Yes, folks it’s true. It’s finally happening. Star Trek: The Next Generation is FINALLY being Remastered in full 1080p high-definition for Blu-ray and then syndication and digital distribution (read: Netflix streaming, Amazon streaming, etc.). Now, if you hadn’t heard already, a few weeks ago it was announced that CBS was working on a three episode Blu-ray teaser due out in early 2012 which will have Encounter at Farpoint (the two-hour pilot), The Inner Light (by far, the best episode of the series) and Sins of the Father (a beautifully shot Klingon homeworld-centered episode). We intentionally chose not to announce this upcoming release because we knew that more Blu-ray news would be right around the corner and believe it or not, we’ve actually been working on putting a story together about the possibility of this for two years (yes, well before the blog existed), and we wanted to give it the full-treatment it deserves. The discussion really started rolling back in August, 2010 because of the comments at the Creation Entertainment Star Trek Convention made by CBS Products Vice President, John Van Citters regarding the possibility of TNG on Blu-ray.
“In a response to a question about TNG on Blu-ray, CBS Consumer Products VP John Van Citters told the crowd in Las Vegas that releasing Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray was much more “problematic” than the original Star Trek, due to how the TNG original effects shots were composited, and how that makes the transfer to HD “incredibly difficult without making them look awful.” However, he also said that there is “a lot of conversations going on” within CBS on how to convert TNG to HD, and Van Citters expressed optimism noting “It is being worked on and I expect it will happen, it is just a technical challenge.”
Following his talk, I confirmed with Van Citters that even though he is optimistic that the challenges will be met, as of now there is no specific plan or budget for the project within CBS. So this is still something that is a long-term project.”
This started us to think and ask questions because the feasibility discussion regarding TNG on Blu-ray or any HD format has been going on for years because not only is it a critically acclaimed fan favorite, it’s also the benchmark in the discussion for HD treatment/Blu-ray release for all science fiction shows that came out of the 1980’s and 1990’s before the advent of HD where the principal photography was filmed on 35mm film (much higher resolution than 1080p), however the effects shots were put together from those 35mm elements (composited) on standard definition video tape. This is the fundamental problem with HD conversions for effects-heavy shows from that era because this was the industry standard and every show did this. What that means is that the source material is part SD and part HD and you can’t make SD into HD. “Up-conversion” doesn’t work. It’s what we refer to as “polishing a turd.” The only options that make any sense are 1.) Redoing all of the effects in CG (expensive) 2.) Going through each individual film element and re-compositing all of them in HD (MORE expensive). To our surprise (read: shock), CBS has opted for the latter and we can’t believe we’re saying this but after seeing the side-by-side comparison shot from the opening title sequence done by the brilliant folks over at Trekcore.com, we couldn’t be happier. We’ll discuss that more in a bit but first we want to get to the official CBS Home Entertainment announcement.
Via Press Release:
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION®
TO BE AVAILABLE IN HIGH-DEFINITION FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER FOR ITS 25THANNIVERSARY
Star Trek: The Next Generation® – The Next Level Blu-ray Disc™ Will Be Released On January 31, 2012
Complete First Season Blu-ray Available Later in 2012
LOS ANGELES – September 28, 2011 – The beloved series STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION® will be transferred to high-definition for the first time ever and released on Blu-ray™, it was announced today by Ken Ross, Executive Vice President and General Manager of CBS Home Entertainment.
All 178 episodes from seven seasons will be transferred to true high-definition 1080p for release on Blu-ray and eventual runs on television and digital platforms both domestically and internationally.
“Fans have been clamoring for a high-definition release of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION® for years,” said Ross. “Transferring the series to high-definition presented difficult technical challenges, but our team has come up with a process to create true 1080p HD masters with true HD visual effects. We can’t wait to show fans how pristine the series looks and sounds with our upcoming Blu-ray releases.”
