At a time when the Original Series of Star Trek (TOS) had been rerun so many times that prints were hazy, scratched and dull, Paramount/CBS decided it was time to remaster the original series by cleaning up the original master prints, boosting the picture quality and re-recording the background music. Then they decided to go one better and replace the aging special effects shots with digital CGI animations.

All this was spurred on by the arrival of High Definition DVDs in the consumer marketplace. Back in late 2007, there was all-out war between the two competing High-Def formats: HDDVD and Blu-Ray. Neither showed signs of being a clear winner. All that changed in Feb. 2008 when Warner Bros. finally committed exclusively to supporting the Blu-ray format.

Part of HDDVD’s arsenal, though, was the release of the remastered first series of the original Star Trek. Toshiba, who were backing HDDVD, put a lot of money into the Star Trek project and the release of the remastered series was heavily publicized.

All the original series of Star Trek were shot on film which is inherently a high-definition, high-contrast medium. Trek was shot using filmatic techniques. Later series of Star Trek such as Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager were all shot on film but transferred to lower quality video, an inherently non-high-definition, non-high-contrast medium. In addition, Next Generation in particular, was shot using a flat lighting that was fashionable at the time. The upshot is that it’s highly unlikely that any of these series will ever be released in high definition on Blu-ray.

[Update, 2012: All of the TNG episodes were remastered using the same techniques as were used on TOS. The series now has a lot more visual punch, new CGI effects and looks far better than it did when originally broadcast. The Blu-Ray edition leaves the old DVD releases in the dust.

[Update, 2015: The entire TNG series, remastered in HD is now available as the TNG Full Journey boxset.]

[Update, 2016: There’s still no word on whether or not there will be Blu-Ray releases of remastered Deep Space Nine or Voyager seasons.]

Star Trek Enterprise was shot using newer high-def cameras so, in all likelihood, this series will emerge on Blu-Ray in the future. Until that happens, the only high-def version of Star Trek currently available is that first series of TOS on HDDVD, a now defunct DVD format.
[Update, 2009: Star Trek Season 1 became available on Blu-Ray on May 8th, to coincide with the release of the new Star Trek Movie].
[Update, 2013: Star Trek Enterprise was first released on Blu-Ray in season sets. The “Complete” boxset was released in 2014. This was followed by the “Full Journey” boxset in 2015].

I bought into HDDVD after I knew it had failed as a format. Why? Economics. I picked up a new HDDVD player on eBay for about $140 and HDDVD discs were being offloaded by merchants for bargain basement prices. With a couple of exceptions, I haven’t paid more than $12-$15 for a HDDVD (including S&H), so they’ve worked out even cheaper than buying standard DVD equivalents. One item I did pay over the odds for was the HDDVD Remastered Star Trek. The set was originally sold for about $190 on Amazon, but I picked it up for half price when HDDVD bombed. Recently, I saw new (i.e. not second-hand/used) boxsets for sale on a UK DVD site for just £17.95 (about $34). They’re all sold out now. [Update, 2009: Amazon are still selling the HDDVDs for about $75].

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Ok, so what are my impressions of the Remastered Series?

Well, first off, it looks gorgeous in High Def. The 4:3 ratio has been kept and the prints are exceedingly clean and crisp. Contrast has been boosted somewhat so images have more punch. The only downside I can see is the common criticism levelled at high-def: you can see too much detail. So on the HDDVD, you can see the zippers on the cast’s shirts for instance.

The HDDVD release was what’s called a Combo – a High-Definition version on one side and standard definition on the other side (so it plays in a normal DVD player). Both sides have a good set of extras with little material being repeated.

Check out the Star Trek Blu-Ray page for more information on what’s on the Blu-Ray release.

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Now the rest of this review will look at the standard definition DVD releases of the remastered series.

A few months back, series one of the Remastered Star Trek was released in standard DVD edition. Since then series two has been released and series three appeared back in November 2008. For those who already own the previously released version of the series (without remastered special effects and music), is there a reason to buy yet another edition of Trek?

For me, having grown up watching the series, getting the HDDVD version was a must. I was more interested in the quality of the image and the show looking as pristine as it did straight out of the camera in the 1960s. I have to admit to being somewhat dubious about the new CGI replacing old ship and other special effects shots and how intrusive they would be. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The effects do add to the show, giving it a more immersive quality and lend the alien settings a more real feel.

All the effects shots were created in-house by CBS (who now own the rights to the TV series). While, for the most part, they’ve done an outstanding job, some ship effects look plasticky rather than like hammered metal. I believe the company that created the effects for Star Trek: Enterprise were originally slated to create the TOS effects but they turned out to be too expensive and so CBS did the effects in-house instead.

What makes the remastered series so great is that they aren’t trying to alter or re-imagine the episodes (for better or worse). There’s no showing off here. Instead what they’ve done is clean the show up and presented it exactly as it was originally meant to be, musical note for note, shot for shot. The musical score has been completely re-recorded, but aside from the fact that it’s now crystal clear (and in 5.1 Dolby Digital) you’d never know it. FX shots of the ship have been redone with CGI, but it’s hard to tell any difference (except on rare occasions), and it now looks brilliant instead of worn out, washed out and incredibly grainy. Remember those black matte lines, especially around ships orbiting planets? They’re gone. And Fuzzy prints? they’re a thing of the past. The colors are brighter, the shadows are deeper and Star Trek has never looked so beautiful.

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As I mentioned earlier, I was dubious about a version of Star Trek that replaced models with computer generated images or tampered with the originally recorded musical compositions. But what they’ve done here is so faithful, that there’s nothing that any Star Trek fan can do but stand up and applaud. All the work has been carried out by people who love the series; and it shows. It’s just a shame it’s not being put to better use. Paramount has declined to broadcast this new version in High Definition, even though they now have the ability and technology to do it. Combine that with how difficult they’re making it to see it on cable and satellite, and I just don’t see any reason for bothering with it on television.

[Update: The HD versions of TOS are available to watch on Netflix. The “CBS Action” satellite channel in Europe broadcasts a widescreen version of the remastered series, but only in Standard Definition]

Beam this pristine version of one of TV’s most venerable and classic shows out onto DVD at warp speed.

Update 2009: While the HDDVD provided standard and hi-def versions of Star Trek, those who wanted a faithful version had to hold on to their original DVD sets (the ones in the clapperboard, colored plastic boxes). The Blu-Ray takes a different tack: It provides the episodes with their original effects as well as the remastered effects and uses seamless branching to switch between the two versions. Now, on Blu-Ray, the the purist fan has the best of both worlds!

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