Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Star Trek TNG: The Next Level Blu-Ray Review

Well, Kevin, Richard, and Kelly and I just got together tonight to watch the new Blu-Ray teaser for TNG. It contains the episodes Encounter At Farpoint, Sins of the Father, and The Inner Light. We got through the first two, and we are quite able to form and communicate some detailed impressions to you. I'll post some pictures taken with a digital camera and a tripod, to at least give you an impression of how good things look here. But it can only be an impression, because as opposed to a direct screengrab, there is an additional layer of processing and potential degradation introduced.  The contrast is a bit blown out compared to a direct screen grab, and the detail is not as impressive as seeing them directly with your eyes. I would say these pics are about 75% as impressive as seeing the real thing. Either way, right-click and open the images in a new tab to zoom in!

So, on to the review...

To boldly explore pores like never before...

Matthew: Ever since the TOS Blu-Ray sets were released, I had been wondering if it were even possible to give the same treatment to TNG and later series. As you may know, these series were shot on film, but all the editing and compositing of effects was done in video, thus relegating us to a somewhat blurry 480i image which, though fine for the televisions of their day, kind of looked like crap on a modern HDTV. Well, wonder of wonders, all or almost all of the original film still exists in the Paramount archives, and someone with a good head on their shoulders decided that, heck, we can make a lot of money by taking that film, scanning it with the best technology available, and re-combining those elements into a television show. And all I can say is, boy howdy, did it ever work!

The TOS sets look superb. This TNG taste test looks even better, because it doesn't suffer from the same limitations as TOS. Those film prints were post-production finished prints, meaning that any optical effects shot would suffer from having been printed several times to combine elements from multiple film sources (e.g. phasers, transporter beams, etc.). Well, the TNG set will cut out that middle-man and go straight to the original film elements for both live action and effects, meaning that no degradation due to compositing is present. The results, especially in space sequences and transporter effects, are astonishing.

As you can see here, a shot with two models, a starfield, and hull lighting effects, which would normally have required 3 or more "passes" and thus three or more chances to introduce grain, dirt, hairs, and blur, suffers from none of these maladies. The ships are spectacularly crisp and defined, the starfields blacker than black, and the energy effects pop like never before.

But better still is the effect that the new transfer has on faces, cloth and hair textures, fine detail like facial pores and wrinkles, and so on. This film is in better condition than the TOS film, for the simple fact of having aged 25 fewer years. You can see every five o'clock shadow, infinitesimal beads of sweat on a character's brow or lip, and all the make-up you can shake a stick at.

Shots of Data are particularly revealing, since we can easily make out now whether his "yellow" lipstick has been smeared.

Another area that this transfer makes brand new, like watching a new show, is the detail in dark areas. Where the DVD had presented dark scenes as a mushy mess, the Blu-Ray allows us to see very subtle gradations of light and shadow, and all the detail in those shadows that was previously obscured.

So, suffice it to say, the video quality is unbelievably spectacular. The audio has also received a nice upgrade, with a 7.1 channel DTS mix that creates a very nice set of surround effects, but keeps everything crisp and discernible.

Overall, this is an absolute triumph. This looks better than most HD shows on the air right now, since most of them are shot digitally, which just doesn't look as good as film yet. IF you have any qualms about whether this is an upgrade over the DVD, I can only tell you and repeat with as much fervency as I can, oh, YES, it is an upgrade! It is like watching a brand new show. The clarity of the images is mesmerizing, approaching three-dimensionality at times.

The Okudas have a very public role in this, and they have stated unequivocally that they are bent on respecting the original vision of the series. That means that there will be no faux-widescreen, no digital alteration of effects (with one exception on this disc, a change that fixed a production mistake), only the original elements presented at as high a quality level as is possible. Having watched this Blu-Ray teaser, I can only say that they have delivered on every iota of that promise.

I will not hesitate to re-buy the entire series in Blu-Ray after having seen this. And I'm cheap. It's that good.

Comparison Shots

Here are some direct screengrabs from the DVD of Encounter at Farpoint for comparison. Without even zooming you can see the improvement in color fidelity. But Right click and open these in a new tab to really get the effect.


  1. I'm feeling a little left out. Frown-y face!

  2. Would you really have wanted to drive in on a week night just to watch Encounter at Farpoint?

    If you want to stay after work today you're welcome to.

  3. Matt's techinical rundown is pretty spot-on, so I don't have a ton to add myself. I was worried it was gonna be all "Shaka when the walls fell," and it was totally "Sokath, his eyes uncovered."

    The space scenes were amazing and the Okudagrams really popped. It's interesting to think that this is what the film crew saw in early format before it was compressed onto video. What makes me think they did is how great it looks in higher definition. There's no dude picking his nose in the background because they figured the audience would never see it or something. The background detail really stands up to the scrutiny, and it impresses me more about how fully realized everything in TNG was. I can't wait to dive into season 3 with the larger shooting model and higher production values.

    I'll also say Sins of the Father was awesome. On the VHS and even DVD, the background of the Great Hall got lost in shadow, and getting to see it is like watching a whole new episode. I can't wait for Redemption, which should also benefit greatly.

    I'm actually no longer mad at the idea of having to re-buy the series, and hope to do the same for DS9 and VOY. Those lousy, incredibly talented bastards. They figured out the one way to get around my cheapness: to make a substantial technical and artistic contribution to a franchise that I love. It's diabolical.

  4. I should add that the slight discoloration in the top right of some of the screenshots is a reflection from my living room window that I couldn't control for, even with curtains. It's quite evident in the Yar pic. Nonetheless, I think the pics do a good job of indicating the kind of detail visible in the HD transfer.