Transferring STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION® to high-definition presented numerous challenges – The series was originally shot on film and then transferred to videotape, which was used to edit episodes together. In order to create true HD masters, CBS is going back to the original uncut film negative – all 25,000 plus film reels of it – and cutting the episodes together exactly the way they originally aired. The visual effects were all shot on film and will be painstakingly recompositioned, not upconverted from videotape. The newly cut film will then be transferred to true high-definition with 7.1 DTS Master Audio. Denise and Mike Okuda are consulting on the project.
While the first full season won’t be available until later in 2012, CBS Home Entertainment is releasing STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION® – THE NEXT LEVEL, a single Blu-ray disc to give fans a taste of the series in HD, on January 31, 2012. The disc will include the feature-length pilot – “Encounter at Farpoint” – as well as two more “fan favorite” episodes, “The Inner Light” (Season 5) and “Sins of the Father” (Season 3). The single disc will be available for a suggested retail price of $21.99.
One of the most popular series in the STAR TREK franchise, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION® celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012. It premiered in first-run syndication during the week of September 28, 1987 and ran through 1994.
Set in the 24th century on the Starship Enterprise, about 100 years after the original STAR TREK series took place, the series starred Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Jonathan Frakes as Commander William T. Riker, LeVar Burton as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge, Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi, Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data, Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf, Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher and Wil Wheaton as her son Wesley Crusher.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION® won numerous accolades, including 18 Emmy® awards, and was the first – and only – syndicated television show to be nominated for the Emmy® for Outstanding Drama Series for its seventh season. It was also ranked #46 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list in 2002.
The highlights and what they mean to you:
1. Syndication and Digital Platforms: Syndication, well, that’s easy but what needs to be understood is that this wouldn’t have been possible without Netflix and Amazon. It’s not a coincidence that Netflix inked a deal worth $200 million with CBS in February domestically and then subsequently came to an agreement for international markets at the end of July and then two months later we have this announcement re: TNG on Blu-ray. It’s also not a coincidence that CBS inked a similar deal with Amazon in July as well, and they are in talks with Facebook, Microsoft and Google for similar, non-exclusive digital content deals. These deals, for all intents and purposes, are paying for TNG on Blu-ray.
Now, this is not the same scenario as what happened when Star Trek: The Original Series was remastered for high-definition and where it was directly at least partially funded by Toshiba to showcase the HD DVD format, but, this couldn’t have happened without a massive cash infusion because as popular as the series still is, we’re talking about 178 episodes that need to not only be remastered, but put together from scratch from their original elements. This is an expensive proposition to say the least and we simply can’t see CBS being able to pitch this kind of project without a firm financial commitment from other sources to be able to subsidize it.
These content deals are a good thing because what they mean is that CBS basically has free money to play with (because they are all non-exclusive) and you’ll be able to look forward to not only the rest of the Star Trek television catalog remastered in HD, but it opens the doors for HD and Blu-ray treatment for the rest of the CBS catalog that would never have had a chance to be seen in HD, otherwise.
2. “Our team has come up with a process to create true 1080p HD masters with true HD visual effects”: Again, the hurdles facing this project are enormous and the fact that the press release makes a point to mention that their technical wizards have come up with a process to make the re-compositing both efficient and cost-effective, bodes well for the possibility other effects-heavy series from the 1980’s and 1990’s coming to Blu-ray because if this new process works for TNG and makes the releases profitable, other distributors will be able to use the same process for their properties, as well. Imagine, Babylon 5, The X-Files or Quantum Leap in 1080p, if you will.
3. “Recompositioning” – What is it And Why is it Such a Big Deal?: As we noted earlier, much to our surprise, CBS has decided to “recomposition” (also referred to as re-compositing which is what we prefer) the original effects elements as opposed to up-converting them from 480 lines of resolution (which would have been the worst possible choice) or redoing all of the exterior shots involving miniatures in CGI like what was done for the Star Trek: The Original Series Remastered set.
