and will let you taste TNG in HD eight months sooner than those waiting for the complete season sets. What are you waiting for? Just buy it!