CBS beams up Star Trek to Blu-ray

UPGRADE: Star Trek: The Next Generation has never looked so good.
UPGRADE: Star Trek: The Next Generation has never looked so good.

Yesterday's world premiere of Sir Peter Jackson's The Hobbit Part I: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington was projected at 48 frames a second in high definition.

It's the first film to be made in such a way and will probably start a wave of professional and home cinema enthusiasts upgrading their equipment to ensure they get the ultimate hobbit experience.

A similar thing went on in 1987 when Gene Rodenberry returned to the Star Trek well to launch Star Trek: The Next Generation. Better camera and broadcasting equipment drove Paramount Pictures to spend more on sets, costumes and props which would appear crisper and clearer on the television sets of the day than the original 1966-69 series did.

While Star Trek: The Next Generation looks great on a cathode ray tube television, which was the norm until just a few years ago, the standard DVD release can look a little blurred around the edges on a top-of-the-range high-definition television screen. Which is why CBS, which now owns the rights to Star Trek, has re-scanned and rebuilt all seven years of the 176 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation for the high definition Blu-ray format.

The adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, No 1 Will Riker, Second Officer Data, et al have never looked so good.

The DVD format is limited to 720 x 480 while Blu-ray disc's maximum resolution is 1920 by 1080.

Simply transferring a DVD picture to a Blu-ray disc for viewing on a large high-definition television screen is comparable to scanning a postage stamp and blowing it up to an 20 x 25 centimetre poster. You'd be able to see the picture but it would look nothing like the original.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was shot on 35mm film and transferred to standard definition (480 lines) video tape for editing before it was broadcast in the 1980s and 1990s.

Instead of transferring the standard definition video copy of each episode to Blu-ray, CBS Digital returned to the original 35mm footage and re-scanned it in high definition. It's a technological feat to be marvelled at.

It took researchers, let loose in an underground store, three to four weeks per episode to find the original footage which is stored in 2500 boxes, each containing between 50 and 70 reels of film.

And then there are the special effects, such as phaser and transporter beams, which are not on the original footage. They have been added for the Blu-ray release using computer-generated effects and look exactly like the hand-animated effects of the 1980s and 90s.

In one episode, Datalore, the Enterprise was plagued by a crystalline entity which was originally realised with hand animation. CBS Digital could not find the original footage and has replaced it with a computer-generated version which looks almost identical to the original.

The late Gene Rodenberry's son Eugene "Rod" Rodenberry, who was involved in the project, said: "They didn't want to mess with something that was already pretty golden, they weren't adding things."

Waikato Times