Remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-ray A Huge Leap Forward

There's been no new Star Trek TV series since Enterprise limped off screens in 2005, but the huge success of the 2009 Star Trek movie and the gradual growth of Blu-ray has caught CBS' attention (CBS acquired ownership of the Star Trek franchise in 2006). The broadcast company is preparing to release Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray -- with substantial improvements.

The DVD boxed sets that exist today were created from the taped broadcasts that were shown in the early 90s. Rather than repackaging that material, CBS has gone back to the original film stock and started from scratch. "They're taking the original film elements and recompositing them," says Michael Okuda, the graphics designer who created the look/feel of Star Trek computer graphics and the LCARS operating system. "The actual film -- that detail is beautiful, and these  new visual effects are really the old visual effects more beautiful than you've ever seen them."

The difference is enormous. CBS has released a preview Blu-ray titled Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level with three updated episodes. The pilot (Encounter at Farpoint), Sins of the Father, and one of the best episodes of the series' entire run, The Inner Light ; we've put together a series of comparison shots between the DVD and Blu-ray version of Encounter at Farpoint; DVD screenshots are on the left, Blu-ray on the right.

DVD Left - Blu-ray Right - Click to enlarge

This is the Enterprise-D's first establishing beauty shot. In the DVDs, the colors are muted; the lines of the deflector dish are blurred. The Enterprise-D in the Blu-ray version looks like a ship that's fresh out of spacedock. There are also portholes and windows lit in the new versions that were dark in the old; calling out detail areas that were invisible in the original broadcasts.

DVD Left - Blu-ray Right - Click to enlarge

This shot captures three different uniform colors against a red and black background. The DVD image quality has never been particularly good here; early episodes were often red-shifted. In the DVD, Picard's tunic is nearly the same hue as the background behind him; the Blu-ray makes it obvious that these were two distinctly different colors. Data's skin is now a distinctly different shade than that of Troi, Picard, or Yar; highlighting his android status. This sort of subtle color variation, which was all but lost in the original broadcasts, stands out in the higher detail Blu-ray version.

DVD Left - Blu-ray Right - Click to enlarge

This shot, from near the end of the episode, highlights some of the new special effects. The energy transfer beam has moved from the Captain's Yacht (a location that never made much sense) to the ventral phaser array. The energy beam is much improved, but the Enterprise itself looks odd. This shot stands out not because it's CGI, but because it's a CGI model that's distinctly different from how the ship appears in the rest of the episode. None of the episodes CBS included on the preview disc include much in the way of special effects, so it's impossible to say if this is a one-off issue or a persistent problem.

DVD Left - Blu-ray Right - Click to enlarge

The matte painting of the energy beam striking Farpoint is again much sharper. CBS clearly kept the original image but rebalanced the color and preserved significantly more detail.

We're a bit dubious of the CGI Enterprise, but after the fabulous job CBS did on the original Star Trek, we want to see more of what's in store for TNG. There are some episodes where CGI could make a huge positive difference; the early Borg episodes and the Battle of Wolf 359 were clearly limited by the technology and budget of the day. CBS' current plan is to release two seasons a year, beginning in 2012, with new extras and interviews accompanying the episodes. Sadly, Paramount hasn't re-scored the pieces the remove some of the incredibly cheesy audio or asked Marina Sirtis to re-dub a few of her lines to sound  a bit less like an overwrought heroine from Victorian erotica, but these issues eventually resolve themselves as the show evolves.

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