Tuesday, 2 September 2014

HBO remasters THE SOPRANOS and (maybe) THE WIRE in HD

HBO has confirmed that it has remastered The Sopranos in high-definition for release on Blu-Ray next week. Whilst the first and sixth seasons had previously been available by themselves, HBO will be releasing the whole series on 8 September.

Slightly more confusing is the situation with The Wire. The video below has been reportedly running on HBO for the past several weeks, suggesting that a HD repeat run of the series will begin this Thursday on HBO Signature. TV Guide and a few other listings magazines have backed this up, but the HBO schedule itself only has films and a re-run of Boardwalk Empire in that slot for the next few weeks.

The situation is also confused by the long-running debate over whether The Wire should be shown in widescreen. The series was certainly filmed in widescreen but it was an editorial decision that it should be shown in the old 4:3 standard TV aspect ratio, as it made the series look more like a documentary. Creator and showrunner David Simon has also been against the series being remastered, feeling that making it look too glossy would run against the ethos of the show. However, HBO would likely be the ones making the final decision and would feel that HD versions of the two most critically-acclaimed shows in its library (Deadwood and Rome already have Blu-Ray releases, whilst newer shows like Game of Thrones are released on Blu-Ray as a matter of course) would be huge sellers. HBO have also released widescreen standard-definition versions of the first two seasons through Amazon's instant streaming service, which have been well-received.

We'll probably find out what's up with The Wire soon, whilst the release of The Sopranos is definitely happening.

Update: According to American TV critic Alan Sepinwall, The Wire has indeed been remastered in HD and HBO are planning a marathon broadcast. However, it has been delayed to an as-yet undetermined date. So it's happening, but not just yet.


Anonymous said...

A HD remaster does not necessitate 16x9.

The Avengers, Twin Peaks, Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Honeymooners, Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, Batman, Little House on the Prairie, Shogun, plenty of older anime shows... All released in 4:3 on Blu-ray.

The Wire can be HD and retain its original framing. Hopefully it will (along with Buffy and The X-Files).

alabrava said...

I found both Rome seasons on bluray at best buy for 18$ a piece, I snatched them up, the series has it's issues, but it is a lot of fun and it looks gorgeous in HD.

Adam Whitehead said...

Absolutely. STTNG retained its 4:3 OAR because they never thought to film for widescreen and left boom mikes, light stands and extras in the sides of the pictures. Works absolutely fine.

For THE WIRE they can do either, as the show was filmed for 4:3 but protected the image for 16:9 (probably because HBO was grumbling because they wanted it in widescreen like THE SOPRANOS). What would be interesting is if they found a way of making it optional so you could watch either from the same set.

THE X-FILES and BUFFY both protected the image, but the former only used Super 35 and the later 16mm (for the first two seasons). That gives THE X-FILES a problem in that its native AR is 1.33, which falls between the stools of the original TV image and proper widescreen. Hence the cropping to get it to fill a 16:9 screen, which is arse. The BR release, I hope, would retain the original AR and sod the thin black bars down the side.

BUFFY's problem is that the first two seasons have a hell of a lot of graining and noise and cleaning them up is extremely difficult. The standard alogrithims don't work very well, clearly.

Anonymous said...

Confused by Twitter comment you made: are you going to the NYCC Game of Thrones Panel? Or are you a panelist? (How did that happen?)

Adam Whitehead said...

I'm a panelist, yes. I did one at the Chicago Comic Con in April and it went very well, so I was also invited to this one.

Anonymous said...

Chicago comiccon was a wikia panel or something. Is this the main thrones panel? what is the title/subject/description of the panel?

Anonymous said...

About Adam Whitehead's comment on aspect ratio, that is all correct, but the other FAR more pressing matter with Buffy and X-Files is that both of them are visual effects heavy and most of those effects were no doubt completed and composited on SD video and would need to be completely recreated in HD in order to avoid the jarring constant switching to crappy looking "upscaled" effects shots like we saw on the Blu-ray version of Firefly. This is exactly the problem that Star Trek TNG had and it made the HD remastering of that series extremely expensive, and this is also what is likely to keep Babylon 5, another fan favorite show, from ever seeing the light of day in HD (it even already hurt the standard DVD releases of that show as they had to use lower quality cropped "upscaled" shots of the effects just to make them match the anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of the rest of the shots). Star Trek TNG was definitely more effects heavy than either X-files or Buffy, but the cost of remastering and redoing effects for 9 and 7 seasons of those shows respectively is definitely an issue. X-Files seems to be already be undergoing the process as it's already been airing in HD in Germany, but I have to kind of doubt there would be enough interest in doing it for Buffy/Angel. Even if they do HD remasters of those shows I think the biggest issue is whether or not they would complete them soon enough to make releasing them on Blu-ray a possibility.

The Blu-ray format is quickly losing ground as it never really took off the way they were hoping anyway, and now more and more people are ditching physical media altogether (great for people like me who can pick up DVDs and Blu-rays for cheap used or even at thrift stores now, but bad for the future of physical media which I prefer 100% of the time), and I can see the major studios losing interest in releasing huge expensive box sets of aging TV shows pretty soon. Some already have, leaving some shows with incomplete Blu-ray releases (the main example I'm thinking of is the excellent and highly under-appreciated Stargate Universe, which got a first season Blu-ray release, but the second and final season was only released on standard DVD despite it being a very recent show that was created from the ground up in full 1080p HD thus requiring no special treatment to put it on Blu-ray). Star Trek is as much of a guaranteed success as you could probably get when it comes to a return on investment for such and undertaking, yet though X-Files and Buffy both still have sizable fan followings I think it's possible they might not be big enough to warrant that kind of investment in Fox's eyes. X-Files still stands a chance (that is fading every day that they do not release it on Blu-ray, and it's already been several years since they first started talking about it, and there is still no sign it's actually happening anytime soon), but I feel there is little to no chance for Buffy ever getting a Blu-ray release even if just because by the time it would be ready to go in HD big studio interest in Blu-ray will likely be very low to non-existent.

Adam Whitehead said...

BUFFY is actually undergoing a very controversial HD upgrade right now and is airing in HD on the Pivot Network in the US.

It's not very good, but the main problems are with the colour grading and lighting, which are easy to fix. The hardwork of re-scanning the masters and redoing the CGI appears to have actually already been done.

As for the reasons for doing HD remasters, that's not limited by Blu-Ray alone. As time passes, people are going to refuse to watch anything not in HD, just as some people now refuse to watch anything in black and white. Insane, but it happens. A HD upgrade can give the show years of life not just on Blu-Ray, but also on Netflix HD and reruns in HD. Apparently ST:TNG's Blu-Ray performance has been reasonable, but they've made back a lot of money by re-selling it to international broadcasters in HD as well. I agree physical media is doomed (although not until the US network is capable of streaming live 1080p with no buffering in all areas, which is a long way off right now), but that isn't necessarily a show-stopping problem for HD remasters.