So what exactly is compositing? Well, think of compositing in similar terms of Adobe Photoshop (coincidentally, a program created by Star Trek visual effects genius, John Knoll). Let’s say you want to have a picture of yourself in a boat at sea but you’ve never actually been on a boat at sea. Well, get yourself three pictures; one of yourself, one of a sailboat and one of the ocean. Now you simply layer these elements together and, vòila, you have your picture of you on a boat at sea. Compositing is a similar process of combining individually photographed elements to create a scene. For any given exterior shot of the Enterprise or any other ship in space, you commonly have multiple elements that need to be combined together, such as the miniature (filming model), the backdrop of space, a planet, and weapons effects (phasers, photon torpedoes, etc.). For the most basic explanation of how it was done on TNG, here’s a short clip from an episode of Reading Rainbow where host Levar Burton (Geordi LaForge on TNG) gives a behind the scenes look at the production of TNG.
(You can watch the whole video, here. It’s a lot of fun.)
Again, what the road block for shows like TNG has been traditionally is that the individually photographed elements were all initially photographed on 35mm films but they were composited together on standard-definition video tape and then edited together with the live-action footage on video tape as well for distribution. Think of the Photoshop scenario again. This would be the equivalent of having all of your sailboat elements being in a high-resolution format but saving the final product as the lowest quality jpeg file. This being said, this production team is going to have to reassemble (re-composite) from scratch all of the individual effects elements for all of the exterior shots for all 178 episodes and convert them into the high-definition format and then edit them together with the live action shots precisely as they were presented when they originally aired.
This is a daunting task, no doubt, but probably not nearly as daunting as we, the average consumers/laypeople would think it would be. Over the course of the last year, we spoke to several people who were directly involved in the production of TNG and the other current era Star Trek series (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise) and what we learned is that the idea of modern Trek in HD is not a new concept at all. Trek-HD had actually been theorized and discussed going back to the initial production of TNG season 1. Although the concept of high-definition TV for a consumer market is a relatively new phenomenon, in the industry it’s not, and even though how it would reach the consumer was unknown at the time, all of the episodes were produced with the idea that whatever form it would take, the original filming elements would be, HD-Ready, as far as that notion was understood at the time, meaning that they didn’t “lock it in” to being only available for SD viewing and wanted to make it as easy as possible for those original filming elements to be produced in a future HD product. The thought, though, was concerned more with up-conversion and though they didn’t have a process to even do this effectively, they were doing tests going as far back as Voyager. In fact, while filming VOY, one source confirmed that they had even done some tests with high-resolution video.
That being said, our sources unanimously agreed that the restoration/remastering and scanning of TNG for Blu-ray and other HD formats, effects shots not withstanding, will not be nearly as difficult as it was for TOS because of, one, the foresight we just mentioned during the initial production and, two, and far more importantly, the 35mm film that was in use from 1987 – 1994 when TNG was produced was of a much higher quality than what was in use during the TOS era of 1966 – 1969. Not only is it not nearly as degraded because of the fact that it’s 30 years newer and 30 years more advanced, but keep in mind that TNG was produced during the home video era and therefore the 25,000 reels of negatives have been kept in excellent condition for future home video releases.
Now, as a final note on compositing and the production process, the same problems that face TNG do not affect DS9, VOY or ENT, at least to the same extent. All of these shows used heavy amounts of CG effects and, again, our sources indicate that the animation files could be easily rendered in high-definition. In the case of ENT, it’s a cakewalk because the show was shot in HD and HD digital, as were all of the effects and it was then laid off onto HD during editing and then distributed on HD video (source: IMDb). Our point is that, yes, it’s taken a long time and will continue to take a long time for TNG to come to Blu-ray/HD, but don’t expect that long of a wait for subsequent series releases. Once CBS starts rolling around in all of the money they’ll be printing from doing this project, we expect that they’ll start churning out Trek titles in regular intervals and if this is as much of a success as we predict it will be, we would imagine that ENT would be the next in line only for the fact that it’s a straight-up transfer with no remastering necessary (except for, perhaps a remix of the audio into a multi-channel HD format), therefore it will be inexpensive to produce and quickly provide cash for more elaborate projects.
3. 7.1 DTS Master Audio: Most people who know about the Blu-ray release of TNG by now have only really gotten excited about the 1080p transfer and remastering of the original negatives. More than likely they skipped right over the line about 7.1 DTS Master Audio and this saddens us to no end. Here’s where we stand on this: if you are going to invest money into a decent HD TV and Blu-ray player, then you need to get yourself a modern 7.1 channel home theater system to complete the setup. 7.1 DTS Master Audio and the other HD audio formats is why you bought all your fancy gadgets, whether you realize it or not. It brings a cinematic quality to Blu-rays like nothing else can and they are completely affordable (You can get a decent 7.1 Onkyo Home Theater in a Box for around $400). We’re very excited to hear that they are giving the same audio treatment to TNG as they have for the Blu-ray releases of TOS.
4. Mike and Denise Okuda are consultants on the project: If you don’t know by now, the husband and wife team of Mike and Denise Okuda has been working with Star Trek going back to the beginning of TNG. As Scenic Artist, Mike is particularly well-known for the Okudagram, that is, the distinctive graphic design that was prevalent on the computer displays and control panels throughout all of the 24th century incarnations of Star Trek and he also wrote The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual along with legendary Trek Senior Illustrator, Rick Sternbach. Mike and Denise together wrote the Star Trek Encyclopedia as well as the Star Trek Chronology, both definitive references of the franchise and they also oversaw the production of the TOS remasters in 2007. The Okudas know Trek like no one else and are considered to be the foremost authorities on the history of the franchise. There are simply no two people more qualified to act as consultants on this project to preserve the integrity of the series.
5. The Next Level: A Taste of TNG in HD: One of the big problems with TNG or any Trek coming out on yet another format is the backlash that inevitably comes from the fandom due to this perceived notion of double-dipping (releasing multiple versions of the same product in order to milk the fanbase) on the part of CBS or Paramount. This is a common practice among genre franchises (see: Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings as examples) and we don’t deny that Trek has been guilty of this in the past, but not to nearly the extent that the fans perceive. Another problem is that Star Trek single seasons tend to run between two to four times as much as any other franchise (The ‘Tastic spent $700 on the first run of TNG on DVD).
These two factors can have a very damaging effect on fan purchases and to this day, we still are finding huge segments of the community that simply refuse to pay for new Trek offerings until after they drop in price (usually several years after the initial release… TNG can now be purchased from Amazon for as low $178 new), and this is the chorus that is being sung very loudly by owners of the DVD sets who have put down a huge chunk of change on the franchise. The problem is that unlike VHS, which was the standard video format for nearly three decades, DVD’s lifespan was barely a decade before it was being supplanted by Blu-ray and TNG didn’t even come out on DVD until 2002. So what that means is that a mere ten years after the fan spent $700 on TNG on DVD, they’ll now probably have to fork over the same amount, if not more, for the Blu-ray release. Keep in mind that these fans already most likely have HD TV’s, Blu-ray players (or at least up-converting DVD players) and when they watch TNG DVD’s they look far better than they ever do on reruns that air every night on WGN or SyFy.
So, what it comes down to is that the fans need a real reason sans a fancy sales pitch to be early adopters of TNG on Blu-ray and CBS is giving them one by whetting their appetites with the three episode sampler for $21.99 that no one will mind paying for (that’s the MSRP as of today, by the way. We expect $14.99 or less on Amazon by launch). It’s like giving a free carton of cigarettes to a smoker to make them switch brands (yeah… we just started watching Mad Men). CBS is so confident in this product that they are going to wash away all doubts consumers may have by giving them this glorious three-episode disc and then making them wait nearly a year for the full release. They are expecting that even the most resistant fan will be salivating once they see these episodes. This is smartest thing that CBS has done as a marketing tool since Trek has been available in HD.
As a personal note to CBS, might we suggest that you also consider including a rebate form/coupon for consumers who purchased the sampler to get $21.99 off of the purchase price of the series when it comes out?
So, that’s it and as usual, if we find out anything more, we’ll keep you posted and don’t forget that Trek-Tastic is coming in